With the Cotonou Agreement due to expire in 2020, formal negotiations towards a new partnership agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states began in September 2018. Based on the acceptance of the EU’s negotiating mandate, the new arrangement will be primarily organised via three specific regional protocols with each of the ACP regions. Meanwhile, the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) launched in 2007, has seen the African Union (AU) gain increased prominence as an institutional partner of the EU. Given its ambitious pan-African agenda, it adopted an alternative ‘African’ vision for future EU-ACP relations, to the mandate agreed by the ACP states and expressed a willingness to become directly involved in the negotiations. This article contributes an important new case-study to the existing literature on ‘African agency’ in international politics by considering the scope for Africa to exert agency within the post-Cotonou negotiations, given the negotiation of a specific regional compact with Africa. It adopts a structurally embedded view of agency, based on Cox’s understanding of historical structures, as a fit between institutions, ideas and material relations. The central argument is that, in comparison to the negotiation of the Cotonou Agreement two decades ago, there is greater scope for African agency. However, both the ideational and material aspects of Africa’s relationship with the EU, condition the limits to how effective such agency might be. Moreover, tensions at the institutional level between the ACP and AU further undermine the potential for effective African agency.
ACP states, African agency, African Union, development, European Union, trade
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