Institutional change and paradigm shift?

Development Policy07 Oct 2009Rob van Drimmelen

A few days ago, the Irish voters approved the Lisbon Treaty. Therefore, it now looks increasingly likely that, after many years of preparation, the Treaty will finally enter into force, Klaus willing….

In various blogs in this series, analyses have been made of the possible effects of the far-reaching institutional changes we can expect to happen during the coming months on development policy. Dangers as well as opportunities have been pointed out, and conditions have been formulated in order to ensure that the EU plays a leading role on the world scene with regard to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The way in which development cooperation is presently organised in the Union is strange, to say the least, and defies any logic except the one of a ´eurocracy´. With competences divided among DG Development, DG External Relations, DG Enlargement, DG Trade, DG ECHO, and DG AidCo, to mention the most obvious, a sorry picture emerges of scattered responsibilities and broken chains of policy and programme formulation and implementation. This has to change. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty has to be seized as an opportunity to create a strong organisational unit for international cooperation which integrates policy formulation and implementation. The primary concern of such a unit should not be to protect the turf of development cooperation. Rather, it should be used as a launching pad for reaching out to other policy areas of the European Union and for interacting with these to ensure that the goal of poverty eradication permeates these other policies as well.

This can only be done from a position of strength and confidence. In principle, the Lisbon Treaty should provide this strength as the objective “to foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty” (art. 10a/21) is upgraded and will be on equal footing with the other goal of the EU external action policies, namely “to safeguard its values, fundamental interests, security, independence and integrity”.

Of course there is no automatic harmony between the ´fundamental interests´ of the Union and the goal of eradicating poverty in the South. That is why the concept of Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) was invented by which the Union must ensure that all its policies take account of development objectives, namely poverty reduction and eradication (art. 188d/208). The snag is in the term ´take account of´; the EU is under no obligation to make other policies coherent with the aim of poverty reduction, it just has to ´take account´ of the effects of these policies. This is yet another reason why it is important that, in a new organisational configuration, development concerns are handled by a strong Commissioner who has at her/his disposal a robust and integrated apparatus of policy formulation and implementation.

Over the past couple of decades, the world in which development cooperation is carried out has changed considerably. Interconnections with other policy areas have become much more apparent. Development cooperation can and should not take place in a vacuum. The struggle against poverty can only be successful if it is extended into policy areas like trade, investment, security, migration, agriculture, taxes, etc.

Thoughts like these can be found in the recent Communication of the Commission on Policy Coherence – Establishing the policy framework for a whole-of-the-Union approach. Seen in connection with the reflections that are taking place in the OECD/DAC on the same topic, one can hardly escape the impression that the institutional changes which will emerge from the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty are taking place simultaneously with changing paradigms concerning the role and place of development cooperation. Therefore, we need to be extra attentive.

The Communication is introducing a whole-of-the-Union approach which focuses on fewer areas than the PCD approach (climate change, food security, migration, intellectual property rights, and security and peace). If we realise that some of the most blatant incoherencies between EU development policies and other policies occur in the area of trade, it does not bode well that the Commission has left trade out the policy areas that it will focus on when considering the effects of these policies on poverty reduction in the South. It illustrates what APRODEV experienced when we proposed the inclusion of development benchmarks in the EPA negotiations and found a deaf ear, not only in DG Trade but, more surprisingly, also in DG Development. Surely the Commission does not believe that more (free) trade will automatically lead to more development and less poverty?

The Communication also proposes an ODA-plus concept. After all, non-ODA financial flows can also work for development and the PCD work programme will ensure that the development effects are optimalised. Although this is a laudable objective, there is a danger that attention will shift away from ODA to non-ODA, thereby diluting the focus on poverty reduction. Quantifying non-ODA may also be used as an excuse not to meet the ODA targets and timetable (in times of an economic crisis!) that governments agreed to earlier.

We live in interesting times, from various different perspectives. From the point of view of development we may get a glimpse of changing paradigms as the Union re-organises itself on the basis of the Lisbon Treaty.