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Zimbabwe-EU relations, which started in 1982, are governed by the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement, better known as the Cotonou Agreement. The Agreement has been ratified by 79 countries from the African-Caribbean-Pacific regions (ACP), including Zimbabwe, and the EU and its 28 Member States.
This Agreement is "centred on the objective of reducing and eventually eradication poverty consistent with the objectives of sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy". Its essential elements are the respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law, while good governance is a fundamental principle of the partnership.
The ACP/EU Partnership Agreement rests on three pillars, namely political relations, trade and development cooperation.
Article 8 of the ACP/EU Partnership foresees a regular political dialogue to foster mutual understanding, to facilitate the establishment of agreed priorities and to strengthen cooperation within international fora.
The dialogue focusses on political issues of mutual concern and encompasses a regular assessment of developments concerning the respect for human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and governance.
In February 2002, the Council of the European Union assessed that the Government of Zimbabwe continued "to engage in serious violations of human rights and of the freedom of opinion, of association and of peaceful assembly", and imposed restrictive measures against individuals and companies that were considered responsible for human rights violations. The measures include a travel ban, an asset freeze and an arms embargo, and have been gradually removed over recent years, also owing to the adoption of a new constitution and the improvement of the human rights situation. Today, only two individual and one company remain on this list.
In parallel, the EU also maintained so-called 'appropriate measures' between 2002 and 2014, as defined in Article 96 of the Agreement. These measures consisted of the suspension of all direct development cooperation with the Government and its reorientation as direct support of the population in the social sectors, democratisation, respect for human rights and the rule of law, implemented through international agencies or civil society organisations.
Since the lifting of the appropriate measures in November 2014, the EU and its Member States have engaged in regular political dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe at senior officials' level, and EU bilateral development cooperation with the country resumed.
The EU and its Member States are also holding a regular and structured dialogue with civil society on issues of mutual interest, such as constitutionalism, climate change, etc.
Contrary to popular belief, the EU has never imposed what is often described as 'trade sanctions' on Zimbabwe. Even during the period of the appropriate measures, Zimbabwe continued to benefit from the preferential access to the EU market provided under the Cotonou Agreement.
In 2009, Zimbabwe, together with Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles, signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which was ratified and entered into force in May 2012. The agreement provided the signatories, including Zimbabwe, immediately with entirely duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market (consisting presently of 28 Member States). It also foresees a gradual liberalisation of 80% of EU imports by 2022.
After the period of hyper-inflation in 2008, trade between the EU and Zimbabwe has picked up again. This is in particular true for the export of high added value agriculture products, while the export value of mining products has declined in recent years.
During the period of appropriate measures (2002-2014), the EU and its Member States continued a very important development cooperation programme of well over EUR 1,5 billion, one third thereof through the EU and the rest through bilateral channels by the Member States. After the lifting of the 'appropriate measures' in November 2014, the EU and the Government of Zimbabwe signed a EUR 234 million National Indicative Programme (2014-2020) in February 2015 under the 11th European Development Fund.
While this cooperation continues to be almost entirely channeled through international agencies and civil society organisations, the main difference is that the programming is now done jointly, implying an intensified policy and political dialogue focusing on the reforms to be undertaken to bring Zimbabwe on a socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth path.
This cooperation framework aims at supporting Zimbabwe in the reforms necessary to become a more democratic and prosperous country. It concentrates on three key areas for cooperation, namely health, agriculture-based economic development and governance and institution building, with a dual approach of supporting key government institutions as well as civil society.
In addition to the development cooperation programmes implemented under the National Indicative Programme, the EU also supports Human Rights actions and has programmes with local authorities and civil society, in recognition of the important role they play in the development of the country.
In addition to the more medium to long term development assistance, the EU also provides humanitarian aid through its Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG-ECHO, referred to as ECHO). The mandate of ECHO is to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of conflicts or natural and man-made disasters, to save, preserve life and reduce or prevent suffering. This assistance is intended to go directly to those in distress irrespective of race, religion or political convictions.
Over the period 2002-2014, ECHO has funded programmes for approximately EUR 190 million countrywide. A further EUR 24 million has been mobilised over the last two years in response to floods and drought. Aid has been channelled through Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), International Organisations and United Nations (UN) agencies. For more info on ECHO, click here.