David Jessop | Relating To A Much-Changed Europe and the Caribbean

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2019 – Jamaica Gleaner

AP Photo Ursula von der Leyen could become president of the European Commission.
The spectacle of Britain all but tearing itself apart over its future relationship with the European Union has been unedifying.

Now, however, after months of political, legal, constitutional, and parliamentary wrangling, the indications are that very soon, Britain, in one or another way, will leave.

As a fail-safe, the Caribbean has agreed the text of a Cariforum-United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement, or EPA, which can be rapidly approved in the event of a hard Brexit. This will, if required, provide Caribbean exporters of goods and services to the UK near identical market access terms to those it has under the EU-Cariforum EPA.             

Much less certain is whether the anglophone Caribbean has yet recognised that this is the moment at which it should set aside its UK-centric view of Europe and develop an intimate relationship with at least some of Europe’s 27 other member states.

What appears to be little appreciated is that the EU27’s world view is changing, not as a result of Brexit, but through a process of strategic reorientation.

This involves a fundamental change of thinking about the EU’s future role in the world by member states and within Europe’s powerful executive, the European Commission.

The intention is to develop a clearer global identity as traditional economic and security alliances such as that with the United States, weaken, China outpaces the United States, and Russia seeks new alliances and greater influence within Europe.


Recent remarks by the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and those of Jutta Urpilainen, who is expected to be confirmed as Commissioner of International Partnerships, indicate how Europe intends reshaping its role in the world.

Mrs von der Leyen, who is the commission’s first female president, was previously Germany’s defence minister and is a committed Atlanticist, believes that if Europe does not fight for the values it stands for, it will die.

In an address to the European Parliament in July, she said of the growing trend towards authoritarianism, the purchase of global influence, and protectionism, that “none of these options are for us. We want multilateralism, we want fair trade. We defend the rules-based order because we know it is better for all of us. We have to do it the European way”.

Last month, announcing the names of the next European commissioners, she went further: “Existing powers are going down new paths alone. New powers are emerging and consolidating. This has left a feeling of unease and anxiety in many communities across Europe. The EU must lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world. But it can only do so by bringing people together and upgrading our unique social market economy to fit today’s new ambitions.”

Her new team of commissioners, drawn from all EU27 member states, will, she observed, shape ‘the European Way’.

“We will take bold action against climate change, build our partnership with the United States, define our relations with a more self-assertive China, and be a reliable neighbour, for example to Africa. This team will have to stand up for our values and world-class standards,” said Mrs von der Leyen. “My Commission will be a geopolitical Commission committed to sustainable policies. And I want the European Union to be the guardian of multilateralism because we know that we are stronger by doing together what we cannot do alone.”

Some of the broad detail of what this might mean for the Caribbean was provided when the former Finnish finance minister, Jutta Urpilainen, appeared on October 1 before the Development Committee of the European Parliament to confirm her appointment as International Partnerships Commissioner – a new title intended to demonstrate the global broadening of the development portfolio.


There, Mrs Urpilainen set out her priorities and the changes she will introduce.

She said that decisions would not be taken in a development vacuum but as part of a holistic global approach to ‘partnerships’ and in close coordination with other commissioners. This will not only see her working closely with the incoming High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, based on a jointly arrived at geopolitical analysis, but also involve directorates involved in trade, agriculture policy, gender equality, private sector development, and climate change.

Second, she was very clear that her strategic priority would be Africa and the development of a comprehensive strategy in the context of an EU-Africa Alliance in a partnership of equals and mutual interest. “We have to abandon the narrative of Africa as a continent of poverty and instability. We have to welcome Africa as a young continent of hope and prosperity,” she told parliamentarians.

Third, and of specific relevance to the Caribbean, she told parliamentarians that strong international partnerships with Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific could help Europe address issues of concern to its younger generation. She also said that concluding negotiations on the post-Cotonou Agreement with the ACP would be a priority in order to “complete a modern, strategic, and influential alliance between the EU and ACP states on the international stage …. that serves our common interests”.


More generally, when it came to middle-income countries, Ms Urpilainen’s emphasis was on finding ways to address inequality. She also indicated that she would seek the support of the private sector to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, encourage the development of the blue economy for nutrition and economic growth, and appeared to welcome proposals that would see the European Parliament play a greater role in the distribution of funds from the development budget.

In contrast, Britain’s government appears to be moving in a different direction. Seemingly driven by an alternative strategic vision, it sees the way ahead for Britain as a form of unilateralism involving a close economic and political relationship with the US, a negotiated third country free trade arrangement with the EU27, conditional development relationships, and the establishment of a low tax, lightly regulated offshore environment likely to create friction with its European neighbours.

These are all changes that require the Caribbean to think less about its historic relationship with the UK and invest more time and energy in finding new ways to relate politically to the EU27.

It requires more than repeating the past by drawing a dividing line the length of the North and Irish Seas. It suggests finding new ways to ensure that the Caribbean’s voice is heard more clearly across a continent that shares the region’s values.

  David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council.david.jessop@caribbean-council.org

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  • kamtanblog  On October 9, 2019 at 9:07 am

    EU is governed by “appointees” unelected
    bureaucrats. Democracy in principle not
    practice. Sooner or later it’s peoples will
    realise this and demand change. If the change is not forthcoming the citizens of Rome
    will rebel and destroy Rome.
    The caesars were playing/singing while
    Rome burned. Will the EU repeat that historical
    King Charles claimed his power came from
    Cromwell claimed his power came from
    the people.
    King tried for “blasphemy” convicted
    and lost his head…literally.

    For EU to survive it will have to include
    ras-Putin’s Russia and Xi Jingpings China
    into its membership. Doubt it !

    My spin


  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On October 9, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    An informative and interesting article. I agree with Jessop’s concluding remarks: “These are all changes that require the Caribbean to think less about its historic relationship with the UK and invest more time and energy in finding new ways to relate politically to the EU27.”

    • kamtanblog  On October 9, 2019 at 2:19 pm

      EU operates protectionist trading policies…
      With Humpty Dumpty Potus USA also
      operates protectionist policies.
      UK on the other hand offers an alternative
      Free trade policy. Protectionist and subsidies
      is certainly not the way forward.
      Free and fairer trade without exchange
      rates advantage is certainly the better
      option. No tax or tariffs as per EU 27
      trade block to counter BRICS.
      David Jessops writes some good articles
      but he may have erred in this one.
      He shows his bias towards the remainers.

      The major players may well be BRICS +
      EU V USA UK blocks.

      In my opinion


      Go figure


    • wally n  On October 9, 2019 at 2:35 pm

      I think that “Her new team of commissioners, drawn from all EU27 member states, will, she observed, shape ‘the European Way” is much more frightening.
      Regardless of the stick, those Caribbean states, can again expect the short end.
      I know deep down, they are hoping that Guyana will be an Alms House/Dharm Shala to save those petty Napoleons, when maybe all they need is to start working together, and stop posing, their future looks bleak.

      • kamtanblog  On October 9, 2019 at 2:50 pm

        If my memory serves me the EU initiated
        heavy tax/tariffs on Caribbean bananas and it was the UK that came to the rescue of some of smaller islands producers.
        Carribean will certainly receive fairer
        treatment from their ex colonial masters
        than the EU unelected dreamers.

        In my opinion

        Kamtan UK

  • wally n  On October 9, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    I have no information, so when I say it seems their marketing sucks, an opinion. I can buy everything they and Guyana produce, from other countries in the Chinese Supermarkets, sugar, coconut products …..and I would really prefer to buy theirs. Serious problems, in their futures, in the travel industry, they compete against each other and every other small island with white sand around the world.

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