Tilburg, 9 June 2015: This week the EU associated group of countries from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) celebrate its 40th anniversary. As the EU is contemplating the potential consequences of British exit, the consideration of the future of the EU relations with the ACP should be understood in terms of the strategic positioning of Europe in the world.
The ACP, the group of countries associated with the EU since its inception, have historically played a key strategic role towards the building of a united and strong European Union.
The post-colonial history emerged from the second world war when the colonies provided key assets in resources, manpower and a strategic location to the allied forces from which to build resistance.
The British Secretary of State for the Colonies Mr. M. MacDonald, visited his French counterpart to discuss the cooperation between the British and French colonial Empires in March 1940.
The core strategic interests of Churchill were to ensure the availability of the French Fleet as well as the colonial resources of France in the war against Nazi Germany.
The need to pull the colonial resources and to embolden the French government in its resistance was the basis of an offer for a Franco – Anglo Union in 1940 at the eve of Pétain’s negotiations for an armistice with Nazi Germany.
The proposal offered a single citizenship, one parliament and one war council.
Defeatism and mistrust in the cabinet of French PM Reynaud brought down this unprecedented and short-lived proposal, negotiated by De Gaulle and Churchill, in the presence of Monet.
When Churchill was asked whether a Union was still a part of British policy in 1945, he responded with a short “No Sir.”
However, the strategic access to the colonies remained a key concern in the rapid decolonization that followed the Second World War as well as the question of how the new states would be related to the European Economic Community.
In the negotiation leading up to the Treaty of Rome, France made it a precondition that a European Development Fund was established to support the joint European relations with the former colonies, as was asked by the leaders of the newly established nations.
The European Development Fund provided resources to support the collaboration of the EEC and the would-be ACP countries, and the EEC portrayed the greater ambition to create a post colonial policy that was no longer bound by former colonial demarcation lines.
Negotiations with former British colony Nigeria led to an unprecedented cooperation agreement with the EEC at the eve of EEC negotiation on British entry; the future relation of the EEC and the newly independent states was a critical part of negotiations on British entry.
Nigeria and leaders of the former British colonies in the Caribbean played a key role in bringing together the former French and British colonies to negotiate as one group with the EEC and to ensure that they negotiated preferential access to the EEC market.
These negotiations took place in the context of the oil crisis and raw materials were in much demand to support the growing economy of the EEC, which accepted the terms of the group to be treated as one; the ACP was created in 1975, following successful negotiations on British entry.
The celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the ACP Group coincides with British Exit becoming a real possibility whilst the EU has to determine its position in terms of future relations with the ACP as the current EU-ACP Cotonou Partnership Agreement ends in 2020.
The ACP has changed substantially and whilst its relations with the EU are still almost exclusive, the influence of China, the Middle East and other emerging economies increasingly prominent and require the EU to compete for raw materials and markets in a region where it used to have exclusive access.
The potential of a British Exit should further raise concerns in European Head Quarters in terms of the need to ensure a strategic positioning of the EU and its traditional relationship with the ACP is one key asset that it holds, even after a potential British departure.
Notably the approval in the UN of EU Observer Status after the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty on EU Political Union was enabled by the support of the ACP countries, underscored by the presence of Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly, attending the ACP anniversary whilst the interest of the emerging economies in the ACP is underlined by the attendance of the Ambassadors of India and Brazil.
As the ACP has changed considerably and is opening up to other actors, this is a key moment where the EU needs to consider its future strategic positioning and should decide what it has to offer to build on its historic relationship with the ACP countries.
I would submit that the EU has much to gain by a strong partnership with the ACP. The EU should continue to seek a reciprocal and binding agreement with the ACP to ensure a long-term collaboration beyond the potential exit of Britain and to remain a strong player in the ACP based on a realistic appreciation of the increasingly growing relevance of newly emerging economies globally.
Prof Dr Mirjam van Reisen is Professor of International Social Responsibility at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and a Member of the Dutch Council on Foreign Affairs.
Email: mirjamvanreisen@gmail.com.