Europe’s unheard-of contributions to international development thinking

Development Policy19 Jun 2008Sven Grimm

Europe is the most important provider of aid at a global scale with more than half of all official development assistance coming from the European Union and its member states. Roughly €14 billion a year goes to Africa. Even though other countries are big aid providers, such as the US or Japan, or are rapidly expanding their engagement, such as China and to a lesser extent India, the EU is indeed a world power in development policy. And it is internationally punching pathetically below its weight.

The discussion on European development policy and Europe’s impact on development is ongoing in Germany, within the development community and within the security community. It is surely also ongoing in Brussels, in the UK, the Netherlands and elsewhere. But it is not really focussing the specialists’ debate of all these different publics (in plural!). International development can be a surprisingly national business, and national vanity or jealousies often prevail.

Only a few bigger development research institutes can afford to reserve some of their capacity to work ‘on Europe’. This is not to belittle the intellectual manpower of individual units, who at times are brilliant in their work. And in academia, size does not equal quality, of course. However, without a sizable manpower, impact in the debate will remain limited. What can the biggest European think-tanks on development do that could equal World Bank research? At the same time, our diversity is our strength. So what is needed is not centralization in Europe. We already have a small Brussels community to look at what’s happening at the level of EU institutions. But who sees the full picture of Brussels and beyond? What is needed, therefore, is a focal point for discussion, some project to get a team around in order to bundle intellectual capacity in Europe on international development.

Do we need yet another of these voluminous publications, like the human development report or the world development report? Actually, yes! Europe has innovative ideas to offer when discussing impacts of climate change on world development. Europe is, in fact, a leader of discussions on this topic. And while many in Africa are dreaming of Chinese growth rates, quite a few Chinese (and Africans) are also dreaming of Europe’s social model. Europe has ideas to offer on how to build functioning regional entities. It has learned lessons itself on conflict prevention and civilian conflict management within the EU that could be fruitful in a few discussions. So a European Development Report would need to be multidisciplinary in order to cover the wide range of debates. While striving for the Millennium Development Goals, the EDR should look both left and right.

We should not get carried away. Europe has no ready-made ‘model’ to export. Nor is it always a benevolent actor. And Europe surely cannot single-handedly ‘make development happen’ elsewhere. However, Europe is home to ideas that are worth compiling in order to make a contribution to the international discussion.