Development cooperation between the European Union and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007. Although bilateral relations have always been and still remain one of the main features of modern development cooperation, it was the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which first established a collective European development policy. The Treaty of Rome granted associated status to 31 overseas collectivities and territories (OCTs) and provided for the creation of a European Development Fund (EDF) intended to grant technical and financial assistance to the countries which were still under European rule at the time. More significantly, however, by means of the Treaty of Rome the six Member States of the European Economic Community were expressing solidarity with the colonies and OCTs and committed themselves to contribute to their prosperity.
The first cycle of the EDF was designed for a period of five years and took effect in 1959. As it drew to a close, however, many of the OCTs had regained independence and new arrangements were necessary. In 1963, representatives of the EEC Member States and 17 African countries and Madagascar met in Yaoundé, Cameroon, to sign their first partnership agreement in history. The group of developing countries which signed the final agreement were granted preferential trade arrangements such as the duty-free access of specified African goods into the European market. In addition, it was agreed to continue support via the EDF and the European Investment Bank (EIB) (p.29).
In 1969 the agreements made in the first Yaoundé Convention were renewed by the second Yaoundé Convention which lasted until 1975.
One of the most important aspects of Yaoundé was its foundation on the recognition of national sovereignty of all participating countries. It was furthermore not only unprecedented in its form but also unique in its comprehensiveness, covering aspects from financial and technical assistance (through the EDF) to investment and capital movements (through the EIB) to trade preferences. The structure established in Yaoundé remains the framework for many aspects of ACP-EU cooperation until today.
The Yaoundé II Agreement expired in 1974 and was succeeded by a new Convention, signed in and named after the capital of Togo: Lomé. The establishment of a new preferential trade agreement instead of a continuation of the old one was incited by both unsatisfactory outcomes of the previous arrangement as well as changes in the European political framework. From the developing countries’ point of view, the call for new negotiations was prompted by the strong neo-colonial aspects which were still detectable in the Yaoundé Agreement and the disappointing economic results it had produced. From a European point of view, the development strategy experienced a shift from a regional to a more global approach with the introduction of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in 1971. Simultaneously, the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Community in 1973 meant that the Francophone focus of development policy was soon shifted to include the developing countries of the Commonwealth of Nations.
The Lomé Convention was an attempt to rectify the inefficiencies created in Yaoundé and to address the various points of criticism it had been subjected to. As a result of the enlargement and in line with the more global development policy of the EC a group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries joined forces to enter into negotiations. The Agreement was signed after 18 months of negotiations in February 1975 by the nine EC Member States and 46 developing countries which became formally known as the ACP countries. Although colonial ties with Europe remained to be a decisive factor for the new signatories’ participation, the composition of the group of developing countries showed a slow diversification of European development policy and therefore silenced some of the voices which had criticised the selective approach of Yaoundé.
The relationship between the European Union (EU) and the ACP group changed significantly during the 1990s. The historical ties which had been the most prominent features of earlier agreements had been eroded and the ACP countries’ importance to the EU was diminished. In the light of the completion of the Single Market Programme in 1992 and due to the end of the Cold War, the EU had turned towards development issues which were a bit "closer to home", namely in Central and Eastern Europe. Although the relationship between the EU and the ACP countries was continued it was marked by the changing political situation of its time. The wave of democratization which reached many developing countries after the end of the Cold War led to a previously unknown politicisation of development cooperation. Additionally, the continuing absence of the economic rewards expected from Lomé, its continuing incompatibility with General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)/World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions and the complexity the Lomé Conventions had assumed were reasons why a new agreement was drawn up in Cotonou, the capital of Benin.
The Cotonou Agreement is the latest of the PTAs between the EU and the ACP group. It was signed in June 2000 by 77 ACP countries and the EU-15. It is designed to last for a period of 20 years and is based on four main principles: partnership, participation, dialogue and mutual obligations, and differentiation and regionalisation. Building on the experience of nearly 40 years of development cooperation, the Cotonou Agreement introduced some important innovations.
One of the most significant changes was the introduction of a political dimension to EU-ACP development cooperation. This aspect of Cotonou has been subject to some of its fiercest discussion and criticism because it linked development cooperation to conditionality. Respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law have become so-called "essential elements" the violation of which can lead to partial or total suspension of development aid. Conditionality is one of the issues which have been considered to be undermining the principle of equal partnership on which Lomé was based.
Another important innovation of the Cotonou Agreement was the acknowledgement of the civil society and especially the private sector as an essential element to foster economic development, represented in the principle of participation. Therefore, provisions were included at Cotonou which ensured the participation of non-state actors in ACP countries in the policy process of their respective state. Furthermore, the Cotonou Agreement put more emphasis on regional integration within the ACP group and especially in Africa.
The most radical change which the Cotonou Agreement implied was the establishment of the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which are scheduled to take effect in 2008.