European Development Days focus on private sector

The Tour & Taxis site, where the European Development Days are held. [European Development Days]

This article is part of our special report Progress and Partnerships in Development.

The European Development Days, often called the ‘Davos of Development’ opened on Wednesday (7 June) in Brussels, with many of the VIP speakers stressing that in a difficult international context, the public sector cannot go it alone and therefore the role of the private sector is key.

The two-day event, now in its 11th year, gathered some 7000 participants, becoming the biggest of its kind. Several heads of state and government and other VIPs attended, ranging from IMF chief Christine Lagarde to Evo Morales, the anti-imperialist president of Bolivia.

The highlight of the gathering was the signing of the European Consensus on Development, a strategic document outlining the future of European development policy. The Consensus will apply in its entirety not only to all EU institutions but also to the member states, who commit to working more closely together.

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The Consensus on Development aims at combining traditional development aid with other resources, including innovative forms of development financing, leveraging private sector investment and mobilising additional domestic resources for development.

In parallel, an EU-Africa Business Forum was held yesterday, focusing on the key theme “Investing in job creation”.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed that Europe remained the world’s largest provider of official development assistance (ODA), but emphasised that development aid was now a “word of the past”.

“It is about partnership, not aid. And it is time we invested more in that partnership,” Juncker said.

EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that public spending was essential for development, but not sufficient. “We need private firms on board, in coherence with the Sustainable Development Goals,” she stated.

During a panel, the question of what kind of oversight is needed for private sector involvement in development was asked online. The largest number of votes turned out to be for oversight by civil society, followed by oversight by governments and the EU.

The difficult international context was invoked by many, but Donald Trump was not mentioned by any of the VIP speakers. The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina J. Mohammed, spoke of “the decision of someone to leave the Paris Agreement”.

Climate was also a cornerstone topic. The Prime Minister of Norway, Ema Stolberg, said: “there is no future in where you can keep your job and not care about the climate”. Speaking about his region, the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, David Granger, said that climate change was having a huge impact on the Caribbean. Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, said that developing countries were the first victim of pollution and climate change.

Some of the African leaders present made it clear that they wanted emancipation from the post-colonial practices of Western countries. Alpha Condé, the president of both Guinea and of the African Union, said that a new form of slavery was depleting Africa. He didn’t elaborate. But he said that Africa should alone determine its objectives, and not repeat past mistakes. Condé also stated that Africa should invest in its energy mix using its own means.

Unsurprisingly, Bolivia’s Evo Morales highlighted what he called the success of his nationalisation policies, and repeated his mantra that a country’s riches belong to its people.

The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, stressed that his country’s policy was to make  local enterprises champions in competitiveness for creating wealth and to get rid of foreign aid.

Empowering women and youth was another big topic. The President of Malawi, Arthur Mutharika, spoke about country’s emphasis on promoting women, including in politics. Christine Lagarde chose empowering women as the highlight of her speech.

Many representatives of the foundations of large companies advertised their development, poverty alleviation and climate change projects.  Jeffrey Prins, the program manager of the Ikea Foundation, said his company invested in a ‘clean cooking’ project, which he argued has health and climate change benefits, as local populations don’t need to collect wood to cook their meals. Prins said that Ikea committed itself to investing €100 million into climate change alleviation each year until 2020.

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