ECDPM editorial team, ECDPM blog, 9 December 2009.
Some 5,000 people from around the world – students and civil society organisations to Nobel peace-prize laureates and presidents – discussed how to effectively ensure poverty eradication and sustainable development at this year’s “European Development Days” event held from 22-24 October in Stockholm. Full coverage is available on the event’s website, but here is my one-page summary of the key points raised and the suggestions made on what’s needed next, particularly from the European Union in the coming days and weeks, to put development cooperation on the right course.
Speaker after speaker identified the heart of the problem standing in the way of poverty eradication and sustainable development as ineffective support to essential “drivers of change” in developing countries. Culture must encourage people to speak up without fear of reprisal. Well-functioning, transparent public institutions must be in place and laws must be implemented to ensure multi-stakeholder involvement in accountable government decision-making at all levels. Developing countries’ governments must then have the space and support to be able to come up with and follow their own development plans at their own pace, not have these imposed on them from outside. All this will lead to strong governments managing affairs for the public good and which can then dialogue effectively with international donors on what support they need in the process. International development assistance, both EU and developing country participants said, can then be successful.
This idea of “domestic accountability” is not new. What is new is that is high on the international policy agenda now. Nearly all European Development Days participants argued that current donor development support is not geared to helping achieve this. Despite donor policies for policy coherence and holistic, integrated approaches for development, partnerships are dogged by fragmented approaches to external relations. Traditional assistance approaches are focussed on the quick disbursement of aid. The missing link was identified as the political will to put into place legally binding mechanisms that will ensure the focus of cooperation is on long-term processes based on profound political analysis and tailor-made solutions for each partner country identifying the niches for change and linking this concretely to step by step sector support. This would free development cooperation from the pressures of donor election cycles and political pressures from other policy areas and ensure effective implementation of political commitments on the ground.
As nearly every intervention reminded, the world has fundamentally changed in the past year as a result of the global economic crisis. The challenges for the world’s most vulnerable people hardest hit by it are urgent and enormous. And there is also a rare window of opportunity that has emerged to establish global and EU systems and to put mechanisms in place that will ensure that policies to help support efforts in developing countries to end poverty are effectively implemented. The stakes are high for the world’s poor if things don’t change. Studies show that millions of people will die. And expectations for change are also high, with participants looking particularly at the EU to lead by taking on its responsibility to meet global challenges with determination at their Heads of Government meeting later this week and in the other crucial meetings on the future EU external relations architecture that will take place over the next 6 weeks.
The key question of course is HOW to do this? This is clearly a historic opportunity to put sustainable development efforts on the right track. This year’s European Development Days expended a lot to get the world’s greatest minds together at this critical juncture. Participants said that history will not judge us well if we let unacceptable global poverty continue in the 21st century. The danger is that because the necessary mechanisms are not there now, development arguments won’t win the day and bottom up approaches will continue to be hindered by problems in supporting them.
Will next year’s European Development Days be able to debate concrete actions to move forward on a new, effective path to poverty reduction and sustainable development?
The views expressed here are those of the authors, and may not necessarily represent those of ECDPM.