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Reforming European Development Cooperation: What do the practitioners think?

March 2001

Lehtinen, T. 2001. Reforming European Development Cooperation: What do the Practitioners Think? (ECDPM Discussion Paper 23). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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Reforming the European Community’s (EC) external aid [1] is crucial for improving the quality and effectiveness of European development cooperation. Many actors involved in cooperation have expressed their willingness to engage in a dialogue on such a reform in a constructive spirit. However, the intra-European institutional setting, based in Brussels, makes it difficult to engage in a genuine dialogue with multiple voices.

In this context, the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), together with the EU-ACP Forum, the Foundation for the Progress of Humankind (FPH), OneWorld and Euforic, organised an electronic forum on the EC reform from 8 September to 3 November 2000. Although the forum constituted the third stage of the debate on the EU-ACP forum, [2] it nevertheless included participants from geographic regions all over the world (i.e. Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, Latin America, Asia and the countries of the former Soviet Union). See Annex I for further information on the methodology used.

The forum became a community of 250 French-speaking and English-speaking people in many parts of the world, both North and South. The messages published in the forum also circulated widely among people who were not directly subscribed to the forum, in both the North and the South.

The initial idea was not so much to discuss the internal reform of the Commission as to assess to what extent the European cooperation framework corresponds to the real needs of the Southern countries, and to see if the results achieved by cooperation are consistent with its stated objectives. Interestingly enough, the forum also became a platform for a relatively technical debate on how to improve the Commission’s internal structures and working methods, based on suggestions made by practitioners of day-to-day cooperation.

Behind the institutions, there are people who think, have opinions, disagree with their superiors, and have plenty of constructive ideas on how to improve their daily work in the EU’s development cooperation. Bringing these ideas into the limelight, even anonymously, is the first step in democratising cooperation beyond the limited circle of decision-makers.

Active as it was beyond the debates involving the internal dynamics of the European institutions, the forum also received very strong messages and constructive proposals from the Southern actors. The quality of debate was also improved by interesting insights on the Commission from the Delegations, [3] desk officers and senior officials. Some Member State representatives and European parliamentarians used the unique opportunity to sound out a wide range of actors from the field of cooperation. The results of the debate were presented in the form of ‘10 key messages’ to the Development Council in November 2000 (See Annex II).

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European external affairsEU Development Policy and PracticePolicy Coherence for DevelopmentDiscussion Papers (series)ResearchACP Group of StatesAfricaCaribbeanEuropePacific

External authors

Terhi Lehtinen