Civil society a forgotten actor at the negotiating table
(L’Union Européenne et la renégociation des Accords de Lomé. La société civile, un acteur oublié à la table des négociations)
01 / 1999
ENDA Syspro 2 is one of the teams of ENDA Tiers Monde working in various fields, mainly on the issue of citizenship. At the present time, we have no programmes financed by the European Union, but the work we are doing allows us to point out their limits and contradictions. I will give you a few examples from our own experience.
For some time now, we have been involved in the process of mobilising civil society within the scope of renegotiating the Lomé Convention.
We have set up various instruments in view of this mobilisation. First of all, we have organised, with the help of actors from civil society in 8 West African countries, national workshops in which actors from rather diverse backgrounds have taken part (NGOs, universities, researchers, administrative bodies, etc). The aim of this process is, of course, to form working groups to produce coherent proposals, thereby positioning themselves as recognised, relevant interlocutors within the scope of the negotiations. One thing should be pointed out: civil society has been virtually excluded from all the debates on renegotiations which have taken place more often in the North than in the South. They remain at the higher echelons and we ourselves, after all the work we have done, are not given an official right to have our say. The Commission has not even recorded or recognised our approach. We are therefore trying indirectly to involve actors who are taking part in the negotiations. For example, when we organise a workshop, we invite representatives of the European delegations, but it is not easy. We have also noted at these workshops that few people know about the Lomé Convention or the stakes that it represents for ACP countries.
* Next, we have contributed to a network called "Civil Society Forum" which groups together 5 African countries, 1 Caribbean country and one Pacific. Country. This initiative fits into the same strategy as the previous one: to generate fresh forces capable of being interlocutors at the negotiating table. As we write this text, we know that senior civil servants from the Commission, politicians, etc. are going to turn up here to talk about the convention. We are moving heaven and earth to be able to participate. For the moment, we have still not made any headway. It appears that participation will be restricted to 4 NGOs for the South. In this connection, I would like to pinpoint certain aspects of co-operation which seem to me truly absurd and totally inconsistent.
* The Commission is not yet convinced that civil society and the organisations emanating from it are serious interlocutors. It considers them as mere underlings to carry out actions that are decided on high.
* The European Union talks about civil society as if it were a partner, but it does not acknowledge its legitimate right to have a vision or to define its objectives and strategies. It denies its specific features and its ability for action and thought.
* The decision to give credit to one person rather than another does not obey qualitative criteria but, I daresay, market criteria: support is given to the highest bidder, i.e. the one who seems to offer the best quality-price ratio.
The Commission is far too confined in a project-driven logic. There is little or no room for taking processes into account. Funding is given to a series of specific actions the results of which are almost guaranteed. But it is necessary to accept the idea of taking risks and of financing possible mistakes, because what is important is precisely the learning that goes on in the course of a process.
* Relations with the European Union should reinforce dialogue among the organisations working on the same territory and sharing common problems. This would enable us to build together and give greater coherence to our actions.
But due to questions of time and procedure, the Commission has neglected creating ties among the actors, and instead has limited itself to monitoring and managing each one taken individually for a specific action.
* All relations that we, as an NGO in the South, are able to have with the European Union are filtered by two channels: either we have to go through the Member State and try to enter through national indicative programmes which are horrendously complicated; or we have to be recognised by a European NGO which then becomes our exclusive, recognised intermediary with the European Union. We have no way of negotiating directly, except through decentralised co-operation, and we regret this.
The Commission’s discourse is also prey to profound contradictions. It has made the fight against poverty its key issue, and whole chapters in the national indicative programmes have been devoted to it. Yet these same programmes are also subject to structural adjustment measures imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, measures that have massively led to impoverishment of the population. Actions are then implemented to hide the problems - however slightly - without really tackling their roots.
[[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]
ENDA Syspro 2 (ENDA Système et prospective) - 73 rue Carnot, BP 3370 Dakar, SENEGAL - Tél. : (221) 821 70 37 - Fax : (221) 823 51 57 - Sénégal - syspro2 (@) enda.sn