Europe, Headlines

POLITICS-EU/ACP: First Joint Parliamentary Assembly

Brian Kenety

BRUSSELS, Oct 13 2000 (IPS) - When all is said and done, often more is said than done.

However, the first ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, which this week brought together 92 nations and has pledged to be more than “a talking shop” whose resolutions end up “in a pigeonhole” somewhere collecting dust, has achieved much, say legislators.

The assembly, which convened here Oct 10-13, was meant to usher in a new era in relations between the now 77 countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group and the 15 member states of the European Union (EU), as from now on the ACP states are to be represented by democratically elected parliamentarians, and the body is to play a significant role in ACP-EU co-operation.

“The very title is highly meaningful. Ours is a parliamentary body, which confers democratic legitimacy on our ACP-EU partnership, bringing together elected parliamentarians from all of our 92 countries, said assembly co-president John Corrie, a member of the European Parliament (United Kingdom), in his opening remarks on Monday.

At the moment about 80 percent of ACP participants are elected officials, with a goal of 100 percent. During the course of the four-day assembly ACP representatives took the floor far more frequently than they ever had when the body was simply a joint assembly, participants noted, and that in itself was a significant achievement.

Abednego Seisa Nqojane, a parliamentarian from Lesotho and general rapporteur on the ACP-EU partnership and the challenges of globalisation, told the body that poverty was the most serious international problem and the fruits of globalisation had been unfairly distributed both between countries and within them.

He said particular focus must be placed on the adoption of trade rules which were not prejudicial to the developing countries; indebtedness of the poor countries; incorporation into World Trade Organisation (WTO) decisions of the developing countries’ development goals; equitable transfer of information and communication technology; mobilisation of the international community against HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases.

In the debate on the floor, ACP parliamentarians all expressed major concerns about the impact of globalisation on the developing countries.

Levison Mumba (Namibia) and Ramidien Sardjoe (Surinam) complained that investment flows were not directed towards the developing countries even when they liberalised their economies.

The lack of foreign investment, in a context of free markets in which leading subsidised economies were lined up against weak economies meant that the latter were forced into a vicious circle of trade imbalances, balance of payment deficits, declining customs receipts, budget deficits and inflation.

Mumba compared globalisation to the Titanic, where only first class passengers had access to lifeboats. The body overwhelmingly adopted his general report.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement signed in Benin in June, which provides the framework for ACP-EU trade and aid relations and replaces the Lome Conventions in place since 1975, explicitly refers to the need to include civil society in the decision-making processes to ensure that it is more pluralistic – more bottom up than top down.

The new body is meant to be a first step in achieving that ideal.

The parliamentary assembly, “extremely concerned that the ultra liberalism enshrined at the WTO is undermining the opportunities for sustainable development,” is calling for a moratorium on all new WTO negotiations until the interests of all member countries can be fairly balanced.

“Creating a Parliamentary Assembly strengthens the very democracy we are all bound by in the Cotonou Accord, and regional co-operation should strengthen the links between Europe and the peoples of the ACP.

“This democratic change will help us to help you by making EU development policy more open and accountable,” said Corrie, albeit speaking in general terms and not directly on WTO matters.

“It is time for us to act. We must not be a mere talking shop. We must work hard and seriously from the start. We must take care that our contacts with civil society reflect the concerns of the people we represent,” he said, noting that previously, the ACP had been represented by ambassadors.

Under the Cotonou Accord, regional meetings are due to begin in 2001.

Corrie proposes that representatives of ACP sub-regions meet a corresponding number of European members of the joint assembly and hold parallel meetings with other stake holders in the development process.

“For our co-operation to correspond to the needs of the people, we must have input from the people. I am convinced this can be best achieved through direct contact with representatives of grassroots organisations, local authorities, farmers, employers, trade unions, women’s groups, the churches and Islamic bodies, and a wide variety of non-governmental organisations (NGOs),” said Corrie.

Guy Armand Zoungere Sokambi, Ambassador of the Central African Republic and Chair of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors, said that one of the challenges facing the new body was to work out practical arrangements for involving the new actors.

At this first gathering of the new Joint Parliamentary Assembly over 200 amendments were put forward and 35 draft resolutions voted on.

Early on Thursday evening the body adopted motions and resolutions. These included; backing the principle of free licenses for medicines to treat HIV/AIDS; on stronger co-operation between the EU and ACP to combat criminal trafficking in human beings and for third-country national legally resident in the EU to be properly integrated.

Other resolutions included deploring delays in implementing the Lusaka Agreement relating to peace in the Great Lakes region of Africa and to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; calling for a cease-fire in Burundi and resumption of structural aid there; a motion to reform the EU banana regime; and calling on the United Kingdom to honour its obligations to Zimbabwe under the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement relating to the funding of land acquisition and resettlement exercise.

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