- The Region in Review:International Issues and Events, 2013
Throughout the year, there was significant debate about Pacific regionalism and the future of agencies that make up the Council of Regional Organizations of the Pacific (crop).
A major review of the Pacific Plan outlined new priorities for the region, while summits highlighted the growing influence of Melanesian nations and the links between climate change, disasters, and development. Pacific governments began preparing regional policies on climate, oceans, fisheries, and sustainable development to be carried onto the global stage in coming months as the United Nations (UN) declared 2014 as the International Year for Small Island States.
There was ongoing debate about Fiji’s role in regional structures, at a time of increasing South-South cooperation and new aid donors challenging old paradigms in the region. With eight Pacific nations scheduled to hold national elections during 2014, the September 2013 poll in Australia—the region’s largest aid, trade, and military power—began a realignment of regional relationships with the election of a conservative government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (pifs) and other crop member agencies are under pressure from all directions: donor demands, burgeoning subregional organizations, civil society critiques, and concern from some member governments that resources are not flowing to the national level.
The role and mandate of crop agencies was analyzed during a review of the 2005 Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Integration and Cooperation. Throughout 2013, former Papua New Guinea (PNG) Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta led a review team that visited all Forum member countries, together with associate members New Caledonia and French Polynesia. Morauta’s team presented an interim report in July, briefed Forum leaders on their findings at the annual summit in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) in September, and then released their final report at year’s end.
Following the 2012 Winder review of the Forum Secretariat (which was critical of the priorities and capacities of the regional organization), Morauta’s team began looking at Pacific Plan priorities. The review soon broadened to a much wider debate about the future of regionalism, highlighting uncertainty about the role and mandate of the Forum Secretariat and other regional institutions.
Addressing Forum leaders in Majuro, Morauta stated: “There is a compelling argument for greater regional cooperation and integration across the Pacific. … However, progress in regionalism has in our opinion slowed down, and by too much.” Describing a region “at the crossroads,” Morauta was sharply critical of the 2005 Pacific Plan: “It is very difficult to see how the Pacific Plan or the processes surrounding it are—now—driving regional integration with the scope, pace and scale [End Page 460] intended in its original framing. Confidence in the Pacific Plan and some of the institutions around it has fallen to the point where some observers question their survival” (Morauta 2013, 3–4).
In the final report (Pacific Plan Review 2013), the review team presented a range of options for coming years:
• the establishment of a highlevel council of past and present Forum chairs to restructure the Forum Secretariat;
• devolving more power to ministerial meetings and subregional organizations, to avoid overloading the agenda of the annual Forum leaders meeting;
• debate on the criteria for Forum membership, given the growing involvement of the US and French territories, and whether “self-determination” should still be a defining factor for full Forum membership;
• further work to articulate the concept of sustainable development;
• better coordination and management of donor support for regionalism.
Forum leaders agreed to send the review findings to the Forum Officials Committee, while Papua New Guinea will host a special leaders’ retreat in April 2014 to discuss a new framework for regional integration.
The review also highlighted the role of subregional organizations, in a year the Melanesian Spearhead Group (msg) celebrated its twentyfifth anniversary. The msg Secretariat in Port Vila organized celebrations in every Melanesian capital and a major summit in New Caledonia in June. The summit debated new initiatives on Melanesian trade, West Papua, regional peacekeeping, and labor mobility between the largest Island nations. The outgoing chair, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama of Fiji, said the msg was “taking bold...