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Mikaela Gavas: Getting the EU’s development architecture right!

Mikaela Gavas | 23 September 2009

In the next few weeks, the future of Europe’s external face and form will be decided. A new European Commission and new structures if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified offer openings for the EU to act in new ways on the international stage. Come January 2010, the EU could have new structures, new leaders and a new way of engaging in the world.

The ODI background note ‘Options for architectural reform in European Union development cooperation’, explored possible options for the design of the external relations services of the new European Commission. The challenge for decision-makers will be to design a model which translates the principles of EU development cooperation enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty into operational structures. For example, for the first time, all aspects of external action including the Common Foreign and Security Policy share the goal of reducing poverty in developing countries. It is also a legal requirement to ensure that development cooperation has as its primary objective “the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty.”

The Lisbon Treaty also proposes new structures which have the potential to promote a coherent and more effective approach to security and development. If ratified, the Lisbon Treaty will establish a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who will also be the Vice President of the European Commission and will be part of the Council and the Commission. One of the key roles of the High Representative will be to promote coherence among EU external policies. The High Representative will be assisted by a diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS).

There are potentially three options for the EEAS:

1) A minimalist option, which would put the emphasis on coordination of external action, leaving current Commission structures mostly intact and the High Representative with responsibility for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

2) A maximalist option, which would encapsulate all aspects of EU external relations for all regions in the EEAS. This would include all external relations Directorates-General (DGs) in the Commission

3) A hybrid of the two preview options.

There are risks with all options. Completely separating development cooperation and foreign policy runs the risk of policy incoherence, institutional rivalry, duplication and mixed messages with different objectives pursued in different regions. Uniting all external policies under one roof runs the risk of creating a negative impact on the poverty focus of development cooperation. Clearly, if the EU goes down the road of prioritising hard power and security, then it is likely that the money set aside for development cooperation will be diverted into areas of public policy that are not linked to poverty reduction and are more of a priority for developed countries than developing countries. However, if the EU goes down the route of prioritising development cooperation, conflict prevention, good governance and coherence among diplomatic, defence, trade and development instruments, then security and development cooperation can become integral components of a European agenda for global peace, inclusiveness and sustainable development.

The question is: what structure delivers this vision?

The EEAS could bring together the full range of EU conflict prevention, crisis management and planning operations and post-conflict institution-building tools, thereby uniting the Council Secretariat’s crisis management planning and operations capacity together with Commission expertise on stabilisation and reconstruction tools. It could also allow for the creation of single EU missions with the ability to coordinate EU policy in country. And finally it could support cooperation with the Member States, from whom it could import significant expertise, and consultation and joint-working among the EU’s external representatives, the High Representative, the European Council President, the European Commission President and individual Commissioners.

In the Commission, the Development Commissioner could unite development policy-making in developing countries, programming of development funds and the implementation of external assistance programmes.

But the key to coherence is collaboration. Therefore, the Development Commissioner would lead on EU development cooperation in close collaboration with the High Representative. And the High Representative would lead on the overall EU political relationship with third countries, working closely with the Development Commissioner.

The litmus test for reform will be whether it leads to greater coherence and effectiveness. The overriding objective must be a structure that strengthens the coherence of the way EU external policies are pursued across the board. And there needs to be a strengthened voice for international development, offering a coherent and consistent approach in developing countries.

The EEAS could have a very significant impact on how the EU deals with development cooperation. On the one hand, it offers real potential for bringing greater political coherence to EU external action, a more effective platform for the delivery of EU objectives across the board and a strengthened ability to leverage the EU’s political and economic weight. It also offers the opportunity to raise the profile of international development and its impact on other external aims. On the other hand, it could undermine what the EU has achieved to date in international development, in particular, the focus on reducing global poverty.

About the author

Mikaela Gavas

Mikaela Gavas, is Research Associate at The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London, United...

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