Documents considered by the Committee on 3 November 2010, including the following recommendations for debate: Financial Management - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

14 EU Relations with Fiji



COM(10) 454

Council Decision amending and extending the period of application of Decision 2007/641/EC concluding consultations with the Republic of Fiji Islands under Article 96 of the ACP-EC Partnership Agreement and Article 37 of the Development Cooperation Instrument

Legal baseArticle 96 of the Cotonou Agreement and Article 37 of Regulation (EC) No 1905/2006 establishing a financing instrument for development cooperation; QMV
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 22 October 2010
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-iii (2010-11), chapter 4 (13 October 2010); also see (30874) 12744/09: HC 19-xxvii (2008-09), chapter 25 (14 October 2009); and (28857) 12379/07: HC 41-xxxiii (2006-07), chapter 17 (2 October 2007)
Discussed in Council27 September 2010
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


14.1 Fiji is a signatory of the African Caribbean and Pacific-European Community (ACP-EC) Partnership Agreement, signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000 (and known as the Cotonou Agreement). This provides a framework for relations between the EU and 77 countries of the African Caribbean and Pacific group of states (ACP). Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement allows for consultations between the EU and an ACP state where a breach of any of Cotonou's "essential elements" — respect for human rights, democratic principles or the rule of law — is perceived to have taken place.

14.2 Article 3(1) of the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) confirms these same elements as general principles of the EU that it will seek to promote in partner countries through dialogue and cooperation. Article 37 of the DCI details the process where a breach of these principles is deemed to have taken place.

14.3 Fiji was allocated €60 million under the DCI thematic programme for ACP sugar protocol countries for the period 2007-2010, which money was directed at reforming Fiji's sugar sector.

Council Decision 2007/641/EC

14.4 On 2 October 2007, the previous Committee cleared the Council Decision in question. It was adopted in the face of adverse political developments in Fiji, which are set out in detail in its earlier Report. In sum, on 5 December 2006, members of the Fiji Military Forces staged a coup, led by Commander Frank Bainimarama, which removed the democratically elected government, and the Commander appointed himself briefly as President and later as Prime Minister. In the following months the Commander sacked many key figures, including the Chief Justice. He appointed military figures to key positions in government ministries and put an interim Cabinet in place; and then suspended the Great Council of Chiefs after they refused to accept the President's (effectively, the Commander's) nomination for the role of Vice-President. Many people speaking out against the coup, including those in the media, were detained by the military and intimidated. There were numerous accounts of human rights abuses, including two deaths in military custody. The independence of the judiciary was also compromised.

14.5 Against this background, the EU considered the coup in Fiji constituted a violation of Cotonou's essential elements and the DCI's general principles and on 27 February 2007 accordingly opened consultations with Fiji. During these consultations, representatives of Fiji's Interim Government agreed to a number of commitments designed to return Fiji to democracy and the rule of law — the key commitment being to hold free and fair elections by March 2009.

14.6 The Council accordingly agreed to conclude consultations and adopt appropriate measures under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement and Article 37 of the DCI. These included:

— making the finalisation, signing and implementation of the 2008-2013 Country Strategy Paper, for which funding would be made available under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF), subject to the interim government meeting agreed commitments in respect of human rights and rule of law;

— making Fiji's 2007 allocation under the DCI thematic programme for ACP sugar protocol countries zero and tying the provision of assistance under this programme in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to the return to democratic government;

— certain cooperation activities already underway or in preparation for funding under the 8th and 9th EDFs were to continue, likewise implementation of the 2006 sugar assistance provided under the Regulation establishing accompanying measures for Sugar Protocol countries affected by the reform of the EU sugar regime (Regulation 266/2006);

— support for activities which would help the return to democracy and improve governance would also be permitted as would humanitarian aid and direct support to civil society; Fiji would also continue to be able to participate in regional cooperation activities;

— cooperation with the European Investment Bank and the Centre for Development Enterprise would continue subject to the timely fulfilment of commitments;

— the EU would follow the situation closely, and enhanced political dialogue with the interim Fijian authorities would be conducted to ensure respect for human rights, restoration of democracy and respect for the rule of law.

The previous Committee's assessment

14.7 In clearing the document, the previous Committee noted that the interest it had hitherto taken in the application and effectiveness of the "Article 96" process had now amplified by the addition of similar "governance" provisions in the new Development Cooperation Instrument. Given the widespread interest in the House in EU development assistance policy and activity, it considered that the stage now reached in the EU and the Government's endeavours to return Fiji to the path of democracy and the rule of law warranted a Report to the House.[76]

The extension to Council Decision 2007/641/EC

14.8 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 24 September 2009, the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Ivan Lewis) reported that: the situation worsened again in April 2009, when the Fiji Court of Appeal declared Bainimarama's regime illegal; the following day the President, at Bainimarama's behest, abrogated the constitution, suspended the courts and re-appointed Bainimarama Prime Minister; and since then the military had restricted public gatherings, severely censored the media and ensured impunity for abuses by military personnel. Moreover, Bainimarama had announced that no elections would be held until 2014 after fundamental land and electoral reform.

14.9 The Council Decision noted that:

— the review of the current Decision, which was to expire on 1 October 2009, coincided with an ongoing joint initiative by the United Nations and the Commonwealth to mediate, to which the EU had given its full support, but which was then stalled;

— the interim Prime Minister had recently presented a roadmap for reforms and elections; while the roadmap was insufficient as it stood, it might be worthwhile to engage in dialogue regarding it and to consider whether it might serve as a basis for new consultations;

and said that, taking into account the above considerations, the Commission could only, at that stage, propose an extension of the current policy.

14.10 The then Minister said that, as a result of Fiji's failure to meet the commitment to hold free and fair elections by March 2009, the EC had announced on 18 May 2009 that it had taken the decision to cancel the 2009 sugar allocation for Fiji (totalling €24 million); though this action would have serious impact on Fiji's failing economy, the then Government fully supported the Commission's approach. The Article 96 consultations had offered the opportunity to promote a return to democratic government and rule of law in Fiji and to demonstrate the importance that the EU attached to upholding the essential elements of the Cotonou Agreement and the general principles in the Development Cooperation Instrument. The then Minister also noted that the UK currently held the local EU Presidency in Suva and had, he said, played an important role in monitoring progress; it would continue to use every opportunity to press the Fiji authorities to behave transparently, respect human rights and the rule of law and return the country to democratic rule as soon as possible. The measures outlined in this Council Decision would aid these efforts. He strongly believed tangible "next steps" were necessary to avoid the current agreement continually being extended. Discussions on what these next steps should be would take place in Brussels over the next six months, with a view to having a decision in place before the end of the extended period.

The previous Committee's further assessment

14.11 The previous Committee reported these latest unfortunate developments to the House for the same reasons as two years ago.

14.12 It also asked the then Minister to write to the previous Committee when he knew what the "next steps" were likely to be.

14.13 The then Minister for Europe having forewarned it in a letter, which it had considered on 22 July 2009, that it might be necessary to adopt this Council Decision during the upcoming summer recess if the situation were to develop in the way that it had, the previous Committee agreed not to take issue with the then Minister for having agreed to its adoption before scrutiny had been completed.

14.14 It then cleared the document.[77]

The proposed Council Decision

14.15 This Council decision extends the current Article 96 arrangements for Fiji for six months, until 31 March 2011.

14.16 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 29 September 2010, the Minister for Europe (David Lidington) supported the proposed extension, which he said would allow the opportunity for possible further consultations.

14.17 After rehearsing the background in similar terms to the previous Minister, he too supported the Commission's approach, similarly saying that the Article 96 consultations offered the opportunity to promote a return to democratic government and rule of law and demonstrate the importance that the EU attached to upholding the essential elements of the Cotonou Agreement and the general principles in the Development Cooperation Instrument.

14.18 He also said that:

— the UK mission in Suva would continue to use every opportunity to press the Fiji authorities to behave transparently, respect human rights and the rule of law and return the country to democratic rule as soon as possible, and that the measures outlined in this Council Decision would aid these efforts;

— the last six months had not provided conditions suitable for further negotiations but he expected substantive discussions between Fiji and the EU to start again soon in Brussels with the aim of moving the EU/Fiji relationship forward; and

— further review of the Cotonou arrangements in six months' time would ensure that these intractable issues remain on the EU's agenda.

14.19 In a separate letter of 24 September 2010, the Minister wrote "with regret" that:

"due to time constraints, and the need to maintain a legal basis for the current EU measures being taken against Fiji, it has been necessary for me to agree the UK's abstention from this Council Decision as agreement through Scrutiny clearance could not be obtained in time.

"The Decision is for an extension only; no changes to the current arrangements will take place during the six months. Member States are in agreement. I would like to emphasise that any documents on new arrangements will be put before the Committee for scrutiny in the normal way prior to agreement. I will make every effort to avoid a similar situation arising in the future, and have instructed officials to review the events which led to the conclusion that this matter could not be considered at the Commons and Lords Scrutiny Committee meetings of 15th and 20th September, respectively."

Our assessment

14.20 We found the Minister's explanation unsatisfactory. Neither the previous Committee nor we had heard anything for a year, notwithstanding the request to the previous Minister for further information after the forthcoming discussions in Brussels to which he had referred. Now, the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum said nothing about what had happened in the interim, either in Fiji or in the discussions between the Commission and those in charge there. Nor did the Minister's letter explain why this Council Decision had appeared on the eve of renewal, when the timeline was well-established long in advance.

14.21 We therefore asked the Minister to address these issues, and in the meantime retained the document under scrutiny.

The Minister's letter of 22 October 2010

14.22 The Minister begins his letter by saying that the previous Committee's request had been interpreted as meaning that the Committee would not need an update unless there were substantive developments, and then says:

"At the time, we expected that there would be progress to report. Unfortunately this has not been the case. The Commission continues to consider options for future EU relations with Fiji, but has not yet put specific proposals to Member States."

14.23 The Minister then recalls what has happened since the coup in December 2006, and says:

"UK officials continue to work closely with the Commission and key regional partners, especially Australia and New Zealand, to ensure a coordinated response to the challenges posed by an increasingly entrenched military regime. Our common goal remains to encourage Fiji to an early return to a civilian-led democratic state with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

"I will ensure that the Committee is fully informed of any substantive developments on this issue during the current six-month extension period or provide an appropriate update should a further extension be required."

14.24 On the timing issue, the Minister again regrets that it was not possible for the Committee to consider this matter prior to the Council meeting. He refers to a letter concerning issues that were likely to require scrutiny over the summer recess, including Fiji, which he says were followed up in conversations with the Committee's staff. The Minister also regards the timing of the recesses in August and September as unhelpful with regard to enabling consideration of the matter before the Council. The Minister concludes by recalling similar problems in previous years and, "anxious to avoid the need for scrutiny overrides whatever the circumstances", offers to discuss with the Committee how best to approach this matter.


14.25 It seems that what the then Minister feared 12 months ago — the current agreement continually being extended in the absence of tangible "next steps" — has in fact materialised. We are none the wiser as to what the options for future EU relations with Fiji might be, nor why the Commission has yet to put specific proposals to Member States. We should therefore like the Minister to ensure that, when he writes during the current six-month extension, he provides an update or, should a further extension be required, an Explanatory Memorandum, that deals with this matter.

14.26 With regard to the timing issue, the point we were endeavouring to make is that, with the expiry date well-known in advance and there having been no developments in Fiji that were likely to affect its nature, it is still not clear why putting forward this Council Decision was left to the last minute. Welcome as "heads up" letters and informal conversations are, there is no substitute for the timely submission of the relevant Council Decision with a fully comprehensive Explanatory Memorandum.

14.27 This having been said, we see no need to retain the Council Decision under scrutiny any longer, and now clear it.

76   See headnote (28857) 12379/07: HC 41-xxxiii (2006-07), chapter 17 (2 October 2007). Back

77   See headnote (30874) 12744/09: HC 19-xxvii (2008-09), chapter 25 (14 October 2009). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 12 November 2010