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Next steps towards defining the future of EU Development Policy – an overview of the current debate


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After the public consultation, high-level European debates on the future of EU Development Policy now focus on the Communication expected from the European Commission (EC) in June. The Communication will lay out a modernised European Union (EU) development policy that will propose new policy guidelines on development aimed at improving EU support to developing countries to speed up their progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and beyond. The communication will also inform EU negotiations that will be launched in June on the bloc’s post-2013 Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF).

As part of the process towards formulating this communication, the EC conducted a public consultation on the Green Paper “EU development policy in support of inclusive growth and sustainable development: Increasing the impact of EU development policy”. Also ECDPM submitted a contribution to this. We argue that a more effective EU development policy requires the EC make its partnerships with third countries more strategic in the context of a changing geopolitical environment and develop political economy approaches to integrate in its development policies and practices. We urge the EU to take firm steps towards a more coherent and integrated EU approach to development that ensures the EU can deliver on its development ambitions.

Considering the results of the public consultation and next steps towards the EC communication a number of issues emerge: in an age of scarcity of finance, a specific, targeted effort will be necessary to achieve Official Development Assistance (ODA) targets and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The EC will make such a targeted effort through its MDG Facility, emphasising concrete, measurable results that empower developing countries to develop themselves. Other areas where Commission and Member States seem to converge include:

  1. The need to put poverty first, growth is a means to an end in development, and not an end in itself;
  2. The need for a differentiated approach: both in the thematic (Public Global Goods) and geographic sense (low income/middle income countries, fragile/stable states).
  3. The need for EU Member States and EU institutions to coordinate, but how?
  4. The recognition that Policy Coherence for Development is essential. A more general awareness is noted that EU internal policies have external dimensions that affect developing countries.
  5. The need to work more effectively with the private sector; the question remains how exactly.
  6. A general agreement the primary responsibility of partner countries and their governments to effectively take forward development processes.

On the other hand, differences remain to be solved around:

  1. Sector focus/concentration: The EC should not continue to do everything everywhere; strategic choices should be made, more complementarity and Division of Labour with EU Member States is needed. But what to focus on? How to reconcile thematic and geographic choices?
  2. Incentives: Resource allocation should be more on the basis of reward-based systems. What about fragile states in such a system.
  3. Levels of risk: Differentiation in country approaches also implies differentiation in risks taken: when to choose a relatively ‘low-risk’ approach with political conditionalities and when is a relatively ‘high-risk’ approach based on incentives for improvement/reform justified?
  4. Should the EC and Member States engage more in joint programming of development assistance? What role to be played by the EC/EEAS?

From the debate, it seems that in future there will be differentiation between types of partners (those where the EU supports reform/transition processes; fragile countries; and humanitarian partnerships).  Development assistance should also be differentiated in accordance with country characteristics and ambitions and include systematic long-term support to help create conditions for (self) development: infrastructure, education, employment, economic and political governance.

EU division of labour will also receive strong impetus. There is a clear desire for the EC to define more succinctly where its comparative advantage lies. Some ideas put forward include: long term support to regional integration, governance support, infrastructure, developing and implementing (international) regulatory frameworks and institutions and reinforcing Policy Coherence for Development.

One of the most interesting points arising is that there is quite some coincidence of opinion about the need for the EC to seek to define its own comparative advantage based on its track record in supporting transition processes, regional development and poverty eradication in Europe. EC support to developing development-friendly regulatory environments that enable countries and/or communities to develop themselves has been the EC’s mantra for more than three decades, i.e. programmes like the EU’s Rural Development Programme, trade policy, regional cohesion policies and enlargement policies. In Europe, this is indeed where the EC’s overwhelming added-value lies; why not elsewhere? My argument is that the EU has been effective, learned a lot, achieved its biggest success and proved its added-value in these areas and now should use that in reforming its development policy.

Certainly, this does not mean imposing EU policies on partners, or sending Europeans by the dozen to explain the benefits of the ‘European Model’. It could mean however a shift to a mode of operation that is currently found more in South-South Cooperation – where the EU shares its experiences with partner countries as a mirror to reflect upon what and how they will deal with their own development challenges. Perhaps one of the most important roles could be to assist partners in setting up institutions that enable them to effectively apply their own rules more systematically.

One of the fresh developments most needed in EU development policy is to develop additional instruments to enable private sector development specifically. For example, to respond to the Southern demand for ‘business facilitation’, i.e. assist in facilitating a structural dialogue between private sector and government in developing countries. The EC has a longstanding track record in facilitating/promoting dialogue between governments and their civil societies, anchored in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, why not include greater emphasis and effort to facilitate dialogue of governments with their Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)?

The EU is the world’s largest donor and trading bloc.  The EC has become an innovative, effective donor in its own right. The EC’s influence is, in short, both pervasive and growing and should be utilised. The EC also has proven added-value in promoting development effectiveness through its application of Policy Coherence for Development – within its own institutions, vis a vis EU Member States and beyond to other G20 counties. The EC should play a real leadership role in furthering the shift from aid effectiveness to development effectiveness worldwide.

Interesting enough, EU Member States seem currently more interested to accept EC leadership in certain specific areas of development policy. In view of their financial restrictions and the need for ‘value for money’, Member States now seem more interested in a Division of Labour in Europe than ever they were. This means that the EC has a clear opportunity to carve out those areas of development policy in which it wants to lead and obtain support from the Member States to do so. The EC could now take a more active stand on co-ordinating EU development efforts, in particular at the (sub) regional levels, and in (some) countries where its presence is strong. Unfortunately, the EC is not yet fully trusted by EU Member States to do this systematically, while the installed capacity of the EC at the regional and sub-regional levels to play such a role leaves to be desired. The alternative, however, is continued fragmentation of EC and EU Member States’ efforts or Member States all concentrating on the same themes and countries. Apart from the transaction costs it implies, such an approach would continue to hamper developing a coherent and hence more development effective approach between EU institutions and between EU Member States.

Only through defining much better the EC’s comparative advantage and roles, through achieving greater coordination and coherence in its policies and practices for development can the EU hope to be an effective partner and support sustainable development.

Finally, the debate seems to indicate that an increasing understanding emerges of what “development results” entail.  While there is need for more and better policy and programme evaluation and evaluations should be results-based, they should not be based on the assumption that development results are always predictable and/or measurable in quantitative terms. Awareness seems to be growing that the dominant results-based management logic tends to focus so much on quantitative indicators only, that is seems to crowd out other areas of potential impact that may not be easily measurable but are at least as essential to achieving effective development.

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Economic Transformation and TradeEuropean external affairsBusiness and DevelopmentEU Development Policy and PracticePost-2015 Global Development Agenda