Letter from Poland
Recent years have proven Francis Fukuyama was wrong. History is back. And there are reasons for optimism, as we have just learned the names of the 751 members of the European Parliament who will now write that history. Looking only at the results of the elections in my own country, Poland, I can say there is wide support for an ever-stronger Union. The Polish delegation will also enhance the European Parliament’s expertise on external relations, because it includes former prime ministers, foreign affairs ministers, a minister for humanitarian affairs and the head of Poland’s largest NGO active in the development field, the Polish Humanitarian Organisation (PAH).
These representatives bring not only a deep understanding of the complexities of the world and the role of the EU but also strong dedication to the cause of eradication of global poverty. As Janina Ochojska, Head of PAH, said during the election campaign: “In the EP, I want to be a voice for the poorest people on Earth… to increase assistance for them in their places of origin, in countries where they live in poverty or without access to water.”
The focus on developing countries is not surprising, as many EU challenges originate there. Therefore, along with internal affairs, external relations deserve more focus by the new European leadership at this crucial moment. Among the many historic decisions to be taken are those on the next multi-annual financial framework (MFF), including the shape of and resources for new external financing instruments; an agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries; relations with the United Kingdom after Brexit; migration policy; climate change and many other global challenges. While planning EU external policy, three things deserve special attention.
First, in times of rising protectionism and growing inequality, the EU needs to renew its commitment to a more inclusive, just and prosperous world. The European Parliament is the right place to ensure that the Union’s relations with developing countries follow the principle of policy coherence for development. And though other instruments, such as private investment, will play a larger role in realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the part played by development assistance is undiminished.
It is important that EU aid reaches everyone in need, regardless of where they come from or to which statistical income group their country belongs. Many in Poland believe that the EU should retain a separate instrument for cooperation with neighbourhood countries (especially the Eastern Partnership) to secure a level of visibility, commitment and resources for cooperation with these neighbours. It is a truism that the Southern Neighbourhood is as important as the Eastern Neighbourhood, as both regions have a very strong impact on the Union’s security and stability. Furthermore, while the EU plans to focus more on fragile and least-developed countries, we cannot forget that most poor people live in “pockets of poverty” in middle-income countries.
Inclusiveness also requires the broader participation of all member states and development partners across Europe in European development cooperation. New financial regulations may further empower NGOs and companies from Central Europe that have not yet been very actively engaged in EU projects. For instance, European tenders could incentivise consortia that include these relatively “new players”. Also, joint efforts of more member states and joint programming exercises are a good way to capitalise on the diverse experience and expertise of all EU donors. Greater inclusiveness at both the EU and global levels are in the Union’s best interest.
Second, EU foreign and development cooperation polices should be driven by pragmatic idealism. This is actually not far from the concept of “principled pragmatism”, promoted in the 2016 EU Global Strategy. To me, this means that Europe must remain a force that changes the world for the better, but it needs to do that in a more pragmatic way – so, seek not what is ideal but what is possible and most needed in the partner countries. That would entail, for instance, closer alignment of EU assistance programmes with the national strategies of partner countries.
This pragmatic idealism would also mean striking the right balance between interests and ideas in European development cooperation. We are more ready to reject the illusion of aid as an act of charity and admit it also brings benefits to the EU. It is an investment in our shared destiny. As development cooperation is being more integrated into foreign policy, we must, however, resist the temptation towards its over-instrumentalisation and securitisation. The Parliament has always stood as a guardian of principles and moral standards in external relations. It is up to the European Parliament to ensure regulations that guarantee EU aid brings added value and is not diverted to other interests, such as to stem migration in the short term or subsidise the private sector.
Finally, members of the European Parliament have a less debated but increasingly important role as promotors and advocates of European development cooperation. This is because aid is increasingly under attack and criticised by both the left and the right of the political spectrum, while transactionalist and protectionist trends threaten the spirit of cooperation. While there is certainly a lot to improve in terms of the effectiveness and impact of EU aid, there is no better alternative global system for the redistribution of wealth, and no better tool for the Union to tackle the global challenges that no single member state can resolve.
Therefore, there is a need for more work, not only in Brussels and Strasbourg and in dialogue with development partners, but also in home constituencies and countries, to raise awareness about EU activities. It is important to explain to all Europeans what the EU is doing in developing countries and why development cooperation matters to all of us. The EU being the largest collective source of official development assistance deserves more attention and recognition. It cannot escape more scrutiny and reform. But we must talk, and walk the talk.
About the author
Senior Analyst, The Polish Institute of International Affairs, Warsaw