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On development policy, the EU’s External Action Service is looking vulnerable

10-05-2013

Engel, P., Koeb, E. and J. van Seters. 2011. On development policy, the EU’s External Action Service is looking vulnerable. Europe's World.

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The idea of making European policies coherent with EU development objectives is vitally important. But Paul Engel warns that the cracks in the Brussels’ new bureaucratic structure are already starting to show   The EU’s new European External Action Service offers a chance to overcome the fragmentation and incoherence of European Union policies as they affect development countries and the world’s poor. Development policy is not merely about aid. And development policy alone doesn’t determine the outcome of our development efforts. Over the last two decades we have come to understand better the impact of other EU policies and those of its member states on developing countries. 
Sometimes these policies may have a positive impact, but more often they do not. The effects of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy on food security in developing countries are highly debatable. And the impact of the negotiations
on new regional free trade agreements – the ‘Economic Partnership Agreements’ – on regional integration in Africa is the elephant in the room in any EU-Africa meeting. The impact of the EU’s fisheries policy on the global environment and on biodiversity, migration and security is nowadays rarely denied. In all these cases, the divergence between the perceived self-interest of the EU and its own stated objectives of development cooperation means that some of Europe’s key policies undermine its development effort. In other words, Europe seriously lacks policy coherence on many development issues. The effects of this go far beyond mere inefficiency and maladministration, because this incoherence greatly reduces the Union’s political credibility within Europe and worldwide.
 
Addressing this incoherence should go far beyond the old maxim of ‘doing no harm’. The ambition of an EU foreign policy that is coherent from a development perspective implies taking a long-term partnership approach that can create synergies between policy areas, for instance by ensuring that technically sound climate change and environment policies are promoted as integrate parts of the EU’s cooperation strategies with emerging giants like China, India and Brazil and also with the least developed countries. Only in this way the EU fully lives up to its own commitment in the Lisbon treaty to take account of development objectives in policies that are likely to affect developing countries.
 
European efforts to achieve this greater coherence are going to be tested to the full. If the EU is to play the global role it’s aiming for this policy coherence will need to be evident when it addresses challenges ranging from instability in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and in Afghanistan to the global agenda on climate change, achievement of the MDGs by 2015 and the reform of global governance.
 
All in spite of being the world’s largest development aid donor by far, Europe’s role and leverage in achieving the global agreements needed to respond to all these challenges is fading. The EU has to shape up now if it is to remain relevant on the international stage. Meanwhile, soaring public sector budget deficits around the world are creating unprecedented financial constraints, and many European budgets will certainly have to be re-negotiated and slimmed down, so now there is a very real risk that the Union may end up being more busy with its own internal politics than with its international policy agenda.
 
The good news, though, is that through the Lisbon treaty Europe put in place the instruments for developing a stronger global voice and role, a stronger European Parliament, the powers vested in Catherine Aston as High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and a European External Action Service consisting of both Eurocrats and diplomats from member states officials to shape the EU more coherent approach to international issues. But instruments are nothing more than means to achieve an aim, so just as a saxophone won’t play itself, the Lisbon treaty’s new institutions and their powers will only work effectively if the EU’s member governments allow them to.
 
So the question is whether Europe will now grasp the opportunities it has itself created? Will the member states act more in consort[Jv1] or, will Europe fail to produce the joined-up thinking and acting that would allow it to punch at its weight in global development? Can the post-Lisbon EU make greater progress on implementing the lessons learned from development policy over the past decades? The EEAS has only just been officially established, so it is too soon to say. But a group of four think tanks that included my own ECDPM laid out three areas where the EEAS should take a lead role on global development policymaking. View the full report here.
 
First, the EEAS should support the High Representative and the Development Commissioner in promoting policy coherence, rather than leaving this task entirely up to the Commission’s DG EuropAid Development and Cooperation (DEVCO). Second, the EEAS must ensure that development principles inform aid allocation and programming,  tasks the EEAS is taking over from the Commission.  Third, the EEAS should facilitate EU donor coordination, which means coordinating with the member states’ development bodies. A recent Commission study suggested the EU could save €3-6bn a year (or 10% of the total EU aid budget) if all its member states and the Commission were to work together more effectively. Fourth, both the Commission and the EEAS need capacity and expertise for strategic thinking on development issues.
 
But the sad truth is that so far the EEAS has demonstrably lacked the ambition to play a lead role in mediating competing EU policy objectives. It seems rather to see its role focused on traditional short-term foreign policy matters and serving as a mere coordinating platform when it comes to the Commission’s external policy areas and the external dimensions of internal policies.
 
If the EEAS restricts itself to this limited remit, that would amount to a lost opportunity. The setting-up of the EEAS has already seen member governments along with the Commission, Council and Parliament engage in internal power struggles that have resisted rather than promoted joined-up thinking. The danger now is that the Lisbon treaty reforms may produce the opposite of what was intended – a more fragmented approach and increased rivalry between a multiplicity of actors;
 
A constructive continuous dialogue between development and other areas of EU internal and external action could be developed on the basis of the division of development cooperation tasks between the EEAS and the Commission. But this dialogue will have to be championed by the European Union’s hierarchy. Similarly, high level political leadership is needed to realize the EEAS coordination role in development cooperation of the EU and its member states. Now is the time for the EU to seize opportunities created by the Lisbon Treaty and show its true commitment to global development.

Photo By European External Action Service – EEAS

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