Europe’s unique body of knowledge

Development Policy19 Jun 2008Björn Hettne

The Broker asked Björn Hettne to reflect on the following three questions concerning Europe’s role in international development.

1. Does Europe have a specific role to play in the world, with regard to poverty and inequality, environment and energy, global governance and security?

Europe is a dominant provider of international aid but this important activity is still scattered among a large number of member states. The number of policy areas dealt with by the EU appears to be increasing correspondingly with the EU’s internal complexity, creating immense problems of coordination. Hence, the performance is low both in terms of consistency and coherence. The enormous, potential added value is, therefore, not being realized. Most importantly this added value would be a comprehensive international development policy in which problems of unequal trade, poverty, environmental degradation, conflicts and migration are understood in a holistic way. Of particular interest is the EU focus on regionalism as a mode of global governance. From a global development perspective, there is a striking governance gap. The concept of global governance is by itself a recognition of the possibility of a rules-bound order, a refutation of the anarchical model of international relations as well as the utopia of the self-regulating market. The disrupting social consequences of removing borders, implied in the process of market-led globalization, generate political forces to halt and modify the process of globalization in order to guarantee territorial control, cultural diversity, and human security. Transnational and interregional institutions are needed in order to fill this governance gap. It can be argued that the European regional integration model — due to its strong focus on the role of institutions in Europe’s own integration process as well as on the importance of institutionalized interregional relations — represents a potential world order. The European Union is in the process of building interregional relations with all regions of the world. The overall purpose of this process is to make the external environment of Europe – in other words, the rest of the world – more stable and more predictable. The significance of this experience is that interregional and trans-regional institutions have the potentiality of shaping, through inter-subjectivity and mutual learning, the outlook of regional civilizations towards compatible patterns of coexistence, ultimately through multiculturalism and multi-regionalism.

2. As for the European Report on Development, what do you think should a) be the content/urgent themes of such a report, and b) be its approach?

Theorizing about development constitutes an exceptionally rich tradition in social science, encompassing important theoretical debates on the dynamics of social change and strategies to achieve development as well as a heroic ambition to represent a global experience of empirical societal conditions in different local corners of the world. Development as an academic field is more or less confined to a few countries in Europe and even if the impact of this body of knowledge is limited it represents a rich body of interdisciplinary understanding of various situations of underdevelopment and approaches to development. Furthermore, this field shows signs of revival, judging from the recent flood of new books on development. Based on this unique body of interdisciplinary knowledge a research-based European Development Report with a global scope would certainly distinguish itself from other such reports.

3. Are the (im)possibilities of a European development agenda a subject of discussion in your country among academics, the government and/or civil society organizations?

Sweden is a country with a good record in international development, peace actions and environmental concerns – and a rather high volume of development assistance. The new policy on ‘global development’ is an effort to tackle various interconnected problems. Unfortunately, it belongs to the ‘reluctant Europeans’, which means that Sweden’s special competence is not really used in the EU development activities, partly because there are good reasons to criticize these activities for being uncoordinated, inefficient and bureaucratic. It is my hope that this gap between the two actors will be bridged so that Sweden tries takes on the position of a role-model, while the EU makes use of its potential as a global actor for global and sustainable development. This of course necessitates a stronger commitment from the member states, including Sweden.