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5. The restructuring of EU aid

The Lomé Convention, despite its many shortcomings (some of which have been emphasised above), has been an instrument that has brought enormous levels of development assistance to the people of the Pacific. Roads, bridges, airports, shipping, telecommunication – the EU has rendered assistance to all of the infrastructural problem areas that plague the Pacific. There can be no doubt that without EU aid the infrastructural constraints to the economic development of the region would be far more serious than is presently the case.

The trade provisions of the Lomé Convention, despite their many distortions, have created a level of modest prosperity among some of the poorest citizens of the region. Those working in the cane fields in Fiji, in tropical tree crop plantations in PNG, Solomon Island and Vanuatu, and in the fish canneries are without doubt considerably better off than would otherwise be the case. To them, more than to the governments, the loss of Lomé trade preference will be an economic disaster that will touch hundreds of thousands of lives.

The EU wants to abandon the ACP arrangement and one can well understand why. For those who have made their careers from the creation of neat and tidy regional arrangements, the ACP states – a disparate collection of selected former European colonies, which includes neither former Spanish nor Asian colonies – are a messy arrangement. The Lomé Convention is also a symbol of a period of colonialism that many in Europe would prefer to forget. The year 2000 seems a good point to end this post-colonial link once and for all. The obsessions of the 1970s with third world resources no longer seem important. As trading partners, the ACP states have been a clear failure and have become less significant, politically and economically, with time.

In Brussels there are more pressing concerns. Europe is concerned with the effects of the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Population movements arising from this collapse and immigration from Africa, are perceived as threatening to destabilise Europe itself. For this and a host of other geopolitical reasons, Europe will continue to ‘prefer’ Africa and refocus aid on Eastern Europe. At the same time, the Caribbean has been ‘willed’ to the Americas through the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

So far this is all very neat. But where does that leave the Pacific? In the new international division of labour, the Pacific Island states belong with the rest of the Pacific. That is also a handy – but for the Pacific a disastrous – solution. They are dependent upon the European markets for exports, in an almost unnatural fashion. If the EU attempts to put the Pacific Island states into a formal association agreement with Asia, as has been proposed on a number of occasions, then the Pacific Islands must resist with whatever political power they have. Nothing would be more disastrous to export sectors or to aid flows than to be lumped together with northern neighbours, who are the principal competitors in the European market for tuna and tree crop products.

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The future of pacific ACP relations with the EU – an afterthought

In the final analysis, one must ask what the future may hold for the relations between the Pacific ACP states and the EU. No answer to this question can come without a return to an analysis of what interests the countries that constitute the EU, had in coming to this region at the far end of the earth over one hundred years ago. The colonisation of the islands was rarely the specific intention of economic exploitation.

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The entry of the main European players into the island states was in response to the entry of Germany and Spain, respectively late or emaciated colonialists, who were left with only the droppings of the great powers – France and Britain. With the entry of Germany into New Guinea and Samoa and Spain in the Carolinas and Marshals, the great powers had little option but to enter to protect their more important colonies in Australia and New Zealand from possible German encroachment. The economic development and the expansion of plantation agriculture and mining was often an afterthought by the colonial masters to minimise the costs on the colonial government’s budget. The islands, in terms of resources, were certainly not India nor were they even seen as an Africa. The resource supply to Europe was never significant and hence the ‘positive interdependence’ that was the foundation of European relations with Africa or the even the Carribean was less pronounced in the Pacific. The Pacific islands were, and remain, an afterthought of the post-colonial era.

The Lomé Convention was created at the very end of the colonial era when resources were once again, if briefly, the principle issue of what euphemistically was called the North-South Dialogue. In many ways, the Convention was the high point of the post-colonial era. By 1996 Europe no longer saw security of natural resources as an issue. The common currency of the ‘free market ‘ is that markets will supply such resources. There is no longer any need to form relations with states since the market is global, and if one country will not supply needed resources for European economic growth, then others will. Perhaps the free marketeers are right, but the costs of type two error in this case may be European prosperity in the 21st century.

While history is very long and there will almost certainly be a point in the future when Europeans will be short of resources, it is by no means evident that the continuation of the Lomé arrangement with the ACP states in general, and Pacific ACP states in particular, would assure those resources in future. Moreover if history is long, then memories are short. If the Europeans will be willing to pay, they will be able to secure those resources in future, irrespective of the economic damage to the Pacific that will be caused by a termination of the Convention in the year 2000.

If the positive interdependence associated with European natural resource needs will not be a foundation for Pacific relations, then the negative interdependence associated with Euro-aid – i.e. the fears of Slavic and African migration, AIDS, cocaine, and the Russian Mafia will also, much to the Pacific’s good fortune, not act as the foundation for our future relations. We cannot threaten Europe with any of these problems because we do not have them. Hence the foundation for the Mediterranean and Ostpolitik of Europe cannot apply to the Pacific.

Since the islands neither constitute a threat nor provide any direct economic benefit to Europe, apart from being a good isolated place (i.e. isolated from European voters) to test atomic weapons, there is no obvious foundation for the relationship in the longer term. They were afterthought in the colonial era, an afterthought when Lomé was written, and remain just that.

It has been suggested that the only real foundation for the Pacific-EU relationship is that of pity – Pacific island misery being the basis for European benevolence to those less fortunate. While there are many in the islands who live in misery, there are three very good reasons why this cannot act as a basis for future aid relations. The first is that after twenty years of Lomé aid, with the exception of the commodity Protocols, the only poverty alleviation that is apparent from European aid is the alleviation of the poverty of European consultants, academics and engineering firms who have profited well from the ACP arrangement and will no doubt be its strongest advocates as 2000 approaches. In the Pacific, Lomé builds bridges and provides technical assistance, but it has failed miserably as an instrument of direct poverty alleviation. The second reason why misery cannot be a foundation for a relationship with Europe is that in comparison with sub-Saharan Africa the islands are again the most grateful losers of residual measure of human sympathy in Brussels for the poor and

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destitute. This, of course, brings us to the last reason why relative poverty cannot be a satisfactory foundation for future relations with Europe: benevolence, and the care for the poor, is a commodity in greatly diminishing supply throughout Europe and North America. In comparison with 1975, Europe is clearly less concerned about the plight of its own poor, whose numbers have grown much more rapidly than Europe’s economies. From this, one can only conclude that a Pacific islands foreign relations policy predicated upon the assumption of European concern for poverty in places so distant and remote as the Pacific islands is doomed to die quickly at the alter of Europe’s new god – the free market.

The Pacific islands states have no basis for a relationship with the EU until the wheel of history moves again and Europe either cares about the state of the world’s poor or it has good reason to want what few resources they possess. Until such time we remain, yours sincerely, an afterthought.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | November 2001

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