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Reinvigorating human development in EU external action


Pauline Veron and Katja Sergejeff, ECDPM paper, April 2021

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The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgency to step up strategic and smart investments in human development, which is regaining political attention in the European Union (EU)’s global agenda. Given the scale of the socio-economic challenges caused by the pandemic, the EU – acting as Team Europe – needs to act swiftly and with sufficient resources to support partner countries in their recovery efforts and avoid dire setbacks in human development globally.

In this paper, we explore trends and challenges regarding human development in the EU’s external action and make recommendations for how to reinvigorate it. The EU institutions are among the largest bilateral donors to human development and together with EU member states, they are the largest donors. Yet there is room for more transformative impact, including by building on their expertise but also on their partnerships with a variety of actors. Engagement beyond aid (such as innovative financing and research and innovation) should also be explored further.

If the EU wishes to improve its image as a credible and reliable partner, it will have to be more consistent and strategic about its approach to human development. In the short term, the EU urgently needs to follow through on its commitments and stated values when it comes to access to COVID-19 vaccines in partner countries – not only because it is a moral imperative, but also for health, economic and geopolitical reasons. Human development can be seen as a horizontal objective that cuts across all priorities of the ‘geopolitical’ European Commission. The programming of the EU’s external resources for 2021-2027 provides opportunities to strengthen links between human development sectors and these priorities.

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Photo courtesy of World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr.

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EU foreign and development policyDiscussion Papers (series)COVID-19