Toward a New Partnership?

Article excerpt

In international relations, all is change and uncertainty. Yet, longstanding relations between countries and established ways of conducting international affairs bring a measure of stability and predictability. One of the more enduring of these relationships is that between Europe and the Caribbean, which marked its half millennium in 1992. In the last 500 years, Europe has left deep legacies in the region, both tangible and intangible, good and bad. To this day, the boundaries of the European Union (EU), represented by the French Departements d'Outre-Mer, the Netherlands Antilles and the British Dependent Territories (newly renamed Overseas Territories), extend to the Caribbean. Since 1975, the cornerstone of this relationship has been the Lome Convention.

The Lome Convention is the single most important framework for bringing the largest number of underdeveloped countries (the 71 countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, collectively known as the ACP) into a close 'development' relationship with the largest bloc of developed countries (the 15 member states of the EU). The original convention was signed in 1075 and renegotiated in 1980, 1985 and 1990; in its current form, it runs until February 29, 2000. Negotiations to determine its future shape began in September 1998. At stake is the nature of the continued European presence in the Caribbean, and in particular, the EU's role in such areas as human rights, economic development and trade.

THE EUROPEAN UNION AS FOREIGN POLICY ACTOR

For the EU, the Lome Convention is but one of several frameworks for dealing with the developing world. Recently, the EU has upgraded its interests in Latin America, especially the Mercosur countries, and in Asia. In engaging with these areas, the EU is seeking commercial and political advantage, with only passing reference to the provision of development assistance. This is consistent with a greater emphasis in EU external relations on political issues and a heightened vocation by many in the European Commission, the EU's executive body, to provide the EU with the power to exercise political leadership in global affairs.

The political dimension is a core feature of the Commission's proposals for a new Lome Convention. This is perhaps most clearly stated in the preamble to the Draft Negotiating Mandate the Commission released in January 1998. This document states that the convention will contain "an essential elements clause" confirming that the policies of all parties to the convention are "informed by respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, and good governance."

This wording has touched a raw nerve with some in the ACP. The Caribbean especially is sensitive to perceived infringements of its sovereignty, but in this case, the critics may be overreacting. The EU proposals are part of a general movement toward greater conditionality in the provision of development assistance, a process driven by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's major aid donors. They also find support among the European public, particularly the major non-governmental development organizations (NGDOs). The proposals are being presented as part of an established process of political dialogue that the Libreville Declaration, which outlines the principles governing the ACP's approach to the Lome negotiations, agreed had value.

The Commonwealth Caribbean has nothing to fear from political dialogue, and much to gain if it can add its particular concerns to those of the EU. One obvious consideration is coherence between the internal policies of the EU and their external effects. Another is relations with third parties which adversely affect ACP interests (such as the current conflict with the United States over the EU banana regime). Other concerns, as listed in the ACP negotiating mandate, include treatment of ACP immigrants in the EU, extraeconomic activities of transnational companies, transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous waste, drug trafficking and money laundering. …