|Joint ACP-EU session kicks off|
|Friday, 15 June 2012 12:00|
THE 37th session of the Joint African, Caribbean and the Pacific Group and the European Council of Ministers meeting began here yesterday with both parties advocating for common ground on issues to foster closer co-operation in face of the Eurozone financial crisis and other factors threatening the partnership.
This came as the more than 300 delegates from both parties were bracing for a bruising battle over the implementation of the contentious Economic Partnership Agreements.
The ACP concluded on Wednesday that it would not budge to the EU’s demands with regards to the deadline and other provisions that its members were not comfortable with but the latter insisted that these needed to be upheld.
However, in their opening speeches, the President of the EU Council Mr Christian Friis Bach and his ACP counterpart Mr Alva Baptiste, urged the two institutions to narrow their differences and instead seek to strengthen ties.
The Joint Council of Ministers is a platform for high level deliberations and is composed of representatives from ACP and EU countries and one from the European Commission.
It meets annually to discuss political, social and economic issues that impact on the partnership. The meeting comes hard on the heels of the ACP Council of Ministers meeting which ended here on Wednesday.
Fears were that disharmony pertaining to the Economic Partnership Agreements would contaminate the engagement process but the two presidents who co-chair the Joint Council said there was room for mutually beneficial deliberations.
In his presentation at the official opening ceremony Mr Friis Bach who is also Danish Minister for Development and Cooperation urged discussions over the next few days to be underlined by a spirit of constructive engagement.
“We remain firmly committed to the goal of eradicating poverty as well as to foster sustainable economic, social, political and environmental development of our partner countries.
“This is particularly important in the frame of the ongoing discussions on the future financing of the ACP-EU cooperation framework after 2013,” he said.
In his remarks, Mr Baptiste said the long-established relationship between the two partners would need to be consolidated.
“We in the ACP would be wrong to take our priviledged partnership with the EU for granted. Worse would be an entrenched entitlement mentality that assumes away the continuing generosity of the old continent (Europe).
“At the same time, it would be a great mistake on Europe's part to turn its back on an old and time-tested partnership. We are aware that there are some in the New Europe who see the ACP-EU system as a relic of an old post-colonial order that no longer has a place in our new millennium,” he said.
However, he warned that the ACP would not enter into agreements that were harmful to the welfare of its members.
“We also have to realise that just as it is with Europe, major trade treaties are matters of sovereign constitutional import. No government in a democracy can commit itself to such a treaty without carrying along all its peoples and the key constituents of its civil society,” said Mr Baptiste.
Key among issues to be deliberated over the next two days is the future of the ACP-EU relations after the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020 and a view of the Economic Development Fund under which the latter funds ACP programmes.
The ACP has already established a working group on future perspectives in this regard.
Transformation in Europe, particularly in recent months as a result of the global economic crisis mean that the partnership would need to be re-engineered in conformity to the current dictates.
“This 37th session is a particularly substantial one. We have before us issues that will define our relations not only in the short term, but also in the long run, up to 2020 and even beyond,” said Mr Friitbach.
Issues such as migration, recommendations on visa requirements and human trafficking would be tabled during this session
The EU and the ACP are expected to adopt a joint declaration for the Rio+20 conference scheduled for Brazil next week.
The meeting will be held here tomorrow.