Post-2015: Four things the EU should consider to achieve ‘A Decent Life for All’

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      Discussions on the new development framework to replace the Millennium Development Goals after their target date of 2015 are well under way. Today, the European Commissioners for Environment and for Development presented a joint Communication outlining a proposal for an EU position on the post-2015 agenda. The EU wants to achieve ‘A Decent Life for All’, as the document’s title suggests.

      This European position comes fairly late in the day for the UN High-Level Panel on post-2015. Yet as Development Commissioner Piebalgs is one of the Panel’s 27 members, he will feed this European input in when the group holds its final meeting in March before presenting its report in May. The EU’s delay is in part due to the lengthy process of public and internal consultations in Brussels and with EU Delegations. European development ministers have also had a chance to discuss the draft proposal with the two Commissioners at an informal meeting earlier this month. Now, the EU urgently needs to complete this process and agree on a position for the deliberations on the post-2015 agenda at the UN General Assembly in September and the Rio+ 20 Open Working Group.

      The new policy proposal puts forward a vision for all people in all countries to be able to enjoy a decent life by 2030, thereby further elaborating on the position that Commissioner Piebalgs adopted as member of the UN Panel. In a nutshell, the Commission proposes that the post-2015 framework should:

      • Cover basic human development as well as social protection;
      • Address drivers for sustainable and inclusive growth and development to ensure economic transformation of countries towards ‘inclusive green economies’;
      • Promote the sustainable management of natural resources.
      • Ensure peace, security and justice

      Four aspects of the Communication should be highlighted:

      First, the Communication tackles both the development and the environment sides of the post-2015 debate. This sends a strong signal for the need to link poverty eradication with sustainable development and to combine the parallel talks of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and new post-2015 goals into one overarching framework. The proposal notes several aspects of the environment-development nexus, such as the linkage between management of natural resources and sustainable economic growth. However, there is little discussion on how exactly to integrate the two in one limited set of goals. This means for example considering how environment-sensitive goals can at the same time contribute to poverty reduction, or in what way structural economic transformation should remain within ‘planetary boundaries’.

      Furthermore, the Communication does not mention the practical difficulties in bringing the environment and development debates together. Despite well-known linkages and synergies between them, the two debates tend to be handled separately at the international level. Thus, if the EU wants to push for a single post-2015 framework, it would do well to reflect on the underlying political challenges and how to overcome this split.

      Second, the Communication aims to ensure inclusive social development by establishing basic living standards for all - a ‘floor’ that everyone should reach by 2030 - comprising basic needs captured by the MDGs as well as decent work. Human rights, good governance, justice, democracy and the rule of law are equally important. Goals that apply to every country should hold governments accountable and help to overcome ‘hidden’ national inequities.

      Although the Communication is clear that poverty is multidimensional, it remains vague on how to achieve social transformation necessary for more equitable and inclusive societies. The document does not reference factors such as underlying unequal power structures and cultural values, which would need to be addressed in addition to a set of minimal standards and rights.

      It is encouraging, however, that the EU gives special attention to security issues and fragile and conflict-affected states, integrating the new thinking of the g7+ group on factors preventing progress in these settings.

      Third, the policy proposal lists a number of key drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth, including market-friendly economies and domestic reforms promoting inclusive and sustainable growth and improving productive capacities. The Commission hence proposes that the main responsibility for achieving development outcomes is at the national level - country ownership is therefore key.

      However, the Communication’s main text remains somewhat silent on the international drivers that facilitate or impede developing countries’ prospects for inclusive and sustainable growth.

      Despite a welcome, but very short, paragraph acknowledging the role of Policy Coherence for Development and references to consumption patterns in industrial countries, the policy document does not discuss other important issues with external developmental impact, such as illicit financial flows or the EU’s Common Agricultural or Fisheries Policies. Although the annexes of the policy document list many EU actions relevant for the international level, the main text is less explicit on international drivers relevant for post-2015 goals. The EU may be looking to retain strategic maneuverability in the forthcoming negotiations.

      Moreover, instead of a self-critical reflection on the EU’s contribution to the MDGs, the communication showcases good work without mentioning difficulties in reaching the 0.7% aid target. Yet, these issues are likely to (re)surface. To be credible, the EU needs to ensure that its own (international) policies support its recommendations for national-level goals.

      Finally, the Communication mentions the principle of the universal applicability of a post-2015 framework. Once more, the text is ambiguous when calling on all countries to contribute their ‘fair share’ towards reaching the goals. The Communication notes that different countries’ responses and contribution to global goals will vary. Yet what is the basis to determine these? Does universal applicability also imply having a more precise goal on global partnerships than MDG 8 was, with greater emphasis on Policy Coherence for Development?

      In light of the above, there is still some way to go to arrive at a global post-2015 development framework. Notably, the 27 EU member states will need to agree a coherent European position at the foreign affairs ministers meeting coming May to maximize its weight internationally.

      Success in promoting its position will also depend on whether the EU can build alliances beyond its member states. Developing nations have become more assertive and it will not be easy to achieve consensus. Furthermore, the EU will need to clarify internally how its position translates into practice and what this implies for the EU’s future development cooperation.

      This year’s discussions on the post-2015 framework provide an opportunity for the EU to position itself as significant development actor. The forthcoming European Report on Development 2013, to be launched on 9 April, – which ECDPM co-authors – highlights that a crucial aspect for the EU will be to go beyond aid and to consider a variety of tools to achieve ‘a decent life for all’.


      Anna Knoll  is a Policy Officer at ECDPM’s EU External Action Programme

      James Mackie, who co-authored this article, is Senior Adviser EU Development Policy at ECDPM. 

      This blog post features the author’s personal view and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

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