A new partnership between the Caribbean and the European Union

Sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

By Dr Rudy Insanally

(Dr Rudy Insanally served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana from 2001 to 2008)

March 25, 1957 remains a red-letter date on the calendar of modern Europe.  It was on that day that a historic document was signed, creating a new entity called the European Economic Community which later became known as the European Community (EC) and more popularly as the Common Market.  At that time, most of Europe was still suffering from the  disastrous consequences of World War II; the political landscape had been radically transformed; economies were devastated, and the people disillusioned and  desperate.  But like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, Europe hastened to address the challenges of social disarray and physical reconstruction. With the generous assistance of the United States’ Marshall Plan, Europe was able to recreate in a remarkably short time, a new and functional community.

Thirteen Cariforum member states signed the economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union on 15th October 2008 in Bridgetown, Barbados (Caricom Website)
(From left to right) Michael O’Kennedy, Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Etienne Eyadéma, President of Togo, and Bernard St John, Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados, Minister of Trade, Industry, Civil Aviation and Tourism at the signing of the 2nd Lome Convention in 1979. (www.ec.europa.eu)

The success of this venture is credited in large measure, to the inspired and inspiring vision of several statesmen such as Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul Henri Spaak and Konrad Adenauer who with foresight and pragmatism, laid the foundations of today’s European Union.  On completing their task one of the drafters of the Treaty, Jean Monnet of France is reported to have quoted from a Swiss philosopher, “Nothing would have been possible without the work of these men… Nothing would be lasting without the institutions, pillars of civilization.” These eminent statesmen, very mindful of the region’s past mistakes, had sought to design an ideological, political, economic and social framework for building a new European polity. Using liberal socialist ideas, they planned to strengthen capitalism as its economic system, to formulate a social pact and to strive for political reconciliation between previously warring states.  For more than fifty years, their endeavours have succeeded in evading a Third World War, building a strong economy and achieving a comparatively high degree of social stability.

Very importantly, the Treaty laid the foundation for an ‘ever closer union,’ creating the freedom to move goods, capital and people, and the concept of social cohesion. The provision was intended to ensure that member states should give economic support to each other to allow the countries to develop as far as possible, at the same pace in order to avoid “a two-speed” growth of Europe. Accordingly, special provisions were made in the Treaty for regional cooperation; barriers to trade and investment were broken down to spur economic growth. At the political level, the document enshrined the goal of a European Union based on peaceful reconciliation, social cohesion, international cooperation, and the preservation of peace and stability. Of special concern and interest to the EU’s partners in the developing world is the collective European development policy which was first set out in the 1957 Treaty. A European Development Fund (EDF) was established to grant technical and financial assistance to a select group of beneficiaries, mainly former colonies and overseas collectivities and territories (OCT).

Cooperation programmes with former colonies of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) were embodied in a series of Agreements and Conventions. The first two agreements made at Yaoundé, Cameroon, granted preferential trade arrangements such as the duty-free access of specified African products into the European market. Additionally, financial assistance was provided through the EDF and the European Investment Fund (EIF). Upon the expiration of the Yaoundé Agreement, a new convention named after Lomé, the capital of Togo, was introduced as an improvement on the previous agreement. It represented a change by Europe from a regional to a more global and comprehensive approach in response to the introduction of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) in 1971. With the accession of the United Kingdom in 1973, Europe’s development policy added the developing countries of the Commonwealth to Yaoundés original membership of francophone ACP countries. Although the negotiations were deemed successful, the benefits to the ACP countries were considered greatly diminished by the impact of the GSP.

The relationship between the EU and the ACP group underwent a profound transformation in the decade of the nineties. The historical ties between – the two groups – the EU and the ACP, were greatly reduced. Following the conclusion of the Single Market Programme in 1992 and the end of the Cold War, Europe’s development policy turned inward-looking, concentrating more and more on the needs of the new member countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The democratic ideals which pervaded the world at the end of the war resulted in a new politicization of international economic relations. Soon, concerns for democracy, human rights and good governance among others, crept into the negotiations of economic and technical agreements. Simultaneously, the agricultural protocols – sugar, bananas and rum – and other trading mechanisms – were modified and subsequently, withdrawn, much to the dissatisfaction of ACP producer countries.


Amidst an atmosphere of disappointment and disarray, the EU-ACP parties were able to forge a new arrangement  – the Cotonou Agreement, otherwise known as the ACP-EU partnership, which entered into force in 2000 and is due to end in 2020. At the request of the ACP countries, it was agreed to review the Agreement every five years to see whether it was functioning according to expectations and if not, to find ways to remedy any perceived deficiencies. After two revisions, the agreement was adopted to face new development challenges such as climate change, food security, regional integration, and the effectiveness of aid. The principles upon which the Agreement continues to rely are (1) the equality of the partners and ownership of the development strategies (2) although Governments are the main partners, the agreement will be open to other suitable participants (3) the pivotal role of dialogue, (4) the fulfilment of mutual obligations and (5) differentiation and regionalization.

Even before the EPA emerged from the negotiations, it was criticized by many ACP states.  First, it was argued that by treating separately with the six groups, the EU had seriously undermined the unity and solidarity which constituted an important strength for the ACP in the negotiation process. Moreover, contrary to promises made by the EU, the Agreement reached was not sufficiently development-oriented or people-centred. Under the new EPAs, the principle of reciprocity replaced the non-reciprocal treatment enjoyed by ACP and required that the latter remove their tariffs on substantially all imports from the EU over time. This was a significant blow for ACP treasuries since they must accord no less favourable treatment of other economic partners. As a result of these new conditions the ACP countries will no longer be Europe’s main development partner.

As a member of the ACP group, CARICOM/CARIFORUM states obviously share many of the concerns of the alliance. Particularly worrying is the fact that reciprocal trade between partners of highly unequal levels of development requires that adequate resources be transferred to the less developed to build up their productive capabilities. If this is not done, existing inequalities are likely to be worsened by the process of trade liberalization, as the economically more advanced partners are in a much better position to take advantage of the opportunities. Europe itself was obliged to transfer structural and social cohesion funds to Ireland, Spain and Portugal to bring these countries up to par with the more developed countries. It is to be hoped that in future reviews of the Agreement, the EU will do its utmost to assist Caricom/Cariforum countries to achieve higher levels of economic and social progress.

The political dialogue which the European Union continues to hold with regional organizations in Latin America, including the Community of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Organization of American States (OAS), Caricom and Cariforum affords all parties to exchange views and to coordinate policies and measures relating to issues at the bilateral, regional and multilateral level. In the Caricom -EU Forum, for example, there has been considerable discussion on social cohesion which represents a challenge to Europe as a result of the continued expansion of its membership, and to the Caribbean because of poverty underdevelopment and political division. Among the varied topics which have received, and continue to receive, attention are the strengthening of democracy, good governance, climate change and peace and security. Indeed, any matter that interests and concerns both parties may be placed on the Agenda for discussion and decision-taking.

It is fair to say that Caricom/Cariforum-EU cooperation has proved invaluable in creating a mutually satisfactory relationship between the two regions.  The relationship should therefore be maintained and further strengthened after the Cotonou Agreement comes to an end in 2020. It is not too early to consider, after reviewing past experience, what can be done to remedy any perceived deficiencies, and to improve performance within the agreed framework. Necessary consultations should involve not only governments but also representatives of relevant organizations and civil society as a whole. Special attention should be given to the problem of implementation and accountability as well as to the challenges which integration now faces.

The world is now traversing a period of great uncertainty and unease. Nations, both developed and developing, are greatly concerned at the threats of rising poverty and human suffering, political, economic and social instability, the spread of transboundary crime, terrorism, climate change and natural disasters, all of which combine to endanger peace and economic progress. Europe is now witnessing a large influx of migrants fleeing from many areas of conflict, a return to nationalistic sentiments, and the possibility of secession of more member states. In Caricom and Cariforum, the integration impulse also appears to be waning. Regional Heads of Government have called for a pause to allow for the enactment of measures that could serve to revive the flagging community spirit. Meanwhile, a large segment of the population remains unaware of the purpose and relevance of Caricom.


Are we witnessing a reverse of regionalism which will make Europe a fortress of isolation and exclusion? Fears for the future are widespread in the Caribbean which is still plagued by problems, and unable to fully cope with the effects of globalization. One wonders how developments in the two regions – Europe and the Caribbean – will affect the partnership which has been gradually formed after decades of collaboration and careful planning. The withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, otherwise referred to as Brexit, can have major consequences for other members. In response to changes in the international situation, we may be tempted to resort to desperate measures and in our haste, throw out the proverbial “baby with the bath water.” We should seek instead to consolidate our gains and to avoid significant losses

It is not too early for the Joint Caribbean-EU partnership strategy to undertake an analysis of the challenges and after due deliberation, to propose to the parties measures to preserve the partnership beyond the Cotonou Agreement. Both the analysis and the recommendations must be based on a recognition that both regions share a common history, and a set of common concerns and values as well as an interest in a democratic, just and equitable global order. Europe has no doubt already begun to assess its role and to determine its priorities in the next decade.

Europe should not forget though that much of its current prosperity derives from its conquest and colonization of the Caribbean in the fifteenth century. It was also in the distant Caribbean that European powers sought to settle their rivalries and power struggles by proxy wars. Even up to World War II, the Caribbean provided cannon fodder and significant war materiel for defence against its fascist enemies. In fact, instead of diminishing, the strategic role of the Caribbean may even increase when the northern shoulder of South America, the former enclave of the French, and former British and Dutch Guianas – becomes a development hub and a strategic gateway for Europe to the Americas. Caribbean/European cooperation should consequently not be seen as an act of charity as it often is, but rather, as an investment in regionalism in the twenty-first century.

Ultimately, a strong and mature regionalism should lead to enlightened multilateralism which has been recognized by the international community as the ideal basis on which future inter-state cooperation should be based. Both the Caricom/Cariforum and EU countries are members of the United Nations, the most democratic and representative of organizations within the constellation of international bodies. Here too, both the Caribbean and Europe have established a pattern of cooperation which has benefited all members of the world organization. Worthy of note are the accomplishments of two small states – one a member of the EU and the other, a member of Caricom. The examples are first, Malta, whose initiative led to the adoption of the Law of the Sea Treaty which today governs mankind’s use of the world’s oceans and seas and second, Trinidad and Tobago in Caricom which successfully proposed the creation of the International Criminal Court to bring to account the frequent abuse of human rights and other crimes against humanity. Initiative is not the preserve of large and powerful states and can come often from the small and economically disadvantaged countries.

Any future negotiation between the Caricom/Cariforum and EU countries must therefore be founded on mutual respect and understanding, principles without which the partnership is not likely to endure.  Inequitable regionalism is likely to result in the retreat of individual states to self-serving nationalism and even to unhealthy isolationism. The Joint Strategy adopted by the parties must determine the terms of engagement in the negotiations, express a clear mandate for their mission and provide regular accountability to their principals and as necessary, to their Parliaments and peoples. The experience of the early regional agreements should not to be forgotten, since some acquired rights (droits acquis) were lost. The Sugar Protocol, for example, on which thousands of Caribbean lives depended, was unilaterally withdrawn, resulting in unemployment and increased poverty for the masses. Had the negotiating teams provided for transitional measures to cushion the loss by preparing the populations for other occupations, the negative impact on the Caribbean might have been minimized. It is high time that developed countries realize that unless the great economic and social disparity between themselves and the developing countries remove their own prosperity may be put at risk.

It would be a pity indeed if the current threats to regionalism were to succeed in destroying inter-regional co-operation and solidarity. The peoples of Europe must be fully informed by their leaders of the implication of a regression to a more Hobbesian world of selfish unilateralism. It is now generally agreed that the problems of this new millennium cannot be resolved by any one country or group of countries, however strong and powerful they may be. The concept of inter-dependence among states has been sufficiently established in several international agreements, one of which is the pursuit of Sustainable Development goals. For its part the Caribbean, specifically Caricom and Cariforum must find visionary leaders like those who gave life to the Treaty of Chaguaramas, and to our relations with Europe. With imaginative and inspired leadership on both sides, the Caribbean/European relationship will not only be preserved but also further strengthened to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.



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