The Brief – No time for navel gazing

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

These are tough times to work in the development sector. Following the Oxfam sex scandal, several leading NGOs have fired employees and launched their own sexual misconduct probes. The revelations risk tarnishing the reputation of an entire industry.

Unsurprisingly, contrition was on display at BOND’s two-day gathering of several hundred European development and aid professionals in London which concluded today.

They were seeking to impress the UK’s recently appointed Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt. Many in Mordaunt’s Conservative party have leapt upon the Oxfam and other NGOs scandals as a reason to slash development spending.

For the moment, that hasn’t worked. At least Mordaunt, unlike her predecessor Priti Patel, does not need to be convinced that her department should exist.

“In my first week in this job I told you that I believe in aid. And I’ve not changed my mind,” she told delegates on Monday (26 February).

The promise of generous public spending on aid was one of the victims of Europe’s double-dip recession between 2008 and 2013. Governments quickly abandoned plans to increase spending to hit the UN’s 0.7% of GNI target, and development budgets in Italy, France and Spain were among those to suffer deep cuts.

Only six EU countries hit the 0.7% target last year and one of them, the UK, is leaving the EU next March. Many in the development sector in Brussels worry that the ‘Global Europe’ heading in the EU budget, and the European Development Fund, could face a cash squeeze post-Brexit.

Others fear that Brexit could encourage the UK to abandon its position as a European leader in development. “We need to get away from the idea that Brexit inevitably points to insularity and parochialism,” International Alert’s CEO, Harriet Lamb, told delegates.

Aid has its critics; many argue that direct budget support to governments establishes an unhealthy patron-client relationship; others believe that it helps entrench corrupt political elites.

In recent years, the EU has been one of the main movers in shifting development finance away from direct budget support to ‘blending’ public and private money.

That practice has its critics too. Most commercial aid tends to go to middle-income developing countries. Companies and development finance institutions are more reluctant to pump cash into the poorest countries. The world’s 30 ‘high-risk’ countries – most of them in sub-Saharan Africa – rely on ODA, which accounts for 16.6% of their GDP.

Though aid has its place – “the evidence from all the economics and econometrics is that aid is good for growth and works,” says Save The Children’s chief executive Kevin Watkins – the 0.7% target is not a panacea.

The EU’s Cotonou Agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific nations, itself up for re-negotiation in 2018 and 2019, focuses on the need to develop domestic private sectors and markets to create local jobs and economic growth.

So while self-reflection is important, Brexit, Cotonou and the negotiations on the next seven-year EU budget pose major threats to the development sector and the work they do. NGOs need to stop navel-gazing.

The Roundup

France’s draft law on immigration and asylum put forward by the government is under fire as it appears to have completely left the “Dublin Regulation”,  the cause of much controversy in the management of migration flows, out of consideration.

Fearing paralysis after Italy’s nailbiting 4 March election, EU officials are quietly working to encourage a “grand coalition” of pro-European parties — including that of colourful billionaire ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi, who has revealed he is “available” to be Italy’s prime minister in 2019 if next week’s election yields a hung parliament and a re-run of the vote.

With China’s ambitions to extend the Silk Road into Central Europe, the dream of taking the Trans-Siberian railway from Beijing via Moscow to the gates of Vienna could become reality in 15 years.

It could take Western Balkans countries up to 200 years to catch up with living standards of the EU they hope to join if they do not tackle low productivity and speed up reforms, the EBRD warns.

The European Union is in need of a rebranding. Giles Merritt suggests ways the European Commission can go about doing that while helping save the European project.

The Emissions Trading System (ETS), the bloc’s flagship emissions reduction tool that could help to cut EU emissions by 40% by 2030, got the green light by the Council of the EU for implementation.

One of Germany’s top courts ruled in a landmark decision that heavily polluting vehicles can be banned from the urban centres of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf. Watch out for traffic chaos and diesel cars decreasing in value.

As final talks to rewrite the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive kicked off, campaigners are lining up their arguments in favour or against the use of biomass for heating and power generation.

Sparks flew at a public discussion over net neutrality at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, as EU tech chief Andrus Ansip defended the bloc’s two-year-old legislation while sharing a stage with the US regulator who just repealed a similar law back home.

Look out for…

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker making a pit stop in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica during his Tour de Balkan.

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