UN panel expert: EU must be political unifier on development

Coordinating aid action amongst 27 EU countries is difficult but necessary for progress, says Jean-Michel Severino, a member of the UN expert panel charged with defining the world's development goals post-2015.

Jean-Michel Severino is the former director-general of the French Development Agency (AFD). Previously he served as director for Central Europe, and then Asia, in the World Bank. In 2012 he joined the high-level panel appointed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to define the world’s development goals post-2015. He spoke to euractiv.fr’s Catherine Abouelkhair.

In 2000, countries fixed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to be achieved before 2015. Have they been successful?

The glass is half empty of half full. Everyone is agreed that this first initiative at a global level is a success. There has been progress on every level, but particularly in terms of access to water, or in the area of health and education. However, work on monetary poverty and environmental indicators are lagging behind. What is more, if we gauge the development of countries in the South in terms of progress accomplished in Africa, which is relatively less advanced that Asia, the results look less positive.

 Is there a consensus on the post-2015 goals?

It is too early to tell. All the world wants to see a new generation of MDGs. The current list can seem arbitrary. It doesn’t reflect enough the importance of the environment and sustainable development, in particular energy. Some want to wipe the current slate clean, others to renew them and correct problems.

Where do you stand?

I am a fan of a broad overhaul that retains the spirit of simplicity in the current MDGs.

Indeed the current MDGs are no longer suitable. Economic growth has accelerated in developing countries. But the goals from 2000 emphasise the social approach and pursue a logic of development aid from state to state, which neglects the variety of partners on the ground. Aid is no longer just public. Now it comes largely from foundations, businesses, and private capital. The new approach to rights – human, women, etc – must be included.

What is more, the goals are not differentiated enough according to the level of development of countries. Therefore the perception of progress may be distorted. So, passing from an education level of 10% to 50% is already a huge effort for a continent like Africa.

More and more actors are getting involved. Is that a good thing?

It generates more imagination, capital flows, but the costs of coordination, which is inherently difficult, increases. We cannot force anyone – industrialised countries won’t dissuade the NGOs from getting involved.

The second problem is on the side of the beneficiary countries. Only certain intermediate countries that depend little on outside help, such as Morocco or middle-income countries in general, can dictate their conditions. This is not the case of countries whose state apparatus and planning capabilities are weak. Room to move is limited. We must prioritise improving their administrative capacity, which is long-term work.

How can the EU assert itself on development aid, in relation to the member states?

The EU is very useful in the sectors which require very large capital and/or subsidies, for example in infrastructure or budget support. It can also facilitate coordination in bilateral aid and define common priorities. In this area the contribution of Europe is very valuable.

But the Commission does not see itself as an institution that provides aid “in addition” to that of the member states. It must assume greater political role as unifier for a joint development policy. As with vertical funds, it can make its funds available for projects that interest the member states, but under conditions it defines.

Would it make sense for countries today to gather their development aid together?

Yes, but the European positions are varied. All member states contribute to the EU budget. Some pay all their development aid to the EU, others defend their bilateral aid. The English for example have a sense of having constructed over the years an extremely efficient aid system. A certain contingent of British opinion does not think it is worthwhile to send too much money to Brussels. France insists upon multilateral contributions because it considers that the more money we put into the EU, the more we influence where it goes. This further helps to put pressure on those countries that provide little aid.

The full interview is available, in French, at euractiv.fr.

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