Hon. Fitz A Jackson, President of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly; Honourable Members; Excellencies ACP Ambassadors present; Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful that I have another occasion to address your Assembly on your return to Strasbourg following your meetings held in this city in March this year.

As stated by the President in his opening remarks, events had conspired to make it difficult for your meetings to go according to the calendar agreed on last year. After the decision was taken to hold the 28th Session of the JPA and 36th Session of the ACP PA here in Strasbourg, the Secretariat did all it could to put in place all the logistical facilities to ensure the success of the meetings.

However, due to the fact that the facilities in the Parliament premises had already been committed to other meetings during this week, arrangements were made to hold ACP meetings in this place, and to revert to the Parliament buildings as from tomorrow.

I wish to apologise in advance for any shortcomings or inconveniences that this may have caused.

Mr. President, Hon. Members,

This time of the year is always a busy time for the Secretariat. In addition to your meetings, we have been occupied with preparations for the 100th Session of the ACP Council of Ministers that will be held from 9 to 12 December 2014 at ACP House in Brussels.

The December sessions of Council are always intense affairs as it is during these meetings that key decisions with regard to the Budget and other institutional matters are taken, in addition to recurrent items on trade matters, development finance, and other international issues which impact on the Group and its member States.

The highlight of the Council will be the appointment of a new Secretary General to head the ACP Secretariat from 2015 to 2020, a critical period marking the final leg of the current ACP partnership agreement with the EU. The appointment will be made from a shortlist of three candidates from the Caribbean region, whose turn it is to hold the position according to the principle of rotation currently in place.

Aside from the above and the regular business of Council, this will be an occasion for in-depth discussions on the future perspectives of the ACP Group. The Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on the Future of the ACP Group as well as the Ambassadorial Working Group have been considering a wide range of issues concerning the future challenges and opportunities for the Group. These discussions have been premised on the need to revitalise, recalibrate and reposition the ACP Group into an operationally effective international organisation in order to better serve the needs and ambitions of its member States.

Central to all these questions is what should happen to the Group, or what form the Group should take after the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020. I have been privileged to participate in almost all the meetings of the EPG and the Committee of Ambassadors on this subject. I would say that in all the discussions, there is consensus that things cannot continue as before. In this regard, I am pleased to note that you will have an opportunity to hear from the EPG on this issue in the course of this meeting.

Hon. President,

We have invited the newly appointed High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Ms. Federica Mogherini and Development Commissioner Mr. Neven Mimica to address the Council, followed by exchange of views. This will provide the Council an opportunity to be briefed on the approach and policy orientation of the High Representative and the Commissioner with regard to the ACP Group.

Mr. President, Hon. Members,

As I have intimated above, this is in effect my farewell address to this Assembly, because my term of office comes to an end in February 2015, while your next sitting, the 37th Session of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly, is scheduled to be held on 18 March 2015. As you are aware, I was nominated by the ECOWAS Heads of State to complete the mandate of former Secretary General Mohamed Ibn Chambas when he was appointed African Union and United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur and Head of the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur.

It has been an honour and a privilege to be part of your meetings, and to observe, first hand, how you approach issues of concern to our Member states and indeed, how individually and collectively, you defend the interests of the Group and its member States in joint meetings with your EU counterparts.

Mr. President, Hon. Members,

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the support that I have received from the Secretariat since I took office. Being part of the establishment made me aware of the important role of the Secretariat in supporting and facilitating the work of all the organs of the ACP Group under often difficult administrative and financial constraints. The ACP Group has a single Secretariat of less than 100 individuals arrayed against the formidable structures of the EC Council, the Parliament and the Commission that are of incomparable size in financial, technological and human resource terms. That the Secretariat manages to undertake so much work under these circumstances is due largely to the determination, diligence and intellectual effort and sacrifice of our staff.

In the last twenty months that I have been at the helm of the Secretariat, I have become even more convinced of the enormous development potential of our member states, and their rich cultural and natural diversity. Our Group is made up of some of the smallest countries populated by a few thousand people, and some of the largest countries with hundreds of millions of people. Some countries do not seem to have much in terms of natural resources, while others are substantially endowed with vast mineral riches, water resources and forests teaming with diverse plants and wildlife. In this sense, we can state that our Group should be the richest group of countries on earth.

And yet what is common to all our countries is the realisation that we have not managed, perhaps with a few exceptions, to realise the true worth of our potential for the benefit of our people. Despite all our wealth, we are only bit part players on the global theatre of development. We are still nursing aspirations of becoming full actors in international political and economic governance, which indeed is our rightful heritage.

The forefathers of our Group when they convened in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1975, had this same twin objective in mind, that is, to bridge the development gap in ACP states and secondly, through this process to integrate them and make them more effective players in the international economy.

One could perhaps express disappointment that after 40 years of our existence, we should still be talking about the same objectives. In this same span of time, some East Asian countries have been transformed from least developed countries to major economic powers. It will be a terrible indictment on us if the next generation, in 40 or 50 years’ time, should still be talking about the same elemental challenges of poverty and underdevelopment.

Allow me to state nevertheless, that the challenges the ACP Group now face should in no way be construed as challenges to the legitimacy of the ACP Group; on the other hand, these only point to the need for being continually innovative to ensure that the Group retains and enhances its relevance to our Member States.

The ACP Group has since its inception provided a platform for harmonised action and policy in the relations of the ACP Group with the EU. As Parliamentarians, you have played a significant role, together with your European Parliament counterparts in this process. The various cooperation instruments, such as the European Development Fund and the Commodity Protocols have helped to systematically direct EU development effort where it is most needed, without which there would have been serious divisions and unnecessary competition amongst the ACP States.

Mr. President, Hon. Members,

My appeal to you as Parliamentarians is to ensure that you are involved at national level in your own Parliaments in bringing more accountability and transparency to ACP-EU cooperation programmes such as Country Strategy Papers and Economic Partnership Agreements. This will help to infuse the ACP-EU Partnership with more democratic legitimacy. In this regard, I would like to propose that this Assembly should adopt concrete measures of ensuring that the decisions and Resolutions adopted by the JPA are presented to National Parliaments, and appropriate follow-up action taken by our Respective Governments on the issues on which you speak. This would ensure that you too fulfil your obligations of accountability and transparency to your Parliaments.

With these few words, I wish to once again thank you for your kind attention and I wish you successful deliberations for the rest of your meetings.