A crucial year for EU development policyment policy

The EU’s common development policy is up for review. The negotiations taking place in the next 12 months will be crucial to the future of the EU’s development policy. GLOBUS researcher Johanne Døhlie Saltnes writes on what is expected to be the main point of contestation namely how to link development and poverty eradication with sustainability, migration and security.


By Johanne Døhlie Saltnes, PhD Fellow at ARENA, University of Oslo

*the article was originally published on the blog page of the Horizon 2020 GLOBUS project

Blair, Borrell, Barroso

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK representing the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2005, Josep Borrell, President of the European Parliament, and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. (©European Parliament 2005)

2017 will most likely be the year when the EU spells out and adopts a new common development policy. As its predecessor the 2005 European Consensus on Development the aim is an inter-institutional agreement signed by the three main EU institutions: the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament (EP). But, the process is not expected to be easy. Much is at stake when the negotiations of the new Consensus are to start in the development working group in the Council and the EP development committee this fall.

The difficult negotiations of the 2005 Consensus

Although aspirations for a common development policy can be traced all the way back to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, it was not until 2005 that a common EU vision on development cooperation was agreed. The negotiations in the early 2000s were difficult. Many EU member states, such as the UK, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, are large donors with longstanding development policies. They were reluctant to change or adjust their approach, not least commit to a common European development policy which would force them to coordinate. The states were worried that a common European policy would reduce their possibility to determine and decide over their own bilateral development policy.

The states were worried that a common European policy would reduce their possibility to determine and decide over their own bilateral development policy.

Coordination implies that donors would specialize both geographically (reduce the number of recipients) and by sector (decrease the number of sectors in the recipient countries). A process of specialization hence also requires donors to trust other donors to carry out assistance that they have previously done themselves. Despite a long period of what a Commission senior official referred to as ‘an extremely difficult process’ the Consensus was successfully adopted in 2005. The member states ultimately accepted that if the aim was to make development cooperation more effective, to give more value for money, donor coordination and the harmonisation of development programmes had to be part of the answer.

Sustainability, migration and security

Now, more than ten years later the Consensus is up for review. Not only has the EU been criticised for slow progress in implementing the agreed-upon principles of the 2005 Consensus and its ‘little brother’ the 2007 Code of Conduct on Division of Labour, which spells out how donors should coordinate. Changes at the global arena also call for an updated document.

The United Nations adopted the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. The goals make substantial changes to the international development agenda. Among others, development goals are no longer confined to development alone but integrate an element of sustainability. Linking sustainability to development is in general not contested, but there are diverging opinions on where to ‘draw the line’. For instance, the funding of coal-fired power plants enhances development but is clearly harmful to the environment. The wording of the EU’s new Consensus will most certainly reflect the new focus on sustainability, however there is disagreement on the relative emphasis of sustainability compared to poverty eradication.

Should military actors be defined as rightful recipients of funds from an aid-budget at all?

Other concerns which are expected to cause heated debates is the link between development and security and migration respectively. The OECD Development Assistance Committee recently changed its definition of development cooperation (officially known as ODA), to include funds used for certain migration-related objectives. National debates in traditional donor countries such as Sweden have also revolved around the amount of money from the development budget one should spend on aiding migrants versus traditional aid-objectives. The security-development nexus is also a subject that will spark debate. For instance, the OECD definition of aid now opens for the use of funds by military actors in the case of a humanitarian catastrophe when no civil society organizations or national development agencies are willing to carry out the implementation. Yet, in situations of humanitarian assistance it is especially important that such support remains neutral. Should military actors be defined as rightful recipients of funds from an aid-budget at all?

The linking of security and migration to development policy seems unavoidable in the new Consensus. The contested issue is whether to include language in the Consensus that opens up to parts of the aid budged being spent on enhancing security, support refugees and initiatives which reduces immigration to Europe. There will be no common document if the goal of poverty eradication is undermined, says sources from the Commission and the Parliament. The institutions are also bound by the treaties. Article 208 of the Lisbon Treaty firmly establishes the eradication of poverty as the main goal for European development policy.

Intra-EU negotiations

The Commission communication, which will be the starting point for negotiations with the Commission and the EP is expected to be released in November this year. The Parliament has appointed two rapporteurs on the new Consensus: MEPs Bogdan Wenta from the European People’s Party group and Norbert Neuser from the group of Socialists and Democrats. Consultation and negotiation of the wording of the report takes place in the development committee, and the outcome is used as a common negotiation mandate for subsequent meetings with the other institutions. The fact that two rapporteurs are appointed confirms that the Parliament takes a strong interest in the issue and seeks to make a substantial contribution to the final document. The final agreement is expected to be signed during fall 2017.

Paradoxically, the most powerful and experienced donor in Europe, the UK, will most likely not be part of the new Consensus. According to a Council senior official the original plan was to conclude the new consensus during the UK presidency in the second half of 2017. Council presidencies have proved to play an important role in landing the major policy-negotiations in the development field. The UK played a key role in arriving at the 2005 Consensus as did Germany in the 2007 Code of conduct on division of labour.  After the Brexit referendum, UK has stated that they will not lead the Council as planned in 2017. Estonia is expected to take over the role, a country with more limited experience in development matters.

The negotiations taking place in the next 12 months will be crucial to the future of the EU’s development policy. The question is whether the Brussels machinery will be able to set Brexit questions aside and resolve the fundamental debates regarding the balance of security, migration and the main goal of EU development policy: poverty eradication.

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