ACP-EU relations beyond 2020: exploring European perceptions

ACP-EU relations beyond 2020: exploring European perceptions

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Keijzer, Niels / Brecht Lein / Mario Negre / Nicola Tissi
Briefing Paper 11/2013

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), which governs relations between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group and the European Union (EU), will expire in the year 2020. While the three pillars of this framework addressing political dialogue, development cooperation and trade are generally considered to have served their purpose well, there are clear signs that significant changes within the ACP group, the EU and the wider international landscape demand a different articulation of the relationship.

A tacit understanding among Europeans is that the ball is in the ACP’s corner in terms of defining and determining their own future as a group and its relationship vis-à-vis the EU as such. However, a momentum needs to be built for the coming 2015 revision of the Cotonou Agreement with a view to a plausible post-2020 scenario, in which the EU also needs to set out its own desires and priorities in giving shape to the cooperation. In previous years the EU Member States increasingly “outsourced” the management of the partnership to the European Commission, but there is a gradually growing recognition that the CPA is presently the principal functioning vehicle guiding EUAfrica relations.

European perceptions on the future of the Cotonou Agreement point to two sets of arguments, namely:

Reasons to do away with the ACP-EU partnership:

  • Weak rationale to keep a common framework with these very different regions, combined with weak evidence of the development of an ACP identity or intra-ACP trade;

  • Decreasing relevance of ex-colonial ties, particularly in the context of an enlarged EU, but also more generally of the agreement’s strong focus on official development assistance;
  • Poor track record in shaping joint positions and interventions at international fora.

Elements in the partnership deemed worth preserving:

  • Legally binding nature that favours political dialogue as well as predictability and strategy ownership in development cooperation;

  • A relatively strong performance of the European Development Fund (EDF) compared to other EU development cooperation instruments, combined with its multi-stakeholder approach to the design and management of development strategies;
  • Potential alliance for global public goods provision.

Despite the fact that there is not yet an official position from the EU nor its Member States on what should happen after the CPA expires, European actors (European Commission, European Parliament, Member States) seem to be inclined to move towards a more regional approach of the Union’s external relations while maintaining the valuable aspects of the present setup. While the EU’s declining strategic interest in the Caribbean – and especially the Pacific – is no secret, too rejectionist a stance towards the cooperation framework by EU Member States could seriously harm the promotion of their values and interests in Africa.

The EU would currently seem most inclined to preserve key elements of the CPA in a “light version” of the current ACP-EU agreement, by transferring those elements into separate EU regional strategies towards Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, or a combination of both. European policy discussions on this matter are also long overdue, given that the preparations for the third revision of the CPA in 2015 will be a key “warming-up session” for the negotiations for post-2020. The EPA negotiations have seriously and negatively affected ACPEU relations in the recent past and could also harm the EU’s own position and trade with Africa in the medium- to long term if continued in the same manner.

About the authors

Keijzer, Niels

Social Science


Negre, Mario



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