Relations between Africa and the European Union in the 21st Century
Relations between Africa and the European Union in the 21st Century
We members of civil society organizations from East and Southern Africa and Europe met in Gaborone, Botswana, from 26-28 November 2000, to analyse the future relations between Africa and Europe and the terms and implications of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement in the context of past and present relations between the two continents.
We wish to address the following concerns and recommendations to all SADC governments and the EU meeting at the SADC-EU Ministerial meeting in Gaborone, Botswana from 29-30 November 2000.
1. Reappraising Africa-Europe Relations in the 21st Century
The relationship between Africa and Europe remains both unequal and inequitable. Such is the widening gap between the two, that the concept of partnership is illusory. There has been little transformation of the tenets underpinning the ties between the two continents since colonial times. The net flow of resources between Europe and Africa remain in Europe's favour, whether through unequal terms of trade, debt servicing or macro-economic policies that have promoted the extraction of Africa's resources for external benefit while marginalizing the majority of African people.
Beyond poverty eradication, there is an urgent need for the social and economic transformation within our regions, which addresses the structural problems of production and resource ownership. This must start with pursuing the goals of the African states towards the realisation of an African Economic Community (AEC) and the strengthening of regional economic groupings as building blocks towards this end.
The overwhelming external dependency of our resource-rich regions can only be overcome through intensified programmes of regional integration and cooperation. However, objectives such as those set out in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement of "integrating ACP countries into the world economy" threaten to undermine regional integration and marginalize ordinary men and women from participating in the mainstream economic and political activity. As civil society and governments in the region together, we must examine much more critically the real benefits of the partnership with Europe as it is structured to date.
We, as African civil society organizations, are committed to the multiple aims and ideals of regional cooperation and development integration. We are convinced about the urgent necessity for such strategic regional cooperation to enable all our countries to deal more effectively with an extremely difficult global environment. We note the spaces being created for civil society participation in these processes, and are determined to use these spaces effectively.
2. Upholding Human Rights, Governance, Peace and Security
For the effective protection and promotion of human rights and democracy in all African countries, we call upon governments to respect the commitments that they have agreed to within the Cotonou Partnership Agreement. However, we stress the need to guard against Euro-centric interpretations of democracy and good governance and the arbitrary application of sanctions.
In the context of universal human rights, and given the high level of intolerance towards ACP nationals in Europe, we urge SADC Ministers to engage in active dialogue with their EU counterparts to address this injustice, as part of the relationships of partnership' that Cotonou aims to promote between the EU and Africa.
Both the EU and SADC should adopt policies and measures that promote the free movement of people and discourage anti-immigrant sentiments and general xenophobic tendencies in Europe and the region.
For the guarantee of peace and security it is important for SADC to harmonise all institutions dealing with conflict prevention, resolution and management and for these to function on the basis of UN principles. It is also essential that all SADC states reduce military expenditures, and redirect resources towards human and social development.
The EU and SADC should commit themselves to paying special attention to people with disabilities.
In line with Article 23 of the SADC Treaty, which provides for the participation of stakeholders in SADC affairs, it is necessary that the SADC itself be restructured to allow for effective stakeholder involvement in decision-making in political processes. SADC must be appropriately restructured to enable more people-driven (as opposed to a market-driven) regional development, so as to foster the creation of a more genuine and effective community of nations and peoples.
3. Combatting HIV/Aids
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is the most pressing economic and social development challenge facing the region today. Institutional capacity building and cooperation are essential to enable countries in the region to manage the HIV-AIDS crisis.
We note with deep dismay that the efforts to prolong lives of people living with HIV/AIDS is being compromised by the commercialization of HIV/AIDS treatment by pharmaceutical companies from the North through patenting of intellectual property.
The EU and its pharmaceutical industry should not profiteer from the HIV-AIDS epidemic. Focus should be on the social provision of care and prevention efforts, ensuring that the pricing of vital drugs will not be a barrier to improving access to such care. In this respect, SADC governments should take a lead in using policy tools allowed by WTO provisions - such as compulsory licensing and parallel importing of vital drugs - in order to improve access to cheaper generic drugs. It is unacceptable that EU governments and companies have pressurized governments in the region who have attempted to adopt these measures.
4. Promoting Gender Equity
The implementation of neo-liberal policies has placed a disproportionate burden on women as family providers and carers. Women continue to be excluded from policy and decision making processes by their under-representation in leadership positions. This situation applies at the national level, but is also relevant to the institutions set up in the Cotonou Agreement.
It has been recognized that efforts to mainstream gender in programmes and policy making remain inadequate. We recommend that governments and the EU, in consultation with civil society:
5. Rethinking Economic Cooperation
The neo-liberal policies pursued with the support of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have caused serious hardships for SADC countries and communities, and have eroded the progress made in social and human development after independence.
The EU should not make financial support for social development given within the framework of EU-SADC relations conditional upon the implementation of World Bank/IMF economic policies, including their latest Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSP).
While there have been attempts to promote stakeholder participation and national ownership of programmes under the PRSPs, they remain conditional and donor driven, as they operate under tight deadlines which undermines consultations.
Considering the close correlation between debt cancellation and poverty reduction, the EU countries must lead other creditor governments in unconditionally writing off debt owed by African countries in order to release resources for development. In the absence of an effective resolution of the debt problem, repudiation by indebted countries is then a legitimate option.
Debt cancellation should not be based on SAP-type HIPC conditionalities, which have themselves contributed to the debt crises in African countries. Any future loans should be approved by national bodies where all stakeholders are represented, and the aims and terms scrutinised and subject to endorsement by national Parliaments.
The EU should not tie aid to their own national and corporate economic interests, and all aid should be targeted towards the building and strengthening of productive capacity in SADC as determined by the national priorities of the member states and regional programmes.
SADC agreements should aim to ensure that all investment policies at the national and regional levels are appropriately regulated and coordinated to avoid counter-productive intra-regional competition through competing foreign investment policies and incentives.
We note that while the Cotonou Agreement undertakes to promote EU investment into our countries, we call for priority to be given to national and regional investment. Investment strategies should focus on enhancing local productive capacities and diversifying production with a view to achieving broad-based economic empowerment.
6. Orientating towards Development
The global trade strategy of the EU is inimical to our development interests and aspirations. Trade arrangements should be driven by development imperatives rather than by the dogmatic objective of "integrating ACP countries into the world economy" through indiscriminate trade liberalization.
All trade arrangements within SADC and between SADC and the EU, must take into account the different levels of development and the specific problems and needs of all the member states of SADC.
SADC member states must respond jointly to the EU's proposals to establish free trade areas, in order not to allow the EU to divide and rule by exploiting the real and perceived differences between them. In this context, too, all SADC member states must share information on all exchanges that they hold on a national basis with EU officials and negotiators with respect to the Cotonou processes.
Strategic assessments at the national and regional level must be undertaken prior to engaging in trade negotiations with the EU. We encourage governments to mobilize and use to its full potential local and regional expertise available within civil society and academic institutions to ensure that their negotiating positions are informed by rigourous research.
With the very different levels of development and trade capacities of all the member states of SADC, on the one hand, and the EU on the other, there is no level playing field' upon which free trade can operate with equal benefit to all sides.
There are indications that the EU is already proposing that the member states of the ACP should decide - in the next few months (by April 2000) - the political bases or geographical groupings within which they will enter into negotiations with the EU scheduled to begin in September 2002. There are not mere procedural matters but substantive strategic questions requiring research and analysis, appropriate inter-governmental negotiations and wide-ranging consultation.
The EU must not impose the framework for negotiations. For example, the terms of the SA-EU Trade and Development Cooperation Agreement (TDCA) should not become the framework or model upon which any regional trade agreement should be based. The trade terms of any possible EU-SADC trade arrangement must conform to the letter and developmental spirit and aims of the SADC Trade Protocol.
Particular attention must be paid to the problems of the BNLS states who as SACU members are de facto integrated into the EU-South Africa free trade area. Every effort must be made to utilize all terms and possibilities within the TDCA to protect the interests and needs of the BNLS.
We strongly oppose the inclusion in the Cotonou Agreement of the same "new issues" that are highly contested by developing countries in the WTO, such as agreements on foreign investor rights/guarantees, intellectual property rights, competition policy, governments procurement, and environment and labour standards.
The EU and SADC countries must commit themselves fully to the effective control of illegal trade in natural resources and arms.
SADC governments and civil society must advocate for trade arrangements that link access to our markets to the attainment of clearly defined development thresholds rather than to arbitrary time frames that neither reflect, nor take into account our development realities.
7. Recognising the Role and Rights of Civil Society
We welcome the various provisions within the Cotonou Partnership Agreement where governments have committed themselves to involve different national stakeholders. We are nonetheless aware of the potential for such provisions to work in such a way as to allow the EU to sidestep both government and civil society and deal directly with individual organizations or persons.
We are convinced of our own role in monitoring and improving our governments' policies and practices and participating in all policy debates. We call on governments to strengthen their efforts to involve civil society in policy making and development planning. In particular we are concerned that the processes set out in the Cotonou Agreement for civil society participation should be structured in such a way as to ensure input from a broad and representative range of socio-economic groups, including the setting up of appropriate timeframes as well as clear and transparent mechanisms for consultation.
We stress the need for appropriate and timely information to be made available to civil society groups to ensure their meaningful participation. All key documents resulting from discussions between EU and ACP/SADC governments within the Cotonou framework should be made available to civil society.
We recall the commitments made in the Cotonou Agreement to involve civil society in political dialogue processes. We are ready to play our part in developing strategies and defining viable relationships that serve the interests of our countries and regions and that derive from our own development strategies and vision.
Aditi Sharma, ACTSA/ ENIASA