Post-2015: New diplomacy, ambition and compromise


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    The international diplomatic landscape has undergone a fundamental transformation over the past decades. New economic powers are influencing the global course to prosperity. Stronger and better organised civil society groups are rallying large parts of the population behind the objectives of prosperity and sustainable development. Private foundations have become indispensable development partners. Local authorities are increasingly engaging in their own diplomatic outreach pursuing their own objectives.

    The number of themes that are being discussed in the international arena has increased as well. Alongside the traditional topics related to national sovereignty and security, diplomacy and negotiations revolve around issues related to the delivery of global public goods and common values. The emergence of networks of state and non-state actors, the growing awareness of how interconnected we all are, and the expansion of issues that need international consensus is what is being referred to as “new diplomacy” (1).  

    The process to formulate a new development agenda that follows up on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is making this shift apparent. 

    A High-level Panel consisting of 27 development experts from the governmental and non-governmental domain, led by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, formulated recommendations on the future of the development agenda after the MDGs have expired in 2015. Together with other inputs and consultations, the panel’s report fed into a proposal of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called for a post-2015 world that ensures a "Life of Dignity for All". 

    In parallel, a UN open working group picked up its work in 2013 and is currently discussing a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These will sketch out a vision of what the world should aim for in order to tackle the major sustainable development challenges. The working group – which consists of 70 UN member states – is at this moment negotiating its final report. It will be presented to the UN General Assembly this September.

    All these major inputs will feed into the preparations of a post-2015 development summit in mid-2015, where final agreement on a new development paradigm will be reached.

    The new diplomacy is a chance for an ambitious agreement

    In this process, the topics upon which agreement is being sought range from global poverty eradication through issues related to inequalities and good governance to the fundamental challenges of global environmental degradation. The fact that the post-2015 process deals with the entire spectrum of sustainable development is to a large extent the result of strong EU efforts which has argued from the beginning that poverty eradication and sustainable development cannot be dealt with in separate tracks. 

    Indeed, this process depends on the active engagement of a large number of state and non-state actors. The current global challenges such as the need to stop global environmental degradation or the continued efforts to eradicate global poverty make the active involvement of emerging economies – and indeed all economies - a necessary condition for success. Civil society organisations have emerged as drivers towards an ambitious agreement as they raise awareness for the need to put the development agenda on a new foundation. The private sector is responsible for the vast part of international financial flows to developing countries and commands much of the knowledge and innovation that are important to render development sustainable. The involvement of all these stakeholders in the formulation of the post-2015 framework is crucial for its successful implementation.

    Negotiations in the international development arena have shifted from the back-room into the open. The public can follow the negotiations almost in real-time. This transparency enables citizens to hold governments accountable for the positions they have pursued in the post-2015 process.  

    This development also embodies the opportunity to make up for the negative implications of the "old diplomacy" style formulation of the MDGs: 

    At the turn of the century, a small number of powerful – and mostly northern – diplomats sat together and shaped in a large part the content of the Millennium Declaration, from which the MDGs emerged. Although this didn't prevent the MDGs becoming the major force for development and poverty eradication over the last fifteen years, the exclusive style of their development somewhat limited the responsiveness of the MDGs to local needs. This compromised the ownership of many developing nations. 

    Now, fifteen years later, and inspired by the civic engagement already practiced intensively in the context of the various Earth summits that have taken place since 1992, the international community has realised that the inclusiveness under the “new diplomacy” paradigm is not an impediment to a powerful post-2015 agreement. It is a chance to ensure ownership by all partners and increase the knowledge about needs. This is central to increasing the effectiveness of the future development framework.

    Partnerships for a broad-based and inclusive post-2015 agreement

    As a consequence, the world has seen an unprecedented effort to ensure that the voices of all stakeholders find their way into negotiations. Hundreds of global and national consultations on the post-2015 agenda have taken place. The High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 development agenda brought together a wide range of development visionaries and based its final recommendations on an extensive dialogue with civil society, private sector and research.  

    The European Union (EU) itself promotes an open and transparent culture in the post-2015 context. In order to base its proposals on a broad and legitimate base, the EU has undertaken strong efforts to build partnerships with civil society and the broader European and international public. Public consultations, stakeholder events such as the European Development Days and the continuous exchange with the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions all feed into the EU's positioning process for the post-2015 agenda. 

    In a similar vein, one of the objectives of the Commission’s proposal to make the year 2015 the European Year for Development is to mobilise the public for a successful and ambitious agreement. From these consultation efforts, the EU expects to enhance stakeholder networks that lead to a better informed and more legitimate development framework after 2015.

    Moreover, since we are aiming at an ambitious and universal agenda, it is clear that while different capabilities will always have to be taken into account, the successful implementation of the post-2015 framework is only possible if there is an understanding that responsibilities are common and shared.

    This also holds for new global actors. The shifting international landscape means that new economic powers, which have become major players in social, economic and environmental fields, help to shape the rules of the new diplomacy. In a post-2015 context, a constant dialogue and new strategic partnerships with emerging powers are essential for an ambitious framework that is underpinned by the recognition of every country's responsibilities. 

    At the same time, a new diplomacy approach needs to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are heard. There are regions and country groups that need particular EU support as they face the greatest threats in terms of poverty and global environmental degradation. This is why a dialogue with African countries in the context of the upcoming summit between the EU and the African Union will be essential. Also, the EU ascribes high importance to the outcome of the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States scheduled for September 2014. 

    The new multi-stakeholder diplomacy is the backbone of EU-action towards a new post-2015 development framework. It offers the chance to put our actions towards a prosperous and sustainable future on a new footing. 

    High expectations, good compromises

    However, even in this new diplomacy context, negotiations remain the primary vehicle for arriving at a common global agreement on what needs to be done to render the world a better place. In order to capitalise on a multi-stakeholder setting and the changing culture of diplomacy, we should be aware that an old principle remains valid also in a new diplomacy context: An agenda can only make a difference if all negotiators at the table are flexible enough to ensure that the views of all stakeholders are adequately reflected. At the end of a negotiation process always stands a compromise.

    The post-2015 process has evolved into a debate on all global issues ranging from global health through sustainable consumption and production patterns to the question of arms trafficking and transnational crime. While all these questions need urgent action, the world may not be able to find agreement on everything at once through the same process.

    While pressure from all stakeholders towards an ambitious agreement is essential, it is clear that the post-2015 process itself will not be able to solve the fundamental challenges that are inherent to, for instance, the climate change negotiations. Also, while certainly being one way to make our lives safer, a post-2015 agreement will not be able to stop the atrocities and human rights violations that take place in war-torn regions, as is currently happening in Syria. For these problems to be solved, other global and national processes need to be successfully concluded and followed up with determined action. 

    High expectations and the call for the EU to be at the forefront in the fight against the world's pressing problems reflect the hope European and global citizen's place in the EU's power to lead a global alliance that changes the world’s current development path. At the same time, the EU's influence to successfully fight for its values and interests on the international scene has become more dependent on cooperation with other important actors, in particular emerging economies. Only if the full range of new players come to the table and make shared commitments can a post-2015 agreement live up to the public’s expectations. 

    Dr Gaspar Frontini is Head of Unit “Policy & Coherence”, Directorate General Development & Cooperation at the European Commission. 

    Helge Arends is Policy Officer, Unit “Policy & Coherence”, Directorate General Development & Cooperation at the European Commission (2).   




    1. Hocking, Brian. "Multistakeholder diplomacy: forms, functions and frustrations." Multistakeholder Diplomacy: Challenges and Opportunities (2006): 13-29.

    2. The opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Commission.



    This article was published in GREAT Insights, Volume 3, Issue 3 (March 2014)

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