How can the new European Commission make further progress on Policy Coherence for Development?

Development Policy03 Dec 2009Paul Engel

In order to improve the promotion of Policy Coherence for Development in the European Union, we need to address both ‘thematic’ and ‘horizontal’ priorities.

Thematic priorities such as trade and migration policies are generally in the limelight and discussed ardently – as was the case in the Council and the EP recently. Horizontal priorities – what is to be done to actually ensure delivery on PCD? – are perhaps less exciting but no less crucial to achieving progress on PCD. In this blog contribution I will therefore concentrate on the latter.

After much research and debate in relation to the recent reports by the EC, Concord, and the European Parliament, it seems to me that three issues in particular hamper progress on PCD in Europe and, at the same time, provide opportunities for improvement:

1. Lack of result-orientation, recognised by many as one of the main ‘horizontal issues’ to be dealt with in order to render PCD work effective. Positive experiences in for example, Sweden and UK are mentioned in the EU PCD report. Improving result-orientation appears a technical issue but it is essentially about clarifying and making explicit one’s ambition for change. Existing experiences show how being more specific on the goals to be reached may render institutional coordination and joint action on PCD more effective. As a consequence of this, consensus seems to be growing in Europe (EC, MS, EP) that (1) PCD results-orientation needs to be strengthened and that (2) with the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty this makes sense for a Europe that has decided to act more coherently on development objectives – i.e. poverty reduction – in the global theatre. Result-orientation in PCD is also important in a wider context: other global powers are watching the EU’s to live up to its expressed ambitions. In the case of PCD, not expressing and meeting our ambition would put us at the same level of China’s ‘mutual benefit’ policy that the EU now criticises.

2. Lack of solid research on the impact on partner countries of EU policy incoherence – in addition to evaluating what the EU its Commission and Member States are doing. The EC has made a first move with a number of case studies ECDPM had the privilege of executing. A large number of international NGOs and a few academic institutions have done a number of specific studies in the past (mostly on trade and development, migration and the Common Agricultural Policy). These studies invariably point at the complexities involved in studying the impact of (in)coherence and at the need for more and better evidence collected at the source (i.e. in the South), in order to adequately assess the impact of (in)coherence on developing economies. Even regarding trade, which is the most studied area, I would say. My rather pessimistic view is that today, very few European actors are willing to spend their euros on this type of evaluations, let alone on research.

3. Lack of a clear Southern Voice in debates on (in)coherence. Even where an accountability mechanism exists such as Article 12 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, its use is so far only sporadic. The EU PCD report mentions the first occasion when it was invoked by ACP Ambassadors, namely in February this year. While this is very encouraging and a step forward, it doesn’t erase doubts as to the appropriateness of this particular mechanism for this purpose and the eagerness of development partners (on both sides) to stand up to donors to address PCD issues. In principle, the European Ombudsman’s Office could also be used as such an accountability mechanism to interrogate EU development partners on (lack of) PCD in specific cases, or even the European Court of Justice as has been suggested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Development. This Committee is to be commended for actively looking into this and other possibilities to enhance the affected parties voice in European politics. And the moment seems very well chosen: the Lisbon Treaty with a stronger overall commitment to poverty reduction, a more explicit understanding of ‘consistency’ – including external effects of internal policies – and a commitment to ‘take into account’ development objectives in policies that are likely to affect developing countries, provides a window of opportunity for the EU to strengthen PCD in its (external) action and for development actors to seek legal precedent in case these commitments are not met. Finally, Baroness Ashton might be able to champion Policy Coherence for Development, but with so little known about the future European External Action Service, even philosophising on opportunities appears premature.

In short, I certainly see opportunities for specific actions to build on the progress made and significantly enhance PCD further, not only for the new Commission but for concerned development actors in general.

Note from the editors: This blog post by Paul Engel is adapted from a contribution he made to the EU Changemakers Forum. See an earlier post in this blog for more information on this initiative.