Major NGOs gave a guarded welcome today (22 November) to a major once-in-a-decade, overhaul of the EU’s thinking on development.
The Commission – fronted in a Strasbourg press conference, in a sign of the weight it gives the issue, by foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Development Commissioner Neven Mimica – unveiled a trilogy of papers setting out the future of development and aid spending between now and 2030.
They are intended to incorporate the new UN Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) into the EU’s plans, and set out new parameters for the bloc’s relations with the Africa, Pacific and Caribbean (APC) on trade and cooperation, as well as coordinate better EU development policy between the Commission, the member states, the Parliament and national domestic development policies.
The long-awaited New Consensus on Development, looking at aid spending, thinking and priorities for the period 2015-2030, is a 21-page densely argued treatise that focuses largely on the SDGs, poverty eradication, youth, and gender rights.
Idealistic as those commitments are, it also encompasses more controversial topics – at least glancingly – such as private finance ‘blending’, the so-called ‘securitisation’ of aid (even including a line about “working with security sector actors, including military actors under exceptional circumstances”) and the trust funds – such as with Ethiopia – intended to stem so-called “irregular migration”.
A line on the European Investment Programme on expanding private sector involvement through a “blending” of guarantees, equity and other “innovative financial instruments” may worry those who already see profit-driven involvement in development as problematic.
Although the document is longer on promises and commitments, some of them lasting decades, than concrete detail, it matters because – as Mogherini reminded reporters – the EU is the world’s largest aid donor.
“[Today’s plan] is investing in people outside our borders is an investment in our own future,” she told a press conference in Strasbourg.
“It’s not just ‘charity’, it’s not just because we are ‘good’ or want to feel good. It’s in our interests to invest in other people’s future.”
Not least because – as the report points out – on current growth forecasts, Africa will need to create an additional 18 million jobs a year, each year, until 2035, to keep its growing youth population employed.
And the EU stands in stark contrast to China and, to a lesser extent Russia, who investment and interests in Africa are accompanied by negligible aid spending and even less focus on human rights.
Mimica admitted the announcements on the ACP countries were “building blocks” only, as there would be further discussions with the EU member states and the European Parliament before “concrete proposals next year.”
An earlier ministerial meeting in Dakar, Senegal this year attended by EurActiv.com saw stark disagreements between the EU and ACP countries. At stake is the future of the so-called Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2005, which runs out in 2020, and essentially regulates subsidies, tariffs and trade and market preferences with those growing economies.
The SDGs, by contrast, are a greatly expanded set of 17 criteria, adopted by the UN in September 2015 to replace the millennium development goals (MDGs), and are wide-ranging commitments on climate change, gender equality, poverty eradication and economic youth opportunities.
“That’s what’s new today,” said Timmermans. “This is a comprehensive and integrated [mix of foreign policy and development] and we have to get it right in all areas.”
Reaction? Largely thumbs-up, some caveats
The medley of proposals were broadly welcomed by the NGO community, although many pointed to what was not in the document as well as what was.
Speaking off the record, one senior official at a household name NGO said: “The litmus test is whether these principles go by the wayside when they come into conflict with other bilateral deals the EU is doing.
“And that essentially is a question of how much Mimica can throw his weight about to get them implemented.”
The Greens spokeswoman on development in the Parliament, Maria Heubuch, told EurActiv.com: “The positive is that I welcome that the Commission proposes that the EU and Member States work more closely together based on shared analysis, common strategies, joint programming, etc. It is high time for a truly harmonised European development policy, instead of 28+1.
“The negative is that the Consensus plan reflects the current paradigm shift: Development is no longer about partnership, it is about term self-interest and principles such as ownership and mutual accountability don’t matter anymore. The draft has a chapter on “principles and values” but the Commission has missed to include the development effectiveness principles there. They are only mentioned at the very end of the document and appear to be a mere afterthought. ”
Caritas, the Catholic charity, pointed to concerns about migration in the plan. Caritas is particularly concerned with development policy being subordinated to EU migration management concerns, and stresses that tackling forced migration and displacement requires a series of measures ranging from poverty reduction, conflict prevention, migrant protection, education and employment, and of refugee reception and resettlement.
“The EU has to realign resources and investment into creating the conditions that allow people to stay at home, build and strengthen livelihoods, families and peaceful communities. The 2030 Agenda offers an important framework to refocus efforts on the poorest and most vulnerable first,” said Shannon Pfohman, Advocacy Director of Caritas Europa.
Save the Children acknowledged the breadth of ambition, but warned “to truly reach every last child the EU must ensure its implementation fulfils existing legally-binding commitments to prioritise poverty eradication and is grounded in European values of human rights, solidarity, and democracy.
“In a world increasingly driven by populist “post truth” lies, the EU needs to ensure its relationship with development partners is based on its core values, on evidence, on needs, and on ensuring those currently most excluded from the benefits of development reap the largest rewards of EU assistance. We see some good rhetorical commitments in the Consensus, but we need to see how these will be translated into reality” said Ester Asin, Director of Save the Children’s EU Office.
Oxfam, which had previously warned of “red lines” over private finance and on migration, among issues, was probably the most positive of the major NGOs, saying those red lines had been respected.
Natalia Alonso,deputy director for advocacy and campaigns, said: “it is great to see that the proposal puts eradicating extreme poverty and inequality at the center of all action for the EU institutions and member states.
“Member states must not water down this ambitious proposal, as it reflects the opinion of a majority of EU citizens: nearly three-quarters say tackling poverty in developing countries should be one of the EU’s main priorities.
“The new framework must go beyond development and steer the EU policies in a new direction. For example, the EU must review some of its recent policies that go against the positive vision established today, specifically its response to migration: the Partnership Framework, the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and the External Investment Plan are primarily serving the EU’s own agenda instead of helping people lift themselves out of poverty. Also, other policies, like those on energy and climate change need to be cross-checked against the new framework for development.
“The litmus test for this new development framework will be how this policy and proposed instruments are supporting people to change their lives, from a woman farmer in Burkina Faso becoming more resilient to climate change, to a land rights activist in Peru safely defending her community.”
The more radical umbrella group SDG Watch Europe, which had seen earlier drafts of the plan, said: “We expect it to be extremely disappointing.
“The Communication provides little new information about how the EU intends to make Agenda 2030 a reality in Europe or around the world. It is a justification of business-as-usual, which will not deliver on the ambitious commitments of the new global agenda.
It also called for a “clear plan of implementation with clear targets and deadlines”, which the document does not appear to provide.
The document also makes no specific mention of Brexit, despite the UK being one of the EU’s largest donors of aid, and one of the few countries to meet the 0.7% of GDI aid commitment.
In the press conference, Mogherini did point out that if each of the EU’s 28 member states followed that example, it’s total aid spend could more than double.