C'bean sleepwalking into deal with EU
For the past year, Europe and the Caribbean have been working on what, in effect, is a political partnership agreement.
This far-reaching treaty, which is relatively unknown in the Caribbean and in Europe, is intended to provide a framework for a long-term political relationship between the European Union (EU) and the nations of Cariforum, including the Overseas Territories of Britain and the Netherlands, the French Département d'outre-mer (the DOM) and, some suggest, Cuba.
The process began formally in March 2010 in Kingston, Jamaica, with what was billed as a high-level political dialogue.
Then, a small number of Cariforum and European ministers and officials agreed that there was a need to formalise a dialogue between the Caribbean and Europe in the light of an earlier European agreement with Latin America and the Caribbean on the need to establish mechanisms 'for a structured and comprehensive political dialogue'.
In a communiqué issued after that meeting, the EU Council noted that the decision to establish a strategic partnership reflected a joint desire to strengthen an already stable relationship. It also suggested that a far-reaching partnership would involve co-operation in a variety of areas and that a joint outline would be presented to the Heads of Government when they met in Madrid in May 2010.
A few months later, senior figures from Europe and the Caribbean attending the EU-Latin American and Caribbean summit agreed at a prior EU-Cariforum summit, the outline of a joint Caribbean-EU partnership strategy.
In summary, the agreement stated that while there were existing institutional arrangements such as the ACP-EU Cotonou Convention, the EU-Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), strong bilateral relations with EU member states such as the UK, France and the Netherlands, close ties through Overseas Territories and the French DOM, and other broader hemispheric agreements, there was a need for a long-term agreement that would link Europe and the whole Caribbean region together through a "broader and deeper political dialogue".
In an echo of the institutional framework established in the EPA, it was made clear that this will involve the creation of a basis for dialogue with a wide range of Caribbean interests including parliamentarians, officials, ministers, heads of government, and non-state actors.
It was also agreed in Madrid that there would be 'shared priorities' in specific areas including regional integration and co-operation in the wider Caribbean; the reconstruction of Haiti; on climate change and natural disasters; crime and security; and on a wide range of other issues from human rights to reform of the United Nations and the completion of the Doha Round.
Since that time, work has been proceeding on a working draft for the establishment of a joint Caribbean EU partnership strategy. In sometimes opaque, sometimes highly specific language, early versions of this document paint a picture of a shared EU Caribbean vision. It makes clear that the joint Caribbean-EU Partnership Strategy will have far-reaching implications for development, co-operation and dialogue and that what will be agreed finally will accompany all relevant current and future legal development and co-operation frameworks.
It is a development that takes place at a time when it is far from clear how the Caribbean ought to best position itself in the world.
Global interrelationships are in flux, trading patterns are changing, new powers are emerging and individual Caribbean nations are just starting to consider how to balance their relationships between Europe, North America, China, Brazil, India and others. It also comes at a time when Europe and the US's global influence on international issues and in multilateral institutions are waning.
Last month, the Institute of International Relations of the University of the West Indies and the Maastricht-based European Centre for Development Policy Management held a seminar to consider the challenges involved in the effective implementation of a joint Caribbean-EU strategy.
The workshop report suggests that those participating felt that despite the rise of other states, the EU remained a significant player in the Caribbean, was an exemplar, an important trading power, a source of funding, and a willing promoter of shared values. Europe was also of geopolitical significance as it continued to serve as a counter weight to US power in the region.
Participants however, it seems, recognised the challenge that the Caribbean's growing engagement with non-traditional partners may cause and that this may result in decreased attention to a joint strategy with Europe.
In this context, it would seem from the report that there was a consensus that as yet the BRICs' group - Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa - was not a cohesive force able to project power overseas, had not yet developed long-term coherent development programmes and played a lesser role in exporting and investing in the Caribbean.
What was recognised - space does not enable me to do justice to many of the thought-provoking conclusions of the workshop - was that as with all else relating to the Caribbean, implementation of any agreed strategy may be difficult because of the failings of the regional integration process. There was also a concern that the lack of appropriate political backing at the highest political levels in the EU and the Caribbean will hinder the successful execution of the joint strategy along with human and financial resource constraints.
The development of this little known new policy initiative with Europe is worrying for exactly the same reasons that were present during the EPA negotiations. It suggests yet again that the Caribbean is sleepwalking into a strategically important arrangement when all the world around it is changing and before it has a clear future strategy of its own.
It is of course to be welcomed that Europe and the Caribbean wish to deepen their many shared values and their already deep functional relationship.
However, the proposed partnership suggests something more fundamental and far reaching as it appears to commit the Caribbean to a range of politically oriented actions in a wide number of areas for the foreseeable future.
The relationship being proposed with Europe needs to be better known, publicly debated and fully understood in every county and territory in the region.
David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at david. firstname.lastname@example.org