Mon | Aug 2, 2021

Editorial | Paying attention to Europe

Published:Sunday | July 7, 2019 | 12:00 AM
AP Ursula von der Leyen could become president of the European Commission.

By now, the Europe specialists at the foreign affairs ministry have begun to refine their dossiers on the emerging leadership of the European Union (EU) to help policymakers assess the direction in which they are likely to steer the EU and whether there are relationships that might be leveraged to the benefit of Jamaica and its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) partners. This should be no mere academic exercise. There is much at stake.

Jamaica, a founding member and intellectual force behind the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries, has had a more than 40-year relationship with the EU, during which time the Europeans, as our foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, observed in April, have provided the island “in excess of €1 billion in financial and technical support”.

Indeed, at the time of Mrs Johnson Smith’s comment, she and the EU’s outgoing commissioner for international cooperation and development, Neven Mimica, were signing an agreement for €20.2 billion in budgetary support, out of a €46-million aid package for the 2014-2020 period. It is what happens afterwards that is now at stake.

While the arrangement still falls under the ACP-EU arrangement, CARIFORUM countries (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) have been negotiating a new economic and development support arrangement with the Europeans, to replace the Cotonou Agreement, which expires next year. There are, however, two significant variables that might help to shape the outcome of these talks.

One is that they are taking place in the context of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s contentious and sapping divorce from the EU, which is proving to be increasingly distracting the closer it comes to happening, without any clarity on what a future UK-EU relationship will look like. It is this vortex of uncertainty that underpins the second matter of concern for Caribbean governments.


Indeed, some regional officials, and certainly European negotiators, had hoped that a post-Cotonou deal would be finalised before Mr Mimica’s mandate ends in October, and new set of EU commissioners take their seats in Brussels in November. However, with several governments insisting that the priority must be to get the best deal, there is no certainty that an agreement will be in place before November.

In that event, the carry-on arrangements in Cotonou will have to be invoked, with no certainty that the new EU commission will be enthused with the shape of what would have already been agreed. Moreover, no one yet knows who will get the mandate for international cooperation and development. Critically, too, by October, especially if Boris Johnson is, as increasingly seems likely, Britain’s prime minister and a hard Brexit is in play, the attention of the EU could be focused on ensuring a functioning relationship with its former member than advancing aid deals with developing countries.

The known quantity to Jamaica and the Caribbean at this point is that barring a catastrophe, Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defence minister, will be the new head of the commission. She has a reputation of being an anti-Brexit European integrationist. Jamaica and the Caribbean need to know more. Indeed, before Mrs von der Leyen becomes too mired in the controversies of European politics, Jamaica, as CARICOM lead in international trade negotiations, should, within the realm of protocol, engage on the issues that are important to this region, helping to set a tone even before her fellow commissioners are on board.

Similarly, CARICOM should urgently develop a sense of the thinking of Josep Borrell Fontelles, the Spanish foreign minister, who is to become the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, succeeding Federica Mogherini. CARICOM, an active proponent for dialogue to solve Venezuela’s political crisis, will likely have to engage Mr Borrell on the matter, to which he was also attentive in his previous job.