Polish deadlock on EU-Africa treaty is holding relationship ‘hostage’

More than two years after being finalised by negotiators, the treaty that governs relations between the European Union and the 89 members of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific community remains unratified.

The deadlock is a major source of frustration to lawmakers in the EU and across the ACP, said Hannes Heide, an Austrian Social Democrat MEP who sits on the EU-ACP joint parliamentary assembly.  

“If we are not able to ratify an agreement after more than two years, it’s building up mistrust. And it is not doing harm only to the countries of the organisation of ACP states, it’s also doing harm to the countries of the European Union,” Heide said. 

“It’s existential for this cooperation, and it cannot move on. And it is a developing partnership. Yet the relationship between these countries and the European Union is held hostage”. 

In April, the Hungarian government dropped its opposition to the treaty after securing assurances from the European Commission that the treaty will not take any powers on migration control and sexual rights from national governments.  

However, Poland is now refusing to confirm ratification, citing its dispute with the European Commission over the status of grain exports from Ukraine. 

Speaking at last week’s biannual plenary session meeting of the EU-ACP joint parliamentary assembly, EU International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen confirmed that the EU and ACP had agreed a four-month extension of the existing treaty.

Officials hope that the new treaty will be officially signed and concluded at a summit in Samoa later this year. 

“It’s now a prolongation of four months. What happens if it does not work within this format to get it ratified by the council?” Heide questioned. 

Although the new agreement does not change trade relations between the EU and the ACP or feature a component on EU aid, Heide and other EU lawmakers are concerned that the failure to ratify it will result in the bloc being viewed as an unreliable partner.  

Other geopolitical players moving in

In the meantime, the EU risks being left behind as other international players vie for geopolitical influence in Africa and the developing world.

“You see the engagement by China, you see the engagement by Russia and its military. Europe cannot be only a witness and observer,” said Heide. 

“We have to address the question of critical raw materials. If you want to have a successful green transition, then we have to cooperate and we need critical raw materials. And of course, this is also an aspect that helps our African and international partners,” he added. 

MEPs have also been blindsided by the Commission’s recent steps, which have the support of national governments, to offer Tunisia a €1 billion ‘cash for migrant control’ deal.

The Commission will also immediately invest €100 million for anti-smuggling activities, border management, search and rescue operation, and migrant returns to Tunisia. 

“Tunisia was seen as safe and stable, and people could do business. And now we have an autocratic leader, an autocratic system, and those people that were responsible for this stability want to leave this country,” Heide told EURACTIV. 

“I cannot understand why the Commission and the Council are investing money that will support autocracy and into making Tunisia an autocratic state…. and not sending messages to look out for democratic process,” he added.

At last week’s European Council summit in Brussels, EU leaders gave their support for the deal with Tunis and gave the green light for the EU executive to pursue similar arrangements with Egypt and Morocco

On Thursday (6 July), the NGO Human Rights Watch reported that the Tunisian authorities have expelled hundreds of Sub-Saharan African migrants to a buffer zone at the Libyan border without due process. 

Lauren Seibert of HRW warned that “if EU funding contributes to human rights violations because it supports security forces abusing people, then it’s highly problematic. [The EU] needs to look at what it actually means on the ground”. 

Also on Thursday, MEPs on the Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee heard from Chaloka Beyani of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, whose final report concluded that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by Libyan state security forces and militia groups against migrants.

The EU currently provides technical, logistical, and monetary support to these groups, used to finance the interception and return of migrants to Libya, according to the UN report.

”Based on the findings of the UN report, the EU needs to urgently revise its approach towards Libya,” said Udo Bullman, chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, in response.