We are starting the most important year for development processes, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Neven Mimica (Socialists & Democrats affiliated) is a former deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, and was his country’s chief negotiator in the EU accession talks. After Croatia joined the EU in 2013, he served as European Commissioner for Consumer Policy in the Barroso II commission.
Mimica spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
The Commissioners’ hearings in the European Parliament were very thorough. Some expressed the opinion that you lack a real vision for your portfolio, perhaps because you come from a country that is not exactly strong in providing development aid. How do you respond to those criticisms?
I take every evaluation of my work very seriously. When it comes to the hearings, I think Commissioners should not be judged based on the performance of the countries they come from. Commissioners should be judged by their own competence, their own experience, and their own vision for the job they are nominated for.
My overall experience in the Croatian public service, in the government and the parliament, are very much related to foreign policy and external relations issues. And those of course encompass development and international cooperation. Looking at some of the rankings of the performance of the Commissioners at the hearings, I got the highest rank.
So for me, the main question is how to transform the vision you refer to, (into) real practice. We are starting the most important year for all development processes. Therefore it can’t be that the European Commissioner for international cooperation and development would be would enter such year without a clear vision. I really try to present this vision, and I hope that it can easily be translated into concrete actions. This is the key task I will have for the years to come.
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We live in an increasingly hectic world. There are more and more crises which require response. Is this to the detriment of development aid?
What we are trying to identify is how to strengthen the external, security and foreign policy response, which in the short term are dealt with by the humanitarian and crisis response services, and in the longer term are dealt with by development actions. There must not be separate, vertical policies, one in the foreign policy field, another in the humanitarian, and a third in development policy.
There cannot be a sustainable foreign and security policy without a clear development contribution. Therefore, building resilience around those three aspects of European external policy response is very important. You cannot place development policy at the end of the whole process. We have to take together all three aspects. That’s what we are going to do.
How does this translate in terms of the ‘cluster’ organisation of the Juncker Commission?
We do not like to call it a “cluster organisation”. This is a new coordinating mechanism within the ‘families’ of Commission policies, complementary to the overall strengthening of the European external policy response. With a Vice-President responsible for the coordination of the groups or teams of Commissioners, we can much more easily come to the real content of this link that I mentioned between foreign, humanitarian and development policy.
This is what we have started to do, especially in the external policy area, with Vice-President Mogherini, who is very active in coordinating all aspects of European external relations.
There are concerns that EU development policy is instrumentalised by foreign policy, when it shouldn’t be. What’s your response?
I see no competition between European policies, and see instead a cohesion of European policies.
You have been tasked by Juncker to coordinate with member states to enhance the Union’s contribution to development. How do you plan to do that?
Policy coherence for development is not just a matter of coordinating and making all European policies coherent with development goals. It’s also very much about better coordination of the EU member states’ development policies. In that respect, we have already started to work with member states to have these coordinated and coherent programs for relevant sectors of development in the partner countries.
What role will the EU play in defining the post-Millenium Development Goals? President Juncker said that the EU should play a “leading role” at the global level. Can you say how?
We are approaching the final stage of the MDGs. Their impact, and the whole process, really put development issues very high on the agenda of many countries. Overall, the MDGs have been largely met, extreme poverty was halved, even ahead of schedule, and other goals are close to being fulfilled.
Of course there is work to be continued on the overall development policy. This year, we shall define not only a new development agenda under sustainable development goals in the UN framework, but actually a new development paradigm that will bring the inclusiveness and sustainability of all goals into the development arena. It’s very much about adding a new concept of economic, social and environmental sustainability into poverty eradication and development goals.
Therefore, I expect EU member states, and other stakeholders to take their fair share of commitment, be it financial or non-financial, in order to reach the universal and transformative impact of the sustainable development goals. For those EU countries, and also for countries outside the EU who were not at the helm of giving their full contribution to the MDGs, now is the time to transform their contribution into a much broader context, and also give their full support to the process.
One of your tasks is to prepare and launch negotiations for a revised Cotonou agreement. This agreement between the EU and the ACP countries, from the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries will expire in 2020. Isn’t that far away enough?
What we have as a very serious plan is to start the re-thinking early enough of the best possible content of our partnership with ACP countries. The EU has really developed in the Cotonou framework this practice of development partnership, especially with Africa. And this is very unique. This partnership has to continue. This is indeed our task, and we need to find the new elements and context of this partnership as soon as possible, to answer to all the challenges.
This year, we shall start a very broad public consultation on the possible content of the revised Cotonou agreement. This will include not only the institutional stakeholders of the EU and the member states. We want to have all stakeholders onboard, including NGOs, academia, private sector and many other contributors, (such as) the private sector.
So we won’t wait just before until the agreement expires. Our African partners have already started their consultation process. They have established an eminent persons group; they will present a report to the African summit. We would also do our part of the work, to have a new Cotonou, or a ‘revised Cotonou’ as soon as possible.
Are some of your African partners afraid that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could be a threat to the negotiations?
I’m not among those who are afraid of a direct negative impact of TTIP to Europe’s partnership with Africa or ACP countries, because we shall take care that neither of these processes, Cotonou or TTIP, is negatively affected by the other. Our negotiators from the development policy area will really take care that TTIP would not represent a threat to development processes with our partner countries. To the contrary, we would like the EU and the USA, under TTIP as well, to be better coordinated development contributors to the world.
2015 is the European Year for Development. Some details have emerged. It’s clear that the EU wants to communicate this policy to its citizens. But how do you plan to involve developing countries in this process?
The European Year for Development is the first of its kind after more than 30 years of European Years dedicated to different topics [more]. It is the first devoted to a global subject, and an external relations theme. We expect the member states, but also the stakeholders in the member states, to be part of this process of bringing the gist of European development policy much closer to citizens, and to explain why this is important for the world and for Europe.
On the other hand, we would like to include as many as possible of our partners outside of Europe in this process. I’m looking forward to seeing them in Riga on 9 January, when the European Year of Development will be launched. Later on, I would like to have our partners discussing with us the content of the most efficient European development policy, which would fit their development needs the best.
The EU budget for 2014-2020 has been agreed on, and so has been the annual budget for 2015. Is EU funding for development sufficient? How will you ensure that EU money is well spent? That the projects are sustainable, that they are not one-off experiences without any future, that the money doesn’t go into the pockets of corrupt officials or intermediaries?
I’m satisfied that the overall European contribution to development needs and development programs in our partner countries has been kept at almost the same level as before, in the previous seven year EU budget. So in general, we shall be able to keep the European Union at the forefront of world development assistance programs.
We are the biggest donor, meaning the European Union as European Commission and member states, by far. And we shall keep this even under the very difficult economic, financial and budgetary constraints Europe is going through.
Of course, budgetary problems are such that in 2014 and 2015, there will be some gaps in payment for development cooperation, but in general I would say that the overall financial engagement of the EU will keep the Union very high among the donors.
But what we have to do more vigilantly and more vigourously is to improve and strengthen the process of assessing the efficiency of our development cooperation policies and instruments. We shall very soon develop a very precise results framework, which would enable us to measure the impact of our development programs and projects.
We are constantly improving the criteria we have set for pre-auditing and post-auditing procedures when it comes for instance for the budget support for our development partners.
We take very seriously the auditing reports by the European Court of Auditors, but also from the European Parliament’s budget control committee. And in that context, we are constantly improving the effectiveness of our development programs.
How about priorities? A recent record-breaking survey, in which more than 5 million people participated, has identified education and health as first and second priority for the world to emphasize. Do you agree with such an assessment? How do you work with major partners, such as UNESCO?
Under the European Union’s Agenda for change, which is our guideline for development assistance, we don’t want to impose priority sectors on our partner countries. We work with them. We let them identify a limited number of sectors in which we will develop projects. Most of our partners have in fact identified education, health, agriculture, energy as sectors where they want to have most of the European assistance directed.
But we have some vertical programs, for global health, for global education, where we work together with international organisations and NGOs that are specialised in these fields. (A great deal) of our development contributions for global issues goes through the United Nations system, through UNESCO, UNDP, FAO or environmental programs. We shall insist on the efficiency on these programs with our UN partners.
A question I received from EURACTIV France refers to the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). The 11 eurozone countries involved in the FTT negotiations failed last December to agree on it, but France, in particular, is determined to keep the project alive. President François Hollande recently called for an agreement, and to dedicate FTT revenue to fight climate change in developing countries. Do you expect the other European countries involved to make such commitment?
I’m among those who are in favour of making the best possible use of introducing FTT as a funding source of the development area. Of course this is an ongoing process, and I cannot prejudge the success of that process. But even at the present level of FTT negotiations, I see enough room for all engaged to discuss and to direct the FTT resource toward development policy goals. This is also part of the overall taxation area that needs to be improved in our partner countries, in order to increase their national contributions for development. I will work with my colleagues in the Commission to make this link between taxation policy and development policy as close as possible.
My colleagues from EURACTIV Germany would like you to assess the contribution of their country. On the one hand, Germany is taking over an important role for Development Policy with chairing the GAVI vaccine alliance and a G7 development conference in recent weeks. However, Germany’s ODA-spending is still only average, and NGOs criticize Germany for lacking commitment to climate policy. Where must Germany improve, in order to play a believable role model, as a leading European nation?
I wouldn’t go into assessing the contribution of each and every member state to the development policy goals. But what I would like to see is the improving or reconfirming of the EU’s commitment to be the major donor and to the goal of dedicating 0.7 of GNI as national contributions to the Official Development Assistance. At present, most of the member states are not at that level of ODA contribution.
We shall very soon come to the point where EU member states will have to take a position for the next decades, in terms of their contribution to sustainable development goals. In this context, I would expect all member states, including Germany, to be ready to reconfirm this European commitment of 0.7. The final outcome that I expect is to keep Europe very high on development contributions in the world.