- The Future of European Development Cooperation
The European Consensus on Development adopted in 2005 lays down the overall objectives and principles for European development cooperation. Poverty reduction is the major objective and fine principles concerning ownership, partnership, etc. are spelled out. The two main European initiatives with implications for the EU member states in the field of development cooperation are the decisions to increase aid volumes and to enhance complementarity in the division of labour between member states.
These initiatives have had little success so far. One could argue that a window of opportunity for strengthening European development cooperation exists if the member states were moving closer to a European development approach. However, this is not the case. Rather, significant political and institutional obstacles prevail, and major problems lie at the member state level. Thus, initiatives should not target the EU but the member states so that these may start valuing the idea of European development cooperation.
A European Think-Tanks Group earlier this year published a report called “New Challenges, New Beginnings: Next Steps in European Development Cooperation” with contributions from 25 scholars from four think-tanks[i]. The purpose is highly ambitious. The report seeks to outline contemporary global challenges in the field of development and to provide policy recommendations for the EU in light of the challenges.
In May 2010, the four think-tanks followed up the report by sending an open letter to President Barroso, High Representative Ashton and Commissioner for Development Piebalgs urging them to ensure that the institutional changes in the context of the new European External Action Service be as ‘development-friendly’ as possible.
These initiatives should be praised for their attempt both to address current development challenges in a comprehensive manner and to suggest bold measures to make European development cooperation stronger and more effective. However, is there reason to believe that the suggestions can make their way into concrete policy? Why do the four think-tanks believe that the potential of a strong and coherent European Development Cooperation can be realised, that internal institutional and political divisions can be overcome, and that development policies can spearhead a more coherent response to global challenges?
From an activist point of view these questions should not deter any one from acting, but from a more academic stance it may be interesting to consider the probability of such a development.
Starting at the level of the Union, the institutional contradictions do not seem to have been resolved with the Lisbon Treaty and the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS). The EEAS appears to become an institution relatively closer to the member states meaning that member state interests will have a bigger influence here than in the Commission. At the same time, the transfer of authority to the Service is likely to weaken the Commission in the field of development. Moreover, the European Parliament is highly critical that the EEAS will escape its influence, and within the Commission a united approach has not been ensured institutionally given that several commissioners and directorates deal with different aspects of development. All this indicates that turf wars continuously will undermine aid effectiveness and coherence in external relations and that a ‘European’ perspective on development is not being strengthened.
If the member states were moving closer to a European development approach, one could argue that a window of opportunity exists. The European Consensus on Development adopted in 2005 is a fine statement laying down the overall objectives and principles for European development cooperation. Poverty reduction is the major objective and up-to-date principles concerning ownership, partnership, etc. are spelled out. The Consensus is, however, sufficiently broad to accommodate everyone. I doubt that any member country has changed its development policies because these did not fit the Consensus.
The two main European initiatives with implications for the member states in the field of development cooperation are the decisions to step up ODA and to create division of labour and complementarity between member states. The Council decided in May 2005 that most EU member states should increase the ODA/GNI percentage to at least 0.51 by 2010 and to 0.7 by 2015, while the new member states should reach 0.17 and 0.33 by the same two years.
According to recent statistics from OECD/DAC, the countries accounting for the large majority of ODA provided by EU member states cut the total amount of their aid by 0.2% from 2008 to 2009. Due to a shrinking economy, aid measured as a percentage of GNI increased, however, from 0.43 to 0.44. Countries like Belgium, Finland, France, and United Kingdom moved in the direction decided by the Council while aid was cut in Austria (to 0.30), Germany (to 0.35), Greece (to 0.19), Ireland (to 0.54), Italy (to 0.16) and Portugal (0.23). Thus, several member states are off-track in terms of the 2005 Council decision to increase ODA. Some move in the wrong direction while others have a very low percentage but still cut ODA. There is little reason to believe that the Council has any bearing on the development policies of these countries.
In 2007, under the German presidency of EU, a Code of Conduct was adopted in order to create complementarity between member states and the Commission in development cooperation. The main message is for each individual donor to reduce its activities to a maximum of three sectors in each partner country, to avoid that many EU donors operate in some countries while few (or no one) are present in others, and to make individual EU donors focus their work on a few sectors so that they do not spread their thematic capacities too thinly over many sectors.
The only assessment of this initiative, that I have come across, is a monitoring report of the EU Fast Track Initiative on Division of Labour and Complementarity from early 2009. The Fast Track Initiative covers 32 countries and the monitoring report provides information from 21 of these countries. The report does not present conclusive evidence on the initiative. Donor mapping exercises and lead donor arrangements have been undertaken in a fair number of countries while an assessment of donors’ comparative advantages and delegated cooperation (where a donor delegates the management of its funds in a particular area to another donor) are much less prevalent. The major concern in the report is that partner governments are rarely involved in the exercise and regard it with scepticism out of fear that it will strengthen donor demands and conditions.
For some donors the move towards cooperation with fewer countries and a limited number of sectors in each country has been underway for some years irrespective of the EU Code of Conduct. It is, therefore, difficult to assess the impact of the Code. However, even a fairly focussed donor like Denmark is far from selecting partner countries based on an assessment of the presence of other donors or from undertaking a thematic specialisation of its development cooperation. Actually, EU is only considered in Danish development policies as a forum for pursuing Danish priorities and values, not as a source of influence on Danish development cooperation.
On the basis of the above, it is difficult to argue that EU’s development cooperation departs from a clear and coherent institutional structure or that it has any major impact on the quantity or quality of member states’ development cooperation. There may be signs here and there that European development cooperation will become slightly better organised, but no significant window of opportunity seems to be opening. Moreover, the economic crisis is likely to seal the windows in the foreseeable future. Despite the fact that the Lisbon Treaty puts the Commission on a more equal footing with the member states in the field of development cooperation, the political realities are that member states consider their aid programmes as a bilateral matter heavily influenced by their own foreign and domestic political interests.
A different but no less important question is whether development policies stand any chance of influencing European policies responding to the numerous global challenges (financial and economic crises, rising food and energy prices, climate change, epidemics and so forth) that the four think-tanks rightly identify. EU has for almost two decades emphasised policy coherence for development, but this has stayed a fairly bureaucratic concern with little political clout. In Denmark, any talk about policy coherence is more for Danish security than for development, and aid is increasingly being channelled towards countries that are believed to constitute a security threat to Denmark.
If this fairly pessimistic assessment of the potential for strengthening European development cooperation holds somewhat true, and if I am right in arguing that the problems lie more at the member state level than in the EU because the institutional contradictions at this level are largely due to member state interests, then one should probably concentrate one’s fire on the member states and not on the EU. So perhaps the four think-tanks should act locally while thinking globally?
[i] Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), FRIDE – A European Think Tank for Global Action, and European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM)