Message from our Director, Paul Engel

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Paul Engel ECDPM

Winds of global change: Will Europe be ready?

Development cooperation policies, impact and finance certainly came under scrutiny in 2012, in Europe and elsewhere. This was not just because European official development assistance (ODA) ran out of steam, amidst a growing stream of other financial flows to developing countries. Declining ODA is just one of the trends that has irreversibly changed the development policy context. More importantly, the Global South is assuming leadership of the development agenda. International cooperation itself is being catered for by an array of multi-stakeholder partnerships. Today’s ‘development kitchen’ has many ‘cooks’: emerging economies, private charities, South-South alliances and a vocal global private sector. At the same time, sustained economic growth has afforded many developing countries greater autonomy in choosing partners.  

A dense and widely-cast net of international, public-private, government and non-governmental relationships has emerged. Traditional actors are being called on to adapt and modernize. International cooperation is now forged through partnerships for effective development. These get things done by jointly agreed, shared objectives and investments in development, not just aid.

Within this global scenario, a high-level UN task force is leading consultations to set a post-2015 development agenda. In Africa, resource-based economic growth and relations with emerging economies dominate the agenda, as well as concern about the translation to sustainable and inclusive development. In Europe, the European External Action Service and Agenda for Change have opened the way for more hands-on, focused, integrated and innovative approaches on the international stage. 

Meanwhile, successive European Reports on Development have argued for thinking beyond aid and the usual development objectives. European development banks have strengthened their programmes for ‘blending’ public and private resources to finance pro-poor development. With the OECD, several European states have pushed policy coherence higher on their agendas, advocating mutually supportive international and domestic policies, rather than policies that get in each other’s way. A new diplomacy is emerging, articulating the multiple policy frameworks and interventions required for effective international cooperation.

The pace of change in European approaches to international cooperation does not, however, match the rapid global evolution. Since the start of Lisbon Treaty implementation, no substantial advances have been made in integrating trade, development, climate, security and foreign policies. Nor have key areas of EU policy, such as immigration, agriculture and fisheries, become more ‘development-friendly’. Undoubtedly, a new European ‘division of labour’ in external action and development is occurring. But this is mostly by default, driven by austerity rather than strategy. This does not augur well for effective alignment of European external action to the demands of modern times. 

Have current mindsets in Europe – dominated by economic hardship and scepticism about further integration – reduced the EU’s willingness and capacity to re-align its external action? It is too early to answer this question definitively. But it hardly seems farfetched to suggest that a new European Commission, from 2015 onwards, will need a firmer mandate for joined-up European action if Europe is to retain its prominent position in global affairs.

Signature Paul Engel

  Paul Engel
Director ECDPM