EU-Caribbean Relations in the 21st Century

PRESS RELEASE:-Address delivered by EU Ambassador to Barbados, the Eastern Caribbean States, the OECS, and CARICOM/CARIFORUM to the monthly luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry on 27 September 2017 at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you today.

Let me say from the beginning that I am humbled by the responsibility bestowed upon me to talk about “EU-Caribbean Relations in the 21st Century”.

German Chancellor Helmuth Schmidt once said “if you have visions, go and see a doctor”. Actually I do believe that there is need for vision, to help set strategies, priorities and objectives.

Before going into that, let’s briefly look back at the past relationship between the Caribbean and the EU, and examine some of the challenges we will most likely face in the future.

I want to anticipate already one conclusion of my remarks: that there is untapped potential in our relationship. Perhaps the title of my remarks should rather be “the EU and the Caribbean – the untapped potential”.

At the same time, putting “the EU and the Caribbean” as two separate entities in the title is somehow misleading, because let’s not forget, the EU is directly present in the region, with the presence of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Anguilla, the British Virgin islands, Curacao and the other Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) and Ultra-Periphery Regions (RUPs). No matter what the future brings, we will remain closely connected.

So first forgive me a bit of history.

The relationship between the EU and the Caribbean was formed when the United Kingdom became a member of the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Interestingly, this was also towards the end of that post-colonial juncture when former colonies were seeking independence from Britain.

Between 1975 and 2000, what eventually became the European Union, had four Lome’ Conventions with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group, that provided financial and technical assistance to the Caribbean, and preferential treatment for sugar, bananas and rum –  very important to the social and economic development of most Caribbean countries, with the possible exception of Trinidad and Tobago.

Lome’ was followed by the Cotonou Agreement concluded in 2000 with more development opportunities and a stronger regional focus. In a nut-shell, the aim of the Cotonou Agreement is to alleviate poverty and to gradually integrate ACP countries into the world economy, with an overarching focus on private sector development as an engine to achieve these aims, but also introducing a political dimension.  It covers 79 countries and it expires in 2020.

As regards trade, the Caribbean was the first regional bloc with whom we concluded an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that entered into force in 2008. The important thing about the EPA is that it is WTO compatible. To support its implementation, the EU provided substantial assistance to facilitate trade and development. Much has been said and written about the EPA, but one thing is clear: the EPA has not been taken advantage of or has not delivered as yet to its full potential.


Most analysts who have evaluated the Cotonou Agreement agree that the Partnership Agreement contributed to:

– the eradication of poverty and increased human development;

– more equitable access to basic services;

– progress on integration into the world economy and therefore increasing trade flow; and

– some peace and security but new sources of instability.


But on the other side of the coin, there were mixed results on:

–  improving the rule of law and human rights;

– unsatisfactory economic diversification and insufficient value added; and also

– growing social inequality.


Certainly, we can say that the partnership has not sufficiently delivered on global objectives, leaving untapped potential for political dialogue.

In order to start to look at our future as a new partnership, it is useful to look at what are our common interests and objectives, but also our shared responsibilities.

Actually, when we consider our common objectives, these are already set out within the context of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals.

And when we talk of a partnership, we necessarily talk of a relationship based on the principle of co- responsibility.

With the expiration of the EU-ACP Cotonou Agreement in 2020, we have the strategic opportunity to launch a renewed political partnership and to rejuvenate our relations, taking into account a changed global context. An opportunity “to tap the untapped potential” I was referring to before.

So what are our interests? Let’s look first at the strategic EU interests.


Since the Cotonou Agreement was signed in 2000, the global context has changed significantly. It is characterised by:

– Persistent situations of fragility and vulnerability, uneven progress within and between countries; conflicts, poverty, unemployment and lack of decent work, rising inequalities, and human rights abuse;

– The rapidly growing negative effects of climate change and environmental degradation, which are undermining social and economic stability in various parts of the world;

– The increase in global economic humanitarian emergencies, stretching the resilience of entire countries and societies;

– And last but not least, more uncertainties in global relations, with new players making rapid inroads and old players apparently resetting their priorities.


All this hampers the sustainable and inclusive growth needed to offer positive perspectives and genuine opportunities in the life of many and constitutes a fertile ground for extremism, terrorism and organised crime.

For us in Europe, this situation has a spill over effect on the security and economic prosperity of our citizens, and it is the root cause of irregular migration and forced displacement.

Hence it is rather understandable that the EU’s strategic interest is to build political partnerships focused on building peaceful, stable, well governed, prosperous and resilient societies, on our borders and beyond.

And we believe in political partnerships that deliver on the objective of a multilateral rules based system.

The strategic interests and ambition of the EU are expressed within the EU’s Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy, adopted last year. This Strategy could be summarized as follows: the promotion of peace and security with a strong commitment to a global order based on international law; the support of democracy and the sustainable development goals, the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the promotion of human rights, nuclear non–proliferation and disarmament, the support for regional organisations and cooperative relations across geographical regions.

The specific priorities in our relationship with the ACP – and the Caribbean –  derive from those strategic interests and ambitions.


Specific priorities with the ACP and Caribbean are:

  1. Promote peaceful and democratic societies, good governance, the rule of law and human rights for all;
  2. Spur inclusive sustainable growth and decent jobs for all;
  3. Turn mobility and migration into opportunities and address challenges together;
  4. Promote human development and dignity;
  5. Protect the environment and fight climate change;
  6. Join forces in the global arena on areas of common interests;
  7. Commitment to global order based on international law and with the UN at its centre;
  8. Commitment to an open and fair international economic system.


All of this may sound pretty general – the sort of statement good for political manifestos. Why? Because we have to look at how these general statements are actually rolled out.

As an example, let’s look at migration in Europe.

Our way of dealing with migration is to apply the principles of solidarity, partnership, as well as shared responsibility and mutual accountability in respect of human rights.

So we have established partnerships to respond to these crises through immediate and measurable results, and, at the same time, to lay the foundations of an enhanced cooperation with countries of origin, transit and destination.  We also need and want to promote the resilience of long-term forcibly displaced persons and their inclusion in the economic and social life of host countries.

So you see – a partnership becomes challenging to establish and nurture when we are entering the specificities of the issues tackled. We will go back later to see what those priorities would entail, once we start discussing the implementation of our desired partnership.

Now, I cannot talk about the priorities of the Caribbean Countries, but I can certainly mention the most frequent concerns expressed by our partners; if I missed something, please call my attention to it.

In the Caribbean, we are talking of well-established democracies which are, however, haunted by a number of structural vulnerabilities, again generalizing:

– as Small Island Developing States;

– lacking economic diversification;

– not able to exploit trade agreements like the EPA and unable to insert themselves in a global value chain;

– countries that socially suffer from inequality (one of the highest Gini coefficient in the world);

– brain drain;

– and now heavily affected by bank de-risking and other types of blacklisting;

– economically challenged by the so-called graduation to middle income country status;

– with governance shortcomings, sometimes poor rule of law and poor criminal justice systems;

– affected by citizens’ insecurity (crime and corruption);

– Human Rights wise, affected by gender and domestic violence, child abuse, discrimination against minorities;

– committed to a regional integration process but at odds with its implementation;

– limited capacity to address global challenges.


Let’s clear here the terrain on structural vulnerability. The European Union fully recognises that countries that have been upgraded to upper middle income status still face vulnerabilities. The EU remains the biggest donor in the Caribbean – we will provide grants of one billion Euros up to 2020.

This is testimony to the fact that we integrate vulnerability as a factor in our “graduation” assessment of needs for development cooperation.

Let me mention that, for example, the European Investment Bank has committed that one third of all of its concessional lending outside of the EU be for climate action, promoting the role of a vibrant private sector.

We also need to envisage new modalities to engage and cooperate with Middle Income Countries, also taking in full account their vulnerabilities.

And I haven’t even pronounced the word Brexit yet!

Did I miss anything? So, when we go back to the EU’s priorities and the EU’s interests towards the region and the region’s own concerns, we see that the potential for a common agenda is huge.

And here I will only list a few elements of that agenda:


Promoting inclusive sustainable development

For all of us it is important that the region be prosperous, stable and a solid partner.

As reflected by the Sustainable Development Goals, creating inclusive sustainable growth and decent jobs is critical for the stability and prosperity of partners.  Therefore, our partnership should particularly focus on key drivers for inclusive sustainable growth.

These include the promotion of macroeconomic stability, including financial system stability; the promotion of sound public finance management and efficient control of the use of public finance, which is critical in this regard. It also includes the promotion of effective, efficient, fair and transparent tax systems and the fight against fraud and illicit financial flows. In a nutshell, sound public finance management is a key element of good governance and a key basis for an effective and resilient public sector.

This requires stronger action to improve the policy and regulatory framework, as well as the business climate. Particular attention should be given to addressing the need for increased investment.


Protecting the environment and tackling climate change, sustainable energy

This month only we had two Category 5 Hurricanes passing through this region, which is a stark reminder of the exposure to climate change of the Caribbean islands, where one such event can wipe out the GDP of a country.

The EU is proud to have become the leader in the world steering the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate. In this context, I want to pay tribute to the crucial role that the Caribbean played before the final negotiations with the “1.5 to stay alive” campaign and during the time of the negotiations in Paris – without it I am not sure we would have managed to reach the Agreement. Now the EU is ready to support the Caribbean’s transition into green economies!

Our partnership should work towards providing universal access to clean, modern, affordable, secure and reliable energy services.

Climate change and environmental degradation, threaten to offset economic progress, and jeopardise peace and stability (and cause large-scale migration). The partnership should therefore focus on reaching the relevant Sustainable Development Goals related to the environment and the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Caribbean’s particular vulnerability makes us natural allies in promoting global action for addressing environmental challenges and fighting climate change.


Promoting governance, the rule of law and citizen security

There cannot be sustainable development without peace and security.

Good governance and rule of law is key for the region’s stability and prosperity. The fight against corruption and organised crime is also essential to the effectiveness of democratic institutions, to a conducive business environment and to sustainable management of resources.

To deliver on this value, a clear commitment must be made notably to promote effective justice for citizens and businesses. Addressing the increasing activity of organised crime in the region (arms, drugs and human trafficking) is crucial for our security too, and of course also the fight against terrorism, money laundering and financing of terrorism.


Implement the EPA to its full potential

Let’s remember that to achieve the commitment under the EPA the agreement came with a substantial trade facilitation and development aid envelope. And I do not have to tell you about the opportunities offered by greater regional integration and trade, whereby the EPA already offers so many opportunities to scale up business and exports.

CARIFORUM countries have benefitted from support in the areas of fiscal reform and adjustment, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, as well as technical barriers to trade. If we look at the business level, over 150 firms have participated in initiatives under the EU-supported regional private sector development programme being implemented by Caribbean Export. This does include numerous firms which have been awarded direct grant financing.

Have you noticed? I haven’t mentioned the word Brexit yet!

Given the relationship between the UK and the Caribbean – especially Barbados – I know many of you are concerned about the uncertainties of the UK leaving the EU.

Let me assure you of the continuity of your relations with an EU at 27. Any post-Cotonou Agreement will have to take into consideration Brexit. The EU anticipates the continuation of the successful collaboration with Caribbean governments under the EPA. The EU’s obligation to the EPA remains intact, as it has always been and it will continue to be an EU Agreement.


Joint action at global level

The basis for stronger action is a renewed commitment to promote rules-based effective multilateralism, with the UN at its core. The partnership should support global governance by seeking to reform, implement, and develop multilateral institutions, agreements, and norms.

Many of you may have read the commentaries made by think tanks and analysts from the Caribbean as well: The debate which has been going on questions whether the partnership cooperation agreement model (some label it an old “post-colonial model” ) can shape a new partnership capable of dealing with the new global challenges.

And this applies also to the implementation modalities and institutional set up. I have no definitive answers to the questions and issues I mentioned. This is what the dialogue and negotiations are for. There are challenges of course.

The new framework should be supported by closer dialogue and better mechanisms for it. It should be a more comprehensive approach to implementation, by putting together traditional development aid with other resources, and having more innovative forms of development financing, leveraging private sector investments and mobilising additional domestic resources for development.

In going forward, we also want to include more structurally all relevant stakeholders, such as civil society and the private sector.

But what I know for sure is that we want to have an even bigger impact with our cooperation and stay focused on our objectives whilst we transition to the post-2020 model. We need to bring our partnership to a more mature level: a political partnership to enable us to face global challenges.

I believe that in all the issues at stake we have a strong common interest.

We believe in a crucial multilateral framework at a time when some countries are shying away from it.

As I said in the beginning, the potential of our partnership is still not fully exploited but it is huge. Together we are more than half of the UN membership! This provides excellent opportunities for joint action and coordination.

We all cannot pull up a drawbridge to ward off external challenges and threats. Retreating from the world only deprives us of the opportunities that a connected world presents us. So let’s look confidently towards the discussions to define our relationship and the renewal of our partnership post 2020.

As we have to accept changes and challenges – and I have not really talked about Brexit – allow me to use a quotation by Sir Winston Churchill “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.


1 Comment

  1. No
    September 28, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    EU citizen should get a 90 visa on arrival by default, also in St. Lucia. Not lousy 42 days

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