EU pushing ‘old 90s script’ on next UN aid agenda

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An architect of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has warned that the European Union runs the risk of overreach as it tries to shape the future international anti-poverty agenda.

Jan Vandemoortele, a former UN official who helped draft the MDGs in 2001, said proposals from the European Commission and independent panel of experts risked “overload, prescription and donorship” that could set advanced nations on a collision course with emerging economic powers.

“The whole debate is an effort to keep the old script going, the old script of the ‘90s,” Vandemoortele told EURACTIV on Tuesday (9 April), referring to the expiring framework that was mostly influenced by the Europeans and Americans who dominated the post-Cold War global agenda.

The MDGs, which call for reducing poverty and hunger, achieving universal education and other targets, are due to expire in 2015. Discussions are now under way to develop a successor.

Rise of BRICS influence

Since the MDGs were created, stagnation in advanced countries and the emergence of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the so-called BRICS – as economic powers have meant a shift in global dynamics. The BRICS have become more assertive at world conferences and recently announced plans to create their own development bank.

The BRICs, along with many of the Group of 77 developing nations, resisted EU efforts at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference and the 2012 Rio summit on sustainable development to agree binding international climate and environmental targets.

That could happen again in the post-MDG discussions, Vandemoortele said, adding that the BRICS and G77 “will likely take a different view of the post-2015 agenda”.

Vandemoortele was part of the working-level team that created the eight MDGs following the adoption of the UN Millennium Development Declaration in 2000.

The Belgian economist’s comments came after the release of the European Report on Development, a document that outlines 10 “main messages” that the EU should present in the post-2015 discussions.

The report recommends maintaining the anti-poverty agenda set by the MDGs, strengthening donor assistance but also encouraging more trade and private-sector investment to supplement traditional aid. It also calls for improving coordination among donors to get more impact out of development financing.

Drafted by an independent panel for the European Commission, the 278-page report was published five weeks after the release of the Commission’s 'Decent life for all' communication that outlines similar goals as negotiating positions on the post-2015 agenda.

"I am pleased to see that the new ERD, which is particularly timely and relevant, in many ways complements and supports the work of the Commission,” Andris Piebalgs, the EU development commissioner, said in releasing the report on Tuesday.

“This year’s report, with its in-depth analysis and ambitious messages, will help stimulate the debate on the post-2015 development agenda, both at the EU and global levels."

Both Piebalgs and one of the authors of the development report acknowledged the challenges of drafting a future framework in an environment where traditional donors face financial difficulties and new powers are emerging.

“The next set of negotiations will be quite a difficult one,” said James Mackie, senior advisor on EU development policy at the European Centre for Development Policy Management, a Brussels think tank.

Among the anticipated battles ahead is the EU’s call for combining poverty-fighting targets with environmental sustainability goals. “Climate change is not unrelated to poverty,” Mackie told a conference launched the development report.

Back to the ‘90s

But Vandemoortele said the EU runs the risk of failure by using the same methods of the 1990s in trying to shape a future MDG framework.

He said a few, universal targets were needed in areas such as nutrition, youth employment, gender rights and sustainability that applied to all countries, not just poor or emerging nations. Nutrition goals could address obesity in rich and emerging nations, as well as hunger in the poorest, the economist said.

Creating targets that are too specific “will always clash with national priorities,” Vandemoortele told EURACTIV.

He admitted his job was easier 12 years ago. As director of the poverty group for the United Nations Development Programme in New York, Vandemoortele helped draft the MDGs, sifting through the Millennium Development Declaration to create eight bite-size goals and 18 targets that could be easy to remember and implement.

This time around will not be as easy, with businesses, governments and advocacy groups all vying to influence the post-2015 agenda.

“I don’t know how to do it this time,” Vandemoortele said. “The more I listen and the more I read, that may be the fate of this process, that it may not yield a result at all.”

Background

The MDGs have been hailed for encouraging donors and national governments to invest in childhood health, hygiene, education, nutrition, safe drinking water and other milestones.

With fewer than two years to go, many goals are not likely to be achieved. UN figures show that 1.4 billion people – 20% of today’s world population - live in extreme poverty. More than 2.6 billion people do not have access to latrines and some 1 billion lack safe drinking water. Chronic hunger affects more than 800 million people, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Meanwhile, with European troops on the ground in Mali, the Commission notes that some 1.5 billion people live in conflict areas.

Timeline

  • 2015: Target for achieving the eight original Millennium Development Goals

Further Reading

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