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Article

The African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States is an intergovernmental organization established by the Georgetown Agreement in June 1975, and it consists of 79 countries across three continents. This heterogeneous cluster of countries, originally bound by their colonial ties with the member states of the European Union (EU), came together out of the need to form a common front in the negotiations of the first ACP–EU partnership. The spirit of the Lomé Convention (1975–2000), initially considered a very progressive model of North–South cooperation, gradually evaporated; thus, the Cotonou Agreement (2000–2020), with its profound changes in the areas of aid and trade, was an attempt to normalize relations between the two blocs. The overall patchy record of the various ACP–EU partnership agreements and a number of events—notably, decreased interest within the EU, intensification of regionalization dynamics in the ACP Group, and adoption of separate strategies for cooperation with African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries and regions—cast doubts upon the relevance of the ACP–EU framework and threatened the existence of the ACP Group. Unsurprisingly, the launch of the negotiations in September 2018 for a new ACP–EU partnership was not without difficulty. While there are no doubts that the ACP Group has intrinsically been linked to the EU, at the same time it should be noted that it has attempted to promote intra-ACP cooperation, although with mixed successes at best, and to strengthen its presence in the international arena and diversify its partnerships, also in this case with limited results. Indeed, despite various pledges to support the principles of unity and solidarity, the effectiveness of the ACP Group has been compromised by the interplay of a plurality of interests, limited financial resources, and a perceived delinkage of the Brussels-based institutions from ACP national capitals. The revision of the Georgetown Agreement in December 2019, including the transformation into the Organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), is an attempt to reinvigorate the ACP Group, with stronger emphasis on financial sustainability, joint action for the pursuit of multilateralism, and, importantly, increased autonomy from the EU.

Article

Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, yet neither its road to membership nor its time in the Union have been easy. In the 1990s and 2000s, the accession process provided an impetus for political and economic reforms, but the EU’s famed transformative power worked unevenly. Bulgaria started its journey later than other countries in post-communist Europe, and had to deal with worse domestic and external political and economic impediments, and thus failed to close the gap with the wave of nations entering the EU in 2004. The sense of unfinished business paved the way to a post-accession conditionality regime, subjecting Bulgaria and Romania to special monitoring and regimenting them into a special category apart from other members. Despite efforts by successive governments in Sofia, the country has not made it into either the Schengen area or the eurozone’s antechamber, the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM-2). The limited progress in reforming the judiciary and combatting high-level corruption and organized crime has prevented Bulgaria from continuing its journey to the core of Europe, unlike some of the 2004 entrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Being part of the Union has not made a profound difference when it comes to deep ingrained ills such as state capture, and the lack of accountability and transparency in policymaking. Some critical areas have witnessed serious backsliding—notably the national media, where the EU has few formal competences or levers of influence. Yet, Bulgaria’s EU membership should not be written off as a failure. On the contrary, it has delivered enormous economic benefits: increased growth, expanded safety nets in times of recession (especially after 2008), improved economic competitiveness, new opportunities for entrepreneurship, cross-border labor and educational mobility, and transfer of knowledge and skills. As a result, EU membership continues to enjoy high levels of public support, irrespective of the multiple crises it has gone through during the 2010s. Political parties by and large back integration, though soft Euroscepticism has made inroads into society and politics. While the EU has had, caveats aside, a significant domestic impact, Bulgaria’s imprint on common institutions and policies is limited. It lacks the resources and political clout to advance its interests in Brussels. That generates risk in light of the growing divide between a closely integrated core and a loose periphery, likely to expand in the wake of Brexit. Bulgaria is affected by decisions in the eurozone but has little say over them. The absence of leverage is particularly striking in external affairs. Despite its geographic location, next to the Western Balkans and Turkey and in proximity to Russia and Ukraine, Bulgaria has rarely, if ever, been on the forefront of major decisions or policies to do with the EU’s turbulent neighborhood. At the same time, Bulgaria has been exposed to a series of crises affecting the Union, notably the antagonistic turn in relations with Russia after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East.

Article

Development cooperation is one of the traditional policy domains of the European Union (EU). Over the years it advanced from an instrument used in colonial times to one of modern partnership, although European self-interest remains a driving force. Jointly, the EU and its member states are the largest development donor in the world and also provide sizable market access and investment to developing countries. Their overall performance record has been assessed fairly positively by internal and external parties, although many possible improvements have been identified. The various enlargements of the EU traceably supported a widening of the geographic and substantive scope of EU development policies and practice. In addition, EU development cooperation was reinforced by the fact that it gradually received a firmer basis in the constituent EU treaties. The “European Consensus on Development” document, as revised in 2017, laid out the main direction of and emphases in EU development cooperation until the year 2030. The European Consensus prescribed a rights-based approach, and squarely placed the United Nations “Agenda 2030” and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contained in it, as the main framework and objectives for EU development cooperation. A wide range of actors is involved in EU development cooperation, in part because this is an area of shared competence among the EU member states that pursue their own national policies as well as those specified by the EU. Thus, EU actors such as the European Commission, Council, and Parliament feature in this policy field along with EU member states and individual or collective developing country actors. The most prominent example of this is the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, which consists of 79 countries. Civil society organizations, including non-governmental development organizations, both from the North and the South, also seek to influence or otherwise engage with the policies and practices of EU development cooperation. While EU development cooperation is an established policy field, it is also still very much a work in progress, and major challenges lay ahead for action in the period up to 2030, the year in which the SDGs are to be realized. These major challenges include funding, strengthening the EU’s political clout in the world by using development cooperation more strategically for forging and influencing global decision-making on relevant topics, renewing and innovating the relations between the EU and ACP countries, handling the consequences of Brexit, and improving on the delivery of EU development cooperation.

Article

Ana Bojinović Fenko and Marjan Svetličič

Despite having fought for their bare survival against hostile foreigners, after finally reaching their independence and international recognition in 1991–1992, paradoxically, even before fully assuming statehood Slovenians were eager to engage in yet another international integration—the European Union. This historical and societal wager, rather than merely political elites’ driven perspective, dominates as the prevailing reason for pursuing European Union (EU) membership; thus security assurance to a small geopolitically transit state, economic benefits of a larger common market in conditions of economic globalization, and cultural proximity of Slovenian to European society explain Slovenian general identity-related elements favoring membership in the EU. There is also a more immediate time-space related explanatory factor for this, namely, the collapsing of the socialist Yugoslavia starting by the end 1980s and a view of assuring the democratic political life and market-lead economy via integration with Western European countries rather than South Slavic nations or following other alternative scenarios like full liberalization with all partners’ strategy. Authors critically evaluate where and why during the effort of becoming an EU member state and performing excellently as one during the first four years, the state fell short of capability-building and/or seizing the opportunities of EU membership. As the latter has been most brutally exposed via the effects of the 2008–2014 economic and financial crisis, of key importance for Slovenians before the COVID-19 crisis stood a self-reflection of its development strategy and enhancing competitiveness. A novel problem introduced by the 2020–2022 government and revealed to the European and international public during the Slovenian 2021 Presidency to the Council of the EU was the country’s rapidly deteriorating performance in implementation of until-then unequivocal engagement toward EU values, particularly liberal democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, and observation of human rights.. After the April 2022 general election, in which liberal democratic and social parties won a large majority, the central challenge remains how to overcome the small state hindrances and more effectively formulate and project national interest to the EU level. Some of the main questions of national interest within the EU concern assurance of social security to citizens; upgrading economic union to face more effectively global challenges, especially digitalization, the green transition, and interstate solidarity; refreshing enlargement policy for the remaining Western Balkans non-member states; and re-establishing Slovenian participation in the group of core states leading the European integration.