Antigua and Barbuda is a tiny independent state consisting of two islands of similar size. Most of the population live on Antigua. The state is situated on the northern part of the Caribbean arc, nearer to Puerto Rico than Trinidad. It is one of the most prosperous countries in the region. It has been independent since 1981, and has a system of parliamentary democracy (Westminster model) that functions well. It fully respects human rights and does not have any problems of political governance. The percentage of the population considered poor stands at just over 10%. The country also plays an active role in efforts to promote regional integration.
Antigua and Barbuda is vulnerable on account of its size - 442 km² and around 80,000 inhabitants, with a high demographic density on the island of Antigua. It is exposed to hurricanes and its economy has been highly dependent on tourism, mainly from the United Kingdom and North America, for several decades. The main challenge is to promote a policy of sustainable development and greater economic diversification, in particular in the tourism sector, which is closely linked with the rest of the economy, by means of the development of human resources. A better balance of public finances needs to be established and regional cooperation and integration mechanisms need to be improved to enable the country to adapt successfully to changes in international conditions.
The country has particularly suffered from the impact of the international crisis because of its extremely high dependency on tourism and from the collapse of the fraudulent financial empire built by Texan billionaire Allen Stanford in Antigua. There is also a serious political tension in the wake of the narrow victory of the Government in the general elections in March 2009 followed a year later by the invalidation of three members of Parliament by a High Court judge.
The country's past socio-economic success, with improving social indicators giving Antigua the second best rank in the Caribbean in the latest UNDP Human Development Index, has to be consolidated to meet the challenges of the present and the future. These include changes at regional and global level concerning the Economic Partnership Agreement signed with the EU in October 2008 and progress towards establishing a Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM). Despite good progress in recent years, there are still significant imbalances in public finances owing to the impact of natural catastrophes and the sometimes-ineffective management of the economy. Opportunities for developing tourism and financial services, which the national government has seen as a priority for some time, need to be analysed in depth, but there are issues concerning transparency and practices detrimental to the interests of third countries. Recent commitments to financial transparency by the authorities seem to indicate a positive change of the situation, and the country has therefore been removed at the end of 2009 from the OECD's "grey list" of countries suspected of lack of transparency in this field.
The EU/Antigua and Barbuda cooperation strategy for the period 2008-2013 focuses on supporting the government in its efforts to modernise public finances, which is necessary to promote economic diversification and sustainable development. The 10th European Development Fund provides for € 3.4 M, including funds for technical cooperation involving the support of non-governmental players and integration into the regional and global economy. It has been proposed in the mid-term review to raise this amount to € 6.4 million to help the country overcoming the crisis, and Antigua has also asked for a 2010 V Flex assignation.