EU development cooperation after the Irish “Yes”: is anyone interested?

Development Policy06 Oct 2009Mirjam van Reisen

The European Union exists only through the legal agreements that underpin it. Therefore the Lisbon Treaty is important, and scrutinising it is relevant to identifying the perspective of a future European Union.

The good news is that the Lisbon Treaty allocates to development cooperation the central place it has had since the foundation of the European Union. After the Irish vote and in anticipation of the Czech’s and Polish’ solutions for ratification, we can be reassured that the European Union’s legal provisions for development are fine.

The bad news is that only few of Europe’s citizens take any interest in this. There are a range of reasons for this but in any event – caused by the lack of demonstrable results coupled with the financial crisis that is creating uncertainty and anxiety — the fate of people living in poverty abroad is not the first priority of many.

We are observing coinciding scepticism by the public of the European Union and development cooperation. The first question that therefore comes to mind is whether or not the coincidence of the unpopularity of the European Union and the contempt of development cooperation is unconnected. Both (European Union and development cooperation) tend to promise too much, logically resulting in disappointment, leading to frustration.

In order to make a clear case, the strength of the European Union, based on values of social justice and respect for human rights, should provide the benchmark. I therefore welcome the EEAS, which will give the European Union much greater unity and coordination abroad.

The danger with the European Union and development cooperation is in overstretching. Bringing together a European diplomatic service will be a major challenge, and its success, an unimagined achievement. The idea would have been considered ludicrous in the past, that diplomats from 27 countries would come together to make a united foreign policy.

For the sake of its own success the EEAS should not be burdened with anything else but diplomacy and foreign policy. It will be a challenge but it will have a chance of succeeding, if it is pursued with rigour and clarity of purpose.

European Development cooperation has made a new start from 2000 onwards. The attempts to ‘clean it up’ have entered the Lisbon Treaty. There is a chance of succeeding, again, if it is pursued with rigour and clarity of purpose.

Mixing the EEAS and development cooperation will be detrimental to both.

My daughter shouted the other day in great frustration to me: “I am not going anywhere! I am going to nowhere!”

If the EEAS intends to incorporate EU diplomacy and development cooperation in one entity, it will certainly go nowhere!