Documents considered by the Committee on 16 March 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

5 EU Relations with Fiji



COM(11) 63

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 15 March 2011
Previous Committee ReportsHC 428-xix (2010-11), chapter 3 (9 March 2011); also see (31912) 13071/10: HC 428-vi (2010-11), chapter 14 (3 November 2010) and HC 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)
To be discussed in Council21 March 2011
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


5.1 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.

5.2 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.

5.3 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.

5.4 The full background of the EU's recent dealings with Fiji is set out in our recent Report. In sum, in December 2006, members of the Fiji Military Forces, led by Commander Bainimarama, deposed the government. The coup was condemned by the international community. Fiji was immediately suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth. In April 2007 a dialogue began in which Fiji's Interim Government (IG) agreed to meet various commitments designed to restore democracy and the rule of law — above all, free and fair elections by March 2009 — on the basis of which the original Council Decision was adopted in October 2007, for two years. Failure to meet these commitments would jeopardise continued EU financial assistance including vital support for Fiji's sugar industry. In April 2009, 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. Since then Bainimarama has announced that no elections will be held until 2014 after fundamental land and electoral reform. As a result the EC announced on 18 May 2009 that it would cancel the 2009 sugar allocation (totalling €24 million).

5.5 A year ago, with the Council Decision due to expire on 1 October 2009, the Commission proposed a further six month extension. It argued that, with an ongoing (but stalled) joint UN/Commonwealth mediation initiative, and with the interim Prime Minister having presented a roadmap for reforms and elections that, while insufficient, was worth exploring as a basis for new consultations, extension of the current policy was the only option. The then Minister (Ivan Lewis) agreed. But "tangible next steps" were, he said, necessary to avoid the current agreement continually being extended; discussions were to 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. These failed to materialise, and last October and November the Committee considered and cleared a further extension of the current arrangements until 31 March 2011.[31]

The draft Council Decision

5.6 The draft Council decision extends the current Article 96 arrangements for a further six months.

5.7 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 4 March 2011, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) said that, with no further progress in 2010, the sugar allocation for that year was also cancelled (c.f. paragraph 5.4 above).

5.8 The Minister then continued as follows:

"In November 2010, the Commission proposed to use €8m of the suspended 'sugar money' (roughly a third of the original allocation) on rural development goals. The project would have three components: vocational training; housing and micro-projects; and access to micro-credit. The UK was consulted in advance and ministerial support was received on the basis that no funds would be directed through Fiji authorities. The Minister was reassured that this work was being carried out with the help of AUSAID and NZAID. The project was approved in Brussels on 22 December.

"On 1 February 2011 the EU wrote to the Fiji authorities confirming that an indicative total of €51,094,000 (£43.7 million) had been allocated to Fiji for the period 2011-2013 as a financial allocation under the Accompanying Measures for former Sugar Protocol countries. This letter also highlighted that the availability of this allocation would be conditional to an agreement in the Article 96 consultation process."

5.9 The Minister supported the EU's approach. He again described the Article 96 consultations as an 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. He then said:

"The Government encourages the EAS and Commission to develop a policy which allows the EU to provide development assistance to the people of Fiji so that they do not suffer unduly, while maintaining political pressure on the regime to bring about the restoration of democracy.

"The Government also encourages the EAS and Commission to work in close consultation with other key regional partners, notably Australia and New Zealand."

5.10 The Minister then concluded with by-now-familiar words, viz:

"The UK is represented in Suva, and will 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 will aid these efforts. The last six months have not provided conditions suitable for further negotiations but it is hoped that substantive discussions between Fiji and the EU can start again soon in Brussels with the aim of moving the EU/Fiji relationship forward. A further review of the Cotonou arrangements in six months' time will ensure that these intractable issues remain on the EU's agenda."

Our assessment

5.11 A policy which "allows the EU to provide development assistance to the people of Fiji so that they do not suffer unduly, while maintaining political pressure on the regime to bring about the restoration of democracy" was, we thought, presumably what this exercise had been designed to achieve from the outset. After three years, there was an unmistakeable air of drift, with the Minister expressing the same hope as had his predecessor a year ago — that, somehow, "substantive discussions between Fiji and the EU can start again soon in Brussels with the aim of moving the EU/Fiji relationship forward" — and Member States at large seemingly at their wits end, or having lost interest, and turning instead to the EAS and Commission to develop what they have so far failed to do. This seemed an unsatisfactory situation — as did the failure to notify the Committee of the decision to provide a degree of funding, via third parties, from the suspended "sugar money", notwithstanding the absence of any of the positive changes whose absence had led to its suspension.

5.12 We had no particular wish to hold up this latest extension. However, we asked the Minister to respond to our observations before it was submitted to the Council on 21 March 2011.

5.13 In the meantime we retained the document under scrutiny.

The Minister's letter of 15 March 2011

5.14 The Minister says that he shares the Committee's frustration at the lack of progress with "an increasingly entrenched dictator", and that he "remains deeply concerned about the situation in Fiji", citing reports over the past month of an increasing number of human rights abuses as "a particular worry."

5.15 He continues as follows:

"The Government believes that the only hope for positive development is through a coordinated international approach to help Fiji back to a civilian led democracy. In order to achieve this goal, we work closely with our traditional allies Australia and New Zealand who, for geographical and historical reasons, have close ties to Fiji. We regularly discuss the situation in Fiji with them, at both Ministerial and official level. We are in agreement that it is important to isolate the regime to show that the coup is unacceptable and the regime's behaviour will not be tolerated. We continue to encourage the EU to develop its relationships with Australia and New Zealand regarding Fiji."

5.16 Turning to the Committee's dissatisfaction at not being notified of the decision to provide a degree of funding, via third parties, from the suspended "sugar money", the Minister says that he is sorry that the Committee was not adequately notified, and continues thus:

"All former sugar protocol exporters have had access to structural adjustment funds. Fiji is no exception. The aim of the funds is to counterbalance expected negative trends for exporting countries in general, not Fiji in particular. Since the suspension of the sugar protocol EU development assistance to Fiji has effectively been halted: the political pressure was on the regime, but there was no concomitant assistance to the Fijian populace. The funding was arranged to try to rebalance this situation by alleviating the suffering of the ordinary people of Fiji without providing support to the regime. The Government is of the view that this met our overall objectives and was the right thing to do."


5.17 We are grateful to the Minister for this further information. Unpromising as the prospects continue apparently to be, we are content to let matters take their course, and to hear from him further in six months time.

5.18 In the meantime, we now clear the document.

31   See headnote: HC 428-iii (2010-11), chapter 4 (13 October 2010) and HC 428-vi (2010-11), chapter 14 (3 November 2010). Back

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Prepared 24 March 2011