On the occasionof the Opening Ceremony of the7th Summit of the ACP Heads of State and Government in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea 13 December 2012

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be addressing such a distinguished audience at this very important Summit. On behalf of the European Union I bring greetings from European Council President Van Rompuy and Commission President Barroso, both of whom send their sincere apologies for being unable to attend your Summit and their best wishes for its success.

You could not have chosen a more pertinent theme for your 7th summit.

You have come together to discuss the future of the ACP Group in a changing world, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

We are most interested in hearing your discussions over the coming two days, which are just as relevant for us, as we reflect on our future relationship.

2020 will be a significant year for ACP-EU relations, as it will be the year in which the Cotonou Agreement expires. This Agreement that has framed our cooperation thus far may not be perfect. Yet it is the most comprehensive example of any North-South agreement in the world. It is the only negotiated agreement with so many different partners and so many different components.

But the world has changed a great deal in recent years.

We have seen many developing countries, including ACP countries, achieve impressive growth.

We live in a world in which a "one-size-fits-all" approach does not work anymore in development terms.

A world in which various new actors have become key development partners.

A world in which South-South cooperation is gaining momentum, while the financial crisis in traditional donor countries is affecting development aid.

A world in which other forms of finance for development are increasingly needed.

A world in which civil society, organised in fluid structures in cyber space, is making its presence felt, while the authority of States as the sole decision-makers is put under increasing democratic scrutiny.

All this being so, we need to start reflecting now on what these and future challenges will mean for our relations with developing countries, including those you lead.

Therefore, as we look to the future, we should be asking ourselves two basic questions. First, have we reaped the full potential of the Cotonou Agreement? And second, will it still be relevant as such in 2020?

We should be asking such questions together as partners if we are serious about forging a genuine, forward-looking relationship fit for the 21st century. I don't have all the answers. But it's worth us taking a first look at both of these questions now.

Looking at whether we have got the best out of Cotonou and how our relationship has worked overall will give us a better idea of how we should shape our future.

There is no doubt that the EU-ACP partnership was relevant and successful in the 1970 and 1980s as a real forum that provided direction and influenced other actors. The Lomé Conventions were behind the search for alternative development models and led to the creation of some quite revolutionary instruments.

More recently, we have seen how mechanisms under Cotonou to respond to unforeseen needs have proven flexible and efficient in equal measure.

Let me give you just a few examples. Firstly, in 2008, to address the impact of soaring international food prices in ACP States, we were able rapidly to mobilise an additional 1 billion euro to help the worst affected countries.

Other unique and pioneering initiatives have followed. I would like to briefly mention:

– the 1 billion euro MDG initiative

– the Vulnerability Flex mechanism that helped to reduce the financing gaps caused by the global economic and financial crisis

– the African Peace Facility, with 1 billion euro in funding from the European Development Fund.

And, at last but not least, let me recall that, today, the EU remains the largest economy to give full duty and quota-free access to Least Developed Countries. We should not shy away from the fact that our approach to trade relations with your countries has met with challenges and has not been supported by all. We, however, remain convinced that our approach is the best way to promote trade and development in ACP countries and to encourage regional integration, leading to integration into the world economy.

This is one of the reasons why the EU and its Member States continue to commit substantial support to aid for trade, for which we are the largest donors in the world. I think that, apart from a few details, the trade partnership on offer is clear and in fact the best ever offered to any of our partners and that the time is ripe for ACP decision-makers to decide whether they want to commit to such a partnership and start harvesting its advantages, or not, as the case may be. Opting out would be regrettable as I believe the partnership can deliver the development potential we set ourselves in Cotonou.

Overcoming these challenges together will enable us to take our relationship forward and address other important issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Cotonou Agreement is supported by a substantial financial instrument, the EDF. I will keep pressing for a solid external relations budget to see us through to 2020. Programming for the 11th EDF is now in full swing. It will be subject to the new principles introduced via the EU's updated development framework – notably its Agenda for Change and modernised approach to budget support. By implementing these principles – enhanced differentiation between recipient countries, increased concentration of aid, improved aid effectiveness through alignment, harmonisation and country ownership – the EDF promises to exert a greater impact and deliver better results for those who need them most.

However, it is clear to us all that the development context has changed, both in the EU and in the ACP. Which leads me to the second question I raised a moment ago: Will the ACP-EU partnership still be relevant as such in 2020?

The world is a very different place today. It has drastically changed even in recent years. And it will do so again before 2020 comes along. We cannot begin to predict all of these changes now. However, some trends are already well-established. In addition to those I mentioned earlier, we should not forget population and migration issues, along with peace and security. We would be interested in hearing from you on these issues.

In recent years we have witnessed the formation of regional groupings.

Africa, a continent of 54 countries, has moved pan-Africanism on from being a mere concept to being a very ambitious integration agenda driven by the African Union and the regional economic communities. Together, we have built a strong partnership and have come a long way since the Cairo Summit of 2000 and the adoption of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy in 2007.

The prospects for our next Summit and the proposed financial envelope of 1 billion euro to implement the strategy testify to the enthusiasm for that partnership.

In the Caribbean, CARICOM is gaining in importance, and it is only natural that we should be seeing a promising Joint Caribbean-EU Partnership Strategy develop. Meanwhile, Pacific regional integration – and the role of Australia and New Zealand in it – has an impact on EU-Pacific relations.

The question for you, therefore, will be to examine the relationship between Cotonou and these emerging regional processes which you are shaping.

In addition to the formation of regional groupings, we have seen the growing interaction of emerging economies with those various groupings and their members. The emergence of new actors presents us with another opportunity to explore further how we can all work towards the development of your societies. Has this situation made EU-ACP relations stronger or weaker? Are the common values enshrined in Cotonou as relevant today as they were 35 years ago, as those new actors with similarly new "toolboxes" step up their engagement in ACP countries?

We should also ask whether, having pushed the development agenda forward decades ago, our more recent common positions – as reflected in documents like the joint declarations on climate change in 2009 and on Rio +20 in Vanuatu in June of this year – have indeed influenced international forums or processes.

And we need to recognise that discussions dominated by financial cooperation issues are not ideal when we're trying to develop a common outlook on political issues of global import. We should focus on how the real political value of our relationship can come to the fore.

We need to show that we are serious about the principles that we have together enshrined in Cotonou – principles dealing with governance, human rights, the rule of law, the fight against poverty and much, much more.

We need to show that we are serious about our shared values and interests.

And we need to show that we are serious about pushing ahead with our common agenda on the international stage. Since you all belong to other political and regional groupings, we should consider whether the ACP setting is best suited to our working together to tackle truly global challenges, such as climate change.

Another global issue we will have to contend with relates to the international community's work on sustainable development goals and our efforts to shape a post-2015 development framework.

The EU intends to play a full part in both processes. And it is very clear that the EU-ACP partnership can play a central role in driving the global discussions around both processes. Here again we'd be interested in hearing from you on how you see this.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We should see our reflections on the future of ACP-EU relations as a unique opportunity for us to establish a relevant, modern relationship that builds on the best of our existing cooperation and puts us in an even better position to join forces to beat poverty and take up the other global challenges we face.

If our partnership has taught us anything, it is that we are stronger when we take on challenges together. What we need to do now is take an honest look at the strengths and weaknesses of our partnership. In doing this we will be giving ourselves every chance of getting the full potential out of our relationship and setting it on an altogether more solid footing. The last, and perhaps most basic, question we must ask ourselves, therefore is: are we all ready to see our relationship flourish after 2020, serving as a basis for ambitious joint political cooperation and action on the world stage? All these are questions we can only answer together. The EU looks forward to seeking the right answers with you.

Thank you.