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DEVELOPMENT: ACP Seeks Its Own Parliament

Ann De Ron

THE HAGUE, Nov 26 2004 (IPS) - Parliamentarians from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries agreed this week on setting up a joint ‘parliament’ to improve internal cohesion and to gain influence with the European Union, World Trade Organisation and other bodies.

The ACP parliament could get going as early as April next year if national parliaments approve.

Plans for an ACP parliament were announced during the eighth session of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly that concluded in The Hague Thursday. This assembly brings together 77 ACP parliamentarians with just as many members of the European Parliament. The Assembly aims to promote North-South links.

The ACP-EU assembly is only a consultative body, but the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, is increasingly likely to take account of what it says.

The ACP parliament would be a formalisation of the preparatory meeting ACP parliamentarians hold just before the joint assembly held twice a year.

“We will use present facilities. No extra administration or costs will be necessary,” Ramdien Sardjoe, the Suriname co-president of the ACP-EU assembly told IPS.

But it will make a difference, say Sardjoe and Sharon Hay Webster from Jamaica, who will succeed him as ACP co-president next year. They say an ACP parliament will help define common points of view.

“We will also gain credibility both towards our own national parliaments and in negotiations with the European Union and with the World Trade Organisation and other blocs,” Hay Webster told IPS.

The EU seemed less enthusiastic. EU co-president of the assembly Glenys Kinnock said priority should be given instead to building the capacity of national parliaments in ACP countries.

“An ACP parliament can help the parliamentarians to be better prepared for the joint assembly,” Paul Malin, head of the European Commission unit for relationships with ACP institutions told IPS. “But at the same time there is a danger they will act as one bloc at the assembly.”

Malin added that “a strong point of the assembly is exactly that parliamentarians are bringing out issues that the ministers at the ACP council might be too diplomatic to say.”

The ACP delegates ánd the MEPs took steps closer at this assembly, and the capacity to solve disputes at the joint assembly proved a lot better than at earlier assemblies.

The assembly voted four resolutions. The first was against food aid that disrupts local markets. A second stressed the need to involve non-governmental groups in EU-ACP dealings.

A third resolution on hurricanes in the Caribbean underlined concern about the consequences of climate change for small island states. A fourth resolution that illustrated most clearly the improved dialogue at the assembly was on Darfur.

European and ACP viewpoints on Darfur stood far apart at the start of the assembly. The EU delegates wanted outright condemnation of the Sudanese government, while ACP delegates opposed that move. The ACP managed a compromise that Kinnock called “not as strong as the one the European Parliament passed a few weeks ago, but still valuable.”

“At former assemblies we had 20 or 30 proposals for a resolution, and 80 or 90 amendments,” Hay Webster said. “Conciliation meetings were like war. That is a big difference with this week’s assembly. The only danger now is that it might get a bit boring..”

The ACP clearly gained influence within the assembly. “They seem to have developed a good relationship,” Malin said. “There is much less lecturing from the MEPs (members of the European Parliament) and much less defensiveness from the ACP side. Resolutions are more relevant and they are working together more.”

The assembly itself seemed satisfied with the written and oral answers provided by new EU development commissioner Louis Michels on the progress on former resolutions. “And he saw that we are a serious and well-informed body that will not accept platitudes,” Kinnock said.

“The assembly clearly got more serious,” Malin said. “And the more serious it gets, the more seriously the European Commission must take it."

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