The ACP CSF and 'Cotonou'
The ACP Civil Society Forum reflects and embodies the spirit of the Cotonou Agreement. Cotonou, The Paris Declaration, the Accra Agenda and the Busan Declaration explicitly refer to Civil Society Organisations as independent development actors in their own right.
The ACP CSF and ACP
- The ACP established the ACP Civil Society Forum as the official platform of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Civil Society Organisations and NGO Networks for the ACP-EU Cooperation since 2001, confirming the formal status of the ACP CSF as an "all-ACP Civil Society Forum".
- The ACP Secretariat presented the Plan of Action, Declaration and the Report of the first Forum to the ACP Council of Ministers through the Committee of Ambassadors and these documents were endorsed by the 27th ACP-EU Council of Ministers Meeting in June, 2002.
- The ACP CSF is the legitimate network of Civil Society organisations in the ACP countries that gives effect to the principles of the Cotonou Agreement on the role of Civil Society.
- The ACP has taken charge of the ACP Civil Society Forum from the start. ACP Secretariat authorized, funded and (co-)organized the 3 Forum meetings that have taken place: 2001, 2006, 2009.
- This included inviting participants, issuing tickets, reporting, financial reports, deciding on the agenda of the meetings, hosting Forum meetings in the ACP premises; and the ACP Secretary General delivering the welcome address. The 3 ACP CS Forum meetings were funded through intra-ACP EDF funds.
ACP, EU and the ACP CSF
- EU has a long-standing partnership with Civil Society organisations; in 2012 EU issued new policy guidelines on strengthened support to Civil Society in partner countries.
- EU supports several Civil Society Forums.
- Support to the ACP CSF never included support for institutional infrastructure.
ACP Civil Society Forum
- The performance of the ACP CSF shows a mixed picture, with, in terms of performance indicators, strength and progress in some areas (organizational structure, realizing genuine Civil Society membership, representativeness, communication network) and stagnation under-utilized potential in other areas (activities in relation to objectives, implementation of Forum meetings).
Internal structure and management
- The Forum has a 3-tier organizational structure - the Bureau, and Regional and National Focal Points.
- Its internal structure is appropriate to its identity as an international network and to its objectives.
- ACP Civil Society Forum member organisations are formally designated as the National Focal Points for the ACP CSF in their respective countries.
- Since 2001, the ACP CSF has gradually developed its governance structure. This included, apart from an effective management structure, transparent guidelines on decision-making and democratic procedures for election of the chairperson and regional focal points.
- The ACP CSF Bureau consists of a core team of highly qualified civil society leaders, knowledgeable in their particular sector of expertise, as confirmed by external stakeholders.
- ACP CSF does not have a formal mechanism for exercising accountability. Online consultations are seen as a major channel for informing and consulting members, and this functions well.
Lack of an enabling environment
- Though the ACP CSF was established with a clear mandate, right from the start the ACP CSF lacked a proper implementation mechanism.
- An obstacle in the first years was the fact that many representatives were appointed by governments; the ACP CSF did not yet represent genuine civil society.
- The ACP CSF has never been provided funds for secretarial support. In view of optimal effectiveness of the Forum a modest support structure is recommended. The lack of secretarial support and the lack of continuity of Forum meetings are key factors affecting performance of the ACP CSF.
- Crucial in understanding the internal governance of the ACP CSF is its relation to the ACP. The ACP Secretariat authorizes the organization and funding of Forum meetings and decides on modalities of the meetings, not the ACP CSF. This has right from the start created a structure of dependency, the pros and cons of which have never been validated in an open manner between ACP, ACP CSF and EU.
- Since 2011 the ACP CSF has requested the ACP Secretariat to organise the 4th Forum, so far without positive response. Related to this, the relation with ACP has been increasingly strenuous, and this has eroded the governance framework that resulted from the 3rd Forum.
- Key informants identify this situation as a major external disincentive for the ACP CSF and they regard the 'unbalanced ACP-ACP CSF relationship' as not conducive to a vibrant ACP CSF. "The two should be given the opportunity to function as two independent entities in their own right".
- They recommend the creation of a MoU outlining the commitments of the ACP and EU towards making the resources available for ACP CSF to effectively carry out its mandate.
- The ACP CSF management at present is not taking leadership. A major factor is that they are deprived of the resources and the environment enabling them to act. Other factors are: lack of a clear action plan that is endorsed by the ACP CSF constituency and on a more general level lack of a strategy on how to deal with the present impasse.
- While no funding has been available right from the start, the Forum achieved to implement activities. Everything that has been achieved was achieved on a pro bono basis. Some members of the management spent considerable resources (time, money) on Forum activities.
- The ACP Civil Society Forum implemented 3 Forum meetings (2001, 2006, 2009) in collaboration with the ACP Secretariat. Discontinuity in Forum meetings is in the first place due to external factors - fundamentally lack of an operational mechanism enabling ACP CSF to act.
- Assessing the activities of the ACP CSF vis-à-vis planned activities has been problematic because a framework for planning and reporting is lacking. This affects effectiveness and impact of the ACP CSF and points to a substantial management and performance problem of the Forum.
- Management of meetings should be improved: proper preparations, technically and content-wise, with declarations and action plans, follow up planning, monitoring and reporting.
- The 3rd Forum did not complete an Action Plan, and follow-up to the 3rd Forum has been lacking.
- Plans of Action of Forum meetings do not include activities related to strengthening the institutional foundation of the ACP CSF, whereas that was, with hindsight, evidently the highest priority. It still is.
- An assessment of activities in view of objectives demonstrates that: the Forum has been able to deliver on about half of its 5 objectives. There are obvious performance gaps.
- The two main activities by 2013 are:
- participation in (ACP - EU) policy meetings and keeping the members informed on relevant ACP-EU activities through the online network.
- Communication on regional policies on trade, development and poverty alleviation from a civil society perspective capitalizing on civil society expertise, with ACP CSF providing inputs and facilitating sharing of expertise.
These activities are crucial to the ACP CSF and can be seen as part of its Core Identity.
- The 2009 Forum endorsed the ACP CSF as a Forum of genuine civil society representatives. This is a major step towards realization of a genuine ACP Civil Society Forum. This study did not find a single evidence of a member organisation that does not qualify as a genuine Civil Society organisation.
- Overall, how should the number, range and effectiveness of the activities implemented by the ACP CSF be qualified? In view of its lack of resources they are considerable. In view of ACP CSF's mandate and potential its performance is weak.
Modalities of communication and coordination
- The ACP CSF yahoo network is the major communication mechanism for the ACP CS; it meant a qualitative leap forward in internal communication in the Forum.
- The Legal Advisor and other Forum representatives participate in policy meetings and keep the members informed on relevant ACP-EU activities through the online network. Members regard this information as useful, and a majority has practically used it in their own activities.
- Representativeness is a major strength of the network- an important indicator being that a majority of the member organisations perceive the Forum as relevant for their own work.
- This study confirms the representativeness of the Forum, formally and substantially, in view of major indicators: 1. its support base, and 2. qualitative indicators.
- The Forum represents genuine Non-State Actors,
- The Forum is registered with the EC Register of Interests Representatives.
- The ACP CSF member organisations are networks encompassing ten to several hundreds of member organizations in their own respective country; they have appropriate mechanisms to ensure inclusiveness and representativeness among their constituencies; and their representativeness is confirmed by external informants and mapping studies;
- They cover a wide spectrum of target groups and beneficiaries, urban and rural, and mostly have national coverage;
- They are knowledgeable, have the ability to articulate development concerns from a civil society perspective, have authority to represent and act, and have access to expertise.
- The ACP Civil Society Forum is an important platform for its constituent organisations; its relevance is confirmed by the majority of its members, though some are critical and skeptical. The high level of response to the Survey and the Fact Sheets is a strong indicator for the level of motivation of the member organisations and the perceived relevance of the Forum for its members.
ACP CSF Member organisations
Key Findings from the Survey, the Inventory, field visits and interviews
- This Study produced an Inventory of on member organisations of the Forum. The Inventory provides detailed information on each member organization: Basic Information, Activities, Relations with the ACP CSF and with other organisations in the Forum, Relations with organisations outside the Forum, and case studies on Best Practices. This Inventory is a separate Annex to this report.
- An in-depth Survey was a significant tool for data collection on the member organisations.
- The Fact Sheets and the Survey resulted in a wealth of information on the ACP CSF member organisations.
The ACP CSF member organisations
- The constituencies of the Forum, the National Focal Points, play a pivotal role in strengthening civil society in their countries.
- Many of them are prominent organisations in their own field of expertise. A majority of the member organisations is engaged in both economic and social activities.
- Many of them are playing a crucial role in strengthening democracy or they have played a role in the transition to democracy.
- A strong feature of the national focal points is their representativeness and their diversity.
- They are all (except one) officially registered in their own country; they all (100%) have a constitution and bye-laws.
- The functioning of the member organizations depends to a large extent on the efforts of a group of highly committed persons. They are also the driving force behind the Forum. The strength of the Forum depends on these member organisations; as such, the strength of the Forum is beyond doubt.
- They are networks, umbrellas, and often membership organisations; representing ten to several hundreds of civil society organisations in their countries.
- They value accountability and confirm that accountability is practiced in their organization.
- Some organisations work with limited funding, and many have a broad range of funders.
Priority areas, activities, impact
- ACP CSF member organisations generally have a social-economic focus. The outcome of the Survey highlights three clusters (sectors) of priority activities of member organisations: Poverty Alleviation, Rights, and Peace Building. Members are also engaged in capacity building of civil society organizations and they provide various sorts of technical support to the civil society sector.
- There are dozens of 'Good Practices', success stories, case studies of impact of social and economic interventions. All members have been, to varying extent, involved in such successful activities. This study created an inventory of Best Practices of ACP CSF member organisations. See Annex.
- Moreover, this study identified 6 'Dimensions of Impact' and documented examples of the ACP Civil Society platforms having a powerful track record on these impact dimensions. It produced an inventory of these as well. See Annex.
- There is synergy between the priorities addressed by the National Focal Points, their local member organisations, the regional networks and those addressed by the Forum on a global level.
- Impact is realised at the level of the National Focal Points and their thousands of constituent members. However, this impact can neither be ascribed to nor claimed as an impact of the ACP CSF though the ACP CSF is certainly 'carried' by it, and vice versa.
- Nearly all Forum members are cooperating with Regional level networks and institutions.
- They confirm the added value of the ACP CSF for their work. Being the platform of these national level organisations the ACP Civil Society Forum brings together a huge potential of actors on development issues from a Civil Society perspective.
Analysis of relations with key national and external stakeholders
- ACP CSF national platforms have a diverse support base, often with formal membership: between ten and hundreds of CSOs, with which they interact in meetings and through e-mail;
- They forward information to their members on development activities and ACP-EU cooperation, function as an information hub (besides coordinate activities and providing capacity building).
- They provide information or referral for third parties, e.g. for the EU and the government.
- E-mail is the predominant mode of communication with other ACP CSF partner organisations, with 'Meetings in a Regional context' as a second best option.
Collaboration on development interventions
- Most Forum members have 'some kind of collaboration' with other Forum members.
- All members maintain strong relations with national stakeholders. This study consulted national stakeholders (government representatives, external NGOs) and representatives of EU Delegations. They report that cooperation with Forum partners has been effective and appreciated. The report provides a selection of quotations.
- National platforms are actively collaborating with Regional organisations in strengthening civil society at a Regional level. For a list of Regional networks see Annex.
Mechanisms of coordination
- 25 member organisations are actively engaged in coordination mechanisms between EU, national government and civil society organisation on development issues.
- The region with the strongest coordination mechanism is the Caribbean, with several countries having a well-functioning Non State Actors Panel under a MoU between Civil Society, Government and EU.
ACP CSF: 3 Core identities
From the research data on the ACP Civil Society Forum, 3 'Core Identities' are derived.
1. Core identity 1: The ACP Civil Society Forum is the legitimate network of Civil Society organisations in the ACP countries that gives effect to the principles of the Cotonou Agreement on the role of Civil Society.
2. Core identity 2: ACP CSF keeps the members informed on ACP-EU activities through the online network. Most member organisations regard this information as useful; they use it in their own activities, and they see this as a key activity of the Forum.
3. Core Identity 3: Communication and collaboration on regional policies on trade, development and poverty alleviation from a civil society perspective capitalizing on civil society expertise and experience.
Challenges and future potential
- The ACP Forum members are Civil Society platforms of thousands of organisations in ACP countries representing an invaluable source of expertise and experience, as has been documented in this study.
- As such, the ACP CSF Forum is in a unique position, or 'best placed' to coordinate exchange of experiences and create joint positions or strategies, both in view of pressing development issues, as well as in view of joint internal Civil Society sector concerns.
- With the yahoo network one main condition for a coordinating role is in place. The ACP Civil Society Forum has a huge potential, that is presently under-utilized, but the potential is still there.
- ACP CSF member organisations see the fact that meetings are not taking place as prescribed as a major challenge for the ACP CSF that need to be solved. They also see "lack of a clear mandate" and "lack of funding" as major challenges.
- A far majority of the immediate constituency of the Forum has confidence in the future potential of the ACP CSF. According to them, to realize this potential in order for the Forum to be able to play its role to the fullest in the spirit of 'Cotonou, Paris, Accra and Busan', as an independent development actor in its own right, a concerted effort of internal and external stakeholders is required. "ACP CSF has to be revived" 112. The Forum needs to catch the momentum and take ownership. It needs to reconsider its core identity, objectives and deliverables. Appropriate planning and accountability structures must be in place.
- It is recommended that a clear and transparent mechanism be worked out by the main stakeholders - the ACP Civil Society Forum, the ACP and EU - for a realistic operational structure conducive to the optimal functioning of the ACP Civil Society Forum, with due attention for accountability, efficiency and effectiveness. Without this, it is not anticipated that the ACP CSF will overcome its present impasse.