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Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Towards a renewed EU-Pacific development Partnership’ JOIN(2012) 6 final

OJ C 76, 14.3.2013, p. 66–72 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

14.3.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 76/66


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Towards a renewed EU-Pacific development Partnership’

JOIN(2012) 6 final

2013/C 76/12

Rapporteur: Mr Carmelo CEDRONE

On 21 March 2012, the European Commission and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Towards a renewed EU-Pacific development Partnership

JOIN(2012) 6 final.

The Section for External Relations, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 19 December 2012.

At its 486th plenary session, held on 16 and 17 January 2013 (meeting of 17 January 2013), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 139 votes to 13 with 14 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC considers that the EU's underlying objectives for the renewed EU-Pacific development Partnership are ambitious and far-reaching, but believes that the implementing arrangements, which mainly concern environmental protection and biodiversity conservation in the region, are not clear. It agrees that synergies are needed with other organisations to address the impact of climate change, which has a cross-cutting impact on all national and multilateral policies and has social as well as economic repercussions. Issues associated with the impact of climate change should, moreover, be incorporated in the area's comprehensive environmental policies in such a way as to aim for coherent behaviour and actions.

1.2

Nevertheless, the EESC believes that in order to achieve this objective, integrated sustainable development measures and activities have to be established in the countries concerned in order to maximise the impact of assistance. All actions have to be used synergistically, by actively involving all local stakeholders as well, on the basis of a medium- and long-term planning approach.

1.3

The EESC believes that it is important that the Communication acknowledges that the full enjoyment of rights and stable democracy are essential to a country's economic development. Regrettably, the situation in Fiji, where a dictatorship continues to deprive its citizens of their fundamental rights, receives no more than a cursory mention, whereas it deserves a more decisive and coherent European stance.

1.4

The definition of the renewed development partnership should be used as an opportunity to set out principles and preconditions which should serve as EU guidelines for all beneficiary countries of EU assistance, based on a full application of the Cotonou Agreement. Furthermore, the effective exercise of democracy through the full enjoyment of fundamental and labour rights and democratic participation must be guaranteed in all the countries.

1.5

Particular attention should be paid to the extremely serious and worrying situation of women in all the countries in this region, who are deprived of the most basic rights. Women's rights and protection should play a major role in all issues related to EU and Pacific relations. The high level of gender related violence and the low level of women involvement in decision making and high positions worries the EESC and its partners and should play a more significant role in the Commission document and future activities.

1.6

The EESC continues to view the growth of the social partners and of civil society in general as a fundamental consideration in this region and in all other regions concerned by agreements with the EU. For this reason, it is vital to promote and implement measures that allow this objective to be achieved in practice. Being aware of the difficulties associated with the region's geographical location, which also restrict structured bilateral relations, the EESC considers that it would be particularly useful to set up a network and a joint committee at the local and national level and, ideally, at the level of the entire region. These participatory instruments should facilitate the involvement of the social partners and civil society throughout the definition, implementation and monitoring of the agreements. This should become an absolute principle. An initiative to promote the establishment of a fully-fledged ESC in the region would be useful, also in order to promote stronger social dialogue, and improve capacity building for all local stakeholders through specific funding.

1.7

The EESC considers it a priority to coordinate the various EU actions through the Commission directorates-general involved in the programmes and the European External Action Service (EEAS) as well as the WTO's involvement in this region. Coordination is essential in view of the small size of the public administration in the countries concerned. This approach could represent an opportunity for decisive EEAS action in the hope of stronger EU foreign policy action based on enhanced coordination among its Member States.

1.8

The communication from the European Commission places a great deal of emphasis on climate matters. The EESC notes, however, that economic development is important to tackling the climate challenge. In order to ensure inclusive, sustainable and integrated growth that benefits development in the region, the EESC believes that it is vital to guarantee coherence between development and environmental protection interventions, as well as in other sectors, such as trade, fisheries, farming, food security, research and support for human rights and democracy. Aid delivery criteria must be based on clearly defined and pre-established indicators, including for monitoring programmes at a later stage and through the coordination of the various donors.

1.9

The EESC agrees that distinctions should be made between actions for ACP countries and overseas countries, depending on the various institutional or developmental situations of each country in order to optimise opportunities for regional integration. The situation of the overseas territories, which are more advanced than the other countries and already receive financing from the European Development Fund and bilateral assistance from individual countries, must also be assessed. These actions should be coordinated with programmes for other countries in the region. These territories could serve as an important reference for the dissemination of the rights, values and good practices of EU policies, based on inclusive growth.

1.10

With regard to trade agreements, it would be advisable, in light of current difficulties, to aim for a regional agreement, going beyond bilateral agreements, bearing in mind, however, that, with the exception of the fisheries sector, these are small economies, in relative terms of trade.

1.11

The EESC also considers it appropriate for the EU to follow closely, through the relevant specialised UN commission, the negotiations on the law of the sea connected with the CONTINENTAL SHELF, especially with regard to the area under consideration in this opinion.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The EU has concluded various partnership agreements with the Pacific region. This renewed partnership involves 15 independent island countries (1), four Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) (2), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), as well as Australia and New Zealand - key members of the Forum and like-minded partners. Following the 2006 strategy, the purpose is to consolidate its own role in the region, both because the EU is the second largest donor after Australia, and in order to contribute to the region's economic and social development, recognising the need to ensure full respect for rights and the consolidation of democratic institutions.

2.2

Building on the Cotonou Agreement (EU-ACP), the EU intends to use this Communication to focus its action in the Pacific as a region on a number of fundamental objectives, in line with its Agenda for Change (3):

to promote coherence between development, environmental protection and other EU policies, such as trade, environment, fisheries, research, on the one hand, and support for the recognition and full enjoyment of human rights and democracy on the other,

to adapt and streamline delivery methods of EU Official Development Assistance (ODA) and providing scaled up financing to counter the risks of climate change in the Pacific, with a view to increasing overall added value, results, impact and effectiveness,

to stimulate the Pacific OCTs' successful regional integration and enhance their ability to promote EU values and become catalysts for inclusive and sustainable growth for human development in the region,

to define with Pacific countries a positive agenda of issues of common interest at the UN and other international forums,

to join forces with like-minded partners to address key human rights issues and to help consolidate democratic processes across the region.

The EU is recognised by local partners and interlocutors as a leader in the fight against climate change and its impact and intends to consolidate its presence in the region in a responsible manner.

2.3

However, most of the Island Countries and Territories constitute a small region in terms of the population concerned, but a vast one in terms of size and diversity, which presents not a few problems due to its geographical location, forming a fragile and delicate whole, united by the marine ecosystem (among other factors), which has a unique value that warrants attention and protection.

2.4

This is not an easy objective to achieve, not only for the reasons given in the Communication, but also because of the constraints imposed on EU external policy by the economic crisis, which could influence the future of the Cotonou Agreement beyond 2020. However, due to their position, these countries are of geostrategic importance to the EU since they are close to countries like China and Japan. To this end, it would be very useful to increase the involvement and make better use of the OCTs in the dissemination of the EU's policies, programme implementation and legal culture, with unquestionable mutual advantages.

3.   Positive aspects

3.1

Attention is given to the impact of climate change and the grave repercussions throughout the region regarding both the stability of the ecosystem, to the point of threatening its existence, and the risks of growing imbalances in the sustainable growth of the countries concerned, not only from a strictly economic or budgetary perspective, but also from a political and social perspective, with a multiplier effect on risks, which even limits the fulfilment of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

3.2

Attention is given to the need for the various international donors to integrate their bilateral and multilateral assistance, which is too fragmented at present to be wholly effective. The financial instruments adopted and the impact of assistance itself should be enhanced.

3.3

The need to coordinate with international institutions; the Communication refers mainly to the UN with regard to the impact of climate change.

3.4

Attention is given to regional cooperation and the need to improve (or even develop) sectoral programmes and development plans supported by regional organisations in order to facilitate an integrated approach to assistance and its management in addition to the region's development strategies themselves.

3.5

Dialogue with local institutions is important in order to define assistance programmes and share responsibility for their implementation.

3.6

Attention is given to improving the efficiency of actions, with emphasis on the need to work with recipient countries to set up shared monitoring, management and implementation mechanisms. More specific information would be required on this point.

3.7

Analysis of the delivery methods of multilateral and bilateral donors, expressing a commitment to adapt aid delivery methods in a way that responds to the difficulties encountered by the small administrative departments of Pacific Island Countries and Territories; attention to the difficulties that recipient countries have when integrating assistance into their national development programmes, which presuppose targeted measures for improving the ‘capacity building’ of national institutions.

3.8

Concerns are expressed about human rights violations in Fiji, which the Commission intends to pursue, without however specifically mentioning any additional preconditions for the delivery of assistance.

4.   Weak points

4.1

The Communication is essentially unclear as to how the EU intends to identify and improve action beyond the short-term objectives, which are important, but incomplete if we intend to make an impact on the region's future sustainability. This is a unique and vast region with a very high number of small or extremely small countries in terms of population, which nevertheless cover an extensive geographical area. These countries have different approaches and different understandings of the need for measures aimed at long-term sustainable development, and a different perception of the rules to apply at the national level and in the territorial and international waters that mark the borders between these countries.

4.2

The EESC considers an integrated long-term approach to be necessary, involving the shared responsibility of all the parties operating in the area, be they international institutions, other countries, or local stakeholders. The Commission's proposal on partnership will have to take account of negotiations on the revision of the new EU budget, the new priorities set out in the post-2015 MDGs, and the process to be launched for new negotiations on the Cotonou Agreement.

4.3

The stated objectives should give greater attention to the integrated development of the Pacific region, to development policies, and to the intervention areas; for example, agriculture and food security are only mentioned in association with implications relating to climate change in the region. The vitality of rural areas depends on agriculture. Although farming is mainly at subsistence level – only sugar cane and palm oil are exported on a significant scale – there is a problem with managing natural resources and using farmland sustainably. The Committee notes that some of the countries concerned lost their preferential status, and therefore jobs, as a result of the 2006 reform of European sugar policy.

4.4

The Communication's focus is mainly on the risks of climate change, a vital question for the survival of some of the countries and the ecosystem (rising water levels, disappearing rainforests, saline aquifers, rising sea temperatures, etc.). This is why the Commission advocates allocating resources primarily to this sector, whereas integrated and coherent programmes for sustainable development and growth should be enhanced, with commitments defined by the recipient countries. To this end, it would be a good idea to involve the private sector, especially for SMEs.

4.5

The EESC points out that an integrated strategic approach to assistance is needed, and the Communication is a good start. The Commission's directorates-general, namely DG DEVCO, DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, DG Trade, DG SANCO, DG RTD, and the EEAS should focus on working together, since at present they need to be better coordinated (4) to improve the coherence of EU policies.

4.6

The fisheries sector in particular, which is vital for all Pacific countries, but also for the EU in view of the level of exports to EU countries (especially of tuna), should be treated as a major concern in measures, in the need to maintain the sustainability of production and the ecosystem and to prevent overfishing, which could compromise the future of the fisheries sector. The EESC endorses EU action taken against illegal fishing by applying the EU regulation designed to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). On the basis of this regulation, the Commission has notified two countries (Vanuatu and Fiji) that they may be identified as non-cooperating third countries in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

4.6.1

For these reasons, the EU should maintain preferential arrangements with the ACP, as occurred recently with some of the countries in the region (5), even if in the EU's case, the risk of competition distortion with other operators in the sector needs to be taken into account.

4.6.2

The EESC recognises the objective difficulties in this sector and endorses the three fisheries partnership agreements (FPA) concluded with Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia, but hopes that a comprehensive agreement can be reached with all the countries involved on the rules to be applied in territorial and international waters in the region.

4.7

In the context of coordinating the various measures to support trade, which is quite rightly emphasised in the Communication, the Commission does not mention WTO activities in the region even though six of the Pacific island countries belong to this organisation and benefit from programmes and special treatment.

4.8

Trade (WTO): Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu are members of the WTO, which seeks to ensure a stable and integrated trade system at the regional level through accession agreements in order to maximise benefits and use resources more efficiently and achieve economies of scale.

4.8.1

The WTO worked to set up a Pacific Islands Forum Representative Office in Geneva in 2004 in order to facilitate greater integration of administrative systems and promote capacity building in the areas of trade and the multilateral agenda, which is vital to these small economies.

4.8.2

It would all the more useful for the EU, also on the basis of the renewed Cotonou Agreement, to establish close and structured links with the representative office in Geneva and the WTO. A coordinated approach is essential, particularly given the limited size of the administrations of many of the countries concerned. This would enable coordination of initiatives to support these economies with technical assistance programmes that are already in operation but not coordinated at the multilateral level. To this we must add a long period of low and unstable economic growth, with huge differences between countries - Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have benefited from higher growth rates due to commodity prices, whereas Fiji and Samoa, which already have weak economies, have had to cope with the consequences of natural disasters (6).

4.8.3

Furthermore, specific attention should go to the development of SMEs, the creation of regional assistance services that should be requested and established on a multilateral level using existing WTO, IMF and World Bank resources and programmes, also with respect to rural development.

4.9

The Communication rightly refers to the social risks these islands face due to poor economic development, to the migration of skilled workers who find no local job opportunities and the consequences of climate change. According to World Bank data, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu are classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), and experience widespread poverty. Even in Papua New Guinea, the largest Pacific country, over 40 % of the population are living below the poverty line. This data has an impact on the fulfilment of the MDGs and calls for coordinated international action. However, the Communication does not refer to the various UN agencies' work to support economic and social development.

4.9.1

The various programmes of UN agencies are indispensable and should be encouraged by the Commission because they help to create the necessary awareness and capacity building to ‘absorb’ and enhance assistance from various donors, including the EU. Furthermore, they shift a larger share of responsibility onto the national institutions and social and civil partners and promote the creation of participatory democratic institutions.

5.   Rights, democracy, trade union freedoms and the situation in Fiji

5.1

The international financial institutions consider the Pacific islands to be among the most disadvantaged in the world. They are remote, under-populated, emigration is high, levels of education and training are low and there are significant skills shortages in specific areas of trade and international economic activity.

5.1.1

Above all, the situation seems to be getting especially difficult for young people, due to various factors, including geographic remoteness, economic development constraints (small economies that are not very integrated amongst themselves and small domestic markets), and demographic growth with a rapidly growing young working population (7). Australia has launched a seasonal worker support scheme for the most disadvantaged Pacific countries. This is a measure that goes in the same direction and which should be promoted and applied to other countries in the region.

5.1.2

The situation of women is extremely serious and worrying due to widespread exploitation and degradation and scant progress in the search for effective solutions. Women still suffer serious discrimination, due both to their virtual absence from the formal labour market and from politics and to widespread fundamental rights violations involving persistent and widespread acts of violence in all the countries. This is not just a cultural issue; it is also a matter of providing opportunities for employment, integration and participation. Specific reference should be made to the EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Development 2010-2015, which calls for, inter alia, precise indicators for women's participation in national institutions.

5.2

Respect for human rights and democracy are prerequisites of EU assistance and cooperation policy. These include trade union rights, recognised at the international level in the ILO's eight core conventions.

5.3

The Cotonou Agreement also recognises the fundamental value of respect for human rights and democratic institutions for the establishment of a stable and prosperous economy. Although the Communication is about a regional strategy, it regrettably does not give enough attention to the matter of serious ongoing violations, especially in Fiji, the region's second island in terms of size and population, as we know.

5.4

The situation in Fiji is in fact unacceptable. The government, led by a military junta since the 2006 coup d'état, launched an aggressive campaign in 2011 to dismantle trade union movements and deprive Fijian workers of their fundamental rights, in breach of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, both ratified by the government. The elimination of freedom of speech, association and assembly, the use of torture and abuse, violence against women and minors and the suppression of the most basic workers' rights make it an emblematic case for the EU. This situation can no longer be tolerated. Despite the application of Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement, the EESC believes that firmer action is required with respect to Fiji, also with a view to the elections to be held in 2014 and the process of defining the new Constitution.

5.5

The situation in Fiji was again discussed at the ILO Governing Body session held in November 2012, which adopted a resolution on this issue, also in light of the Fiji government's recent decision to expel an ILO delegation on a mission mandated by the ILO Governing Body (8). There can be no question of the EU addressing this issue in a way that would be inconsistent with the reaction of its Member States, which joined the ILO in its condemnation.

5.6

In this case, conditions for civil society to function are difficult if not inexistent. The most basic civil society rights are clearly being breached, against all democratic principles, and the EESC cannot accept procrastination in the face of such violations. The EESC needs to relay its position to the other EU institutions and act in consequence (9).

5.7

We need to intervene more decisively, both directly and at the bilateral level, when defining the prerequisites for the delivery of EU assistance, thereby affirming that on the issue of human rights, EU Member States are united and consistent with the Union's founding and non-negotiable principles.

6.   The role of the social partners and civil society

6.1

The EESC believes that civil society participation is the foundation on which various forms of partnership should be built in order to achieve the goals of economic and social cohesion. Its role is even more important with regard to respect for human rights and democracy, which is a condition for benefiting from the EU's assistance and cooperation policy.

6.2

The participation of organised civil society is a priority objective also in this area despite at least two objective limitations; the first is the unique geographical configuration, the islands' vulnerability and their widely-spread populations, which makes the exercise of this right very difficult; the second concerns the exercise of democracy and the active participation of organised civil society in the business of the institutions.

6.3

The EESC nevertheless calls for every effort to be made to involve the representatives of local communities in defining, implementing and monitoring EU projects, especially if connected with environmental protection, social and civil dialogue, development and the defence of rights and democracy.

6.4

The EESC calls for swift action to establish an EU-Pacific partnership, involving organised civil society, so that the region's problems as a whole can be addressed more effectively (10), and to provide for the establishment of a committee for monitoring the programmes, as a fundamental aspect of participation.

7.   The Communication's recommendations for actions: comments

7.1

The EU's recommendations for actions, with the risks of climate change as the priority for the Pacific region, can only be partially supported due to the absence of an integrated approach to the region's sustainable development.

7.2

It is necessary to facilitate and seek an enhanced coordinated approach between the EEAS and the various Commission DGs in order to identify coherent and strategic programmes that focus available resources on protecting the environment and fisheries, but also on integrated sustainable development and rural development programmes.

7.3

The EESC supports the view that dialogue with local institutions has to be strengthened. However, more systematic civil society involvement must be ensured in the form of a permanent panel for assessing assistance and studying its impact.

7.4

The EESC believes that the continuity of meetings between all donors and recipients must be ensured in order to guarantee the coordination of programmes emphasised by the Commission. The destination of aid and the evaluation of its effectiveness are still fundamental. In this respect, in addition to advance information and training activities, monitoring carried out through a joint committee, centred round the social and civil partners is important.

7.5

Assessments regarding respect for fundamental rights, the unacceptable situation of women in the region, job scarcity for young people, and the role of civil society in all the countries should, as stated earlier, be strengthened, especially with respect to Fiji.

Brussels, 17 January 2013.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Staffan NILSSON


(1)  Cook Islands (no vote in the UN), Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue (no vote in the UN), Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

(2)  French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Pitcairn and Wallis and Futuna.

(3)  Communication from the Commission - Increasing the impact of EU Development Policy: an Agenda for Change COM(2011) 637 final of 13.10.2011.

(4)  Total development and climate change assistance for the Pacific countries and the OCTs during 2008-2013 is about EUR 785 million, i.e. EUR 730 from the 10th EDF and EUR 56 million from the EU budget. Excluding national programmes, EU-Pacific regional cooperation in 2008-2013 amounts to about EUR 95 million in initial funding, in addition to funds from the thematic programme of the development cooperation instrument. The EU-Pacific regional programme seeks to build the region's capacity in terms of economic integration and regional trade (EUR 45 million), civil society support and improving and public finance management (EUR 10 million) and promoting the sustainable management of natural resources (EUR 40 million). Furthermore, the EU has announced the launch of the Pacific Investment Facility to enhance investment in key infrastructure to make the region more competitive in global markets and boost economic growth, reduce poverty and finance green instruments and adjust to climate change.

(5)  See NAT/459, The situation of the EU tropical tuna fleet and the challenges facing it: rapporteur, Mr Sarró Iparraguirre OJ C 48, 15.2.2011, pp. 21–26.

(6)  IMF: Regional Economic Outlook, Asia and the Pacific, Navigating an Uncertain Global Environment while building inclusive Growth (October 2011).

(7)  In Samoa, only 500 out of 4 000 young job seekers find work, in Vanuatu, the ratio is 700 to 3 500, in Fiji youth unemployment is around 46 %.; see also UNICEF's: Investing in Youth Policy, UN Asia-Pacific Interagency Group on Youth (2011).

(8)  Trade Union Congress Press Release about Fiji of 19.9.2012 and subsequent ILO report under preparation.

(9)  See letter of the Council.

(10)  EESC opinion on The role of civil society in the Multi-Party Trade Agreement between the EU, Colombia and Peru, OJ C 299, 4.10.2012, pp. 39–44.


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