Finance, Cotonou and women set to dominate European Development Days

As far as global development goes, few events can match the reach of European Development Days, whose Brussels edition will gather 8,000 development policy professionals this week.

It’s small wonder that its supporters call it the ‘Davos of development’, as it will bring together a handful of European Commissioners, four African presidents, the UN’s top brass and the development NGO and business communities.

The attending heads of state will include Rwandan President Paul Kagamé; Burkina Faso’s Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, and recently elected President of Liberia, George Weah. The UN’s delegation will be headed by Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed.

The theme of this year’s EDD is ‘Women and Girls at the Forefront of Sustainable Development: protect, empower, invest’.

But there will be plenty other issues on tap, from the EU’s next seven-year budget and the migration crisis to the upcoming negotiations on a revised Cotonou Agreement between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific community

Gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed by the international community and to each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015.

“There can be no sustainable development if half of the world’s population is left behind. We need equal participation and leadership of women and girls in all spheres of life – both in Europe and in the world,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will open the EDDs on Tuesday morning (5 June).

Development policy in Brussels will be dominated by the talks on the next EU multi-annual financial framework. Most development NGOs were left underwhelmed by the Commission’s MFF announcement in May.

Budget downgrades EU aid policy, say development experts

Development NGOs were united in criticising the European Commission’s proposed changes to the bloc’s external spending on Wednesday (2 May), warning that it effectively downgraded aid policy.

The budget of €123 billion to cover all of the EU’s external priorities for 2020-2027 was slightly higher than many expected, but it is unclear how much will be allocated to development spending. “We will have significant additional resources,” a senior EU official said.

“The current structure is clearly unfit for purpose and we need more flexibility so that the EU and member states can finance short-term crises, but we can’t be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Emily Wigens, Interim Brussels director for ONE, told EURACTIV.

“We want an instrument on human security and migration and sustainable development,” she added.

There are also concerns about the EU executive’s plan to merge its twelve existing external policy instruments into one.

The Commission also plans to integrate its European Development Fund into the EU budget. All are set to be hot topics of conversation in the panels and on the margins of the EDD.

The successor to Cotonou will be the focus of attention on Tuesday morning (5 June) at a panel featuring DG DEVCO director-general Stefano Manservisi, alongside the foreign minister of Togo, Robert Dussey and the secretary general of the ACP, Patrick Gomes.

Who pays for financing development, meanwhile, remains an everpresent theme.

With levels of development aid stagnant at just over 0.4% of GNI, and little political appetite to hit the UN-agreed 0.7% target, the international donor community wants the private sector to plug the financing gap.

The European Commission has proposed an expansion of its European Fund for Sustainable Investment (EFSI) – which seeks to use EU budget guarantees to leverage private sector investment in development projects in the MFF – and is set to unveil its legislative proposals on 14 June.

This is a source of significant concern for many NGOs. Last month, a group of development NGOs issued an open letter to EU lawmakers expressing their concerns about EFSI.

“There are justified concerns from civil society organisations,” a senior Commission official told EURACTIV.

The European Investment Bank (EIB), which manages EFSI, has emerged as a major player in EU development policy in recent years. The Luxembourg-based EIB has promised to design its programmes to ensure equal access by women and men; and target women’s economic empowerment.

Meanwhile, the EIB’s vice-President responsible for gender, former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, has mooted the possibility of the EIB being responsible for managing a new EU development finance institution.

Migration control, which has become a common theme linking much of the EU’s development policy, will also be a hot topic, as it becomes increasingly clear the EU will ramp up the budget for controlling its external borders and keeping migrants outside.

The International Organisation for Migration’s Deputy Director General Laura Thompson will lead a panel on women and migration on 6 June (Wednesday), and the IOM will host another debate on the reintegration of migrants in West Africa.

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