Judith Sargentini: Viva article 208, down with reality

Development Policy09 Nov 2009Judith Sargentini

November 2009 is a historic month. With Vaclav Klaus, the last head of state has finally ratified the Lisbon Treaty. The Treaty, in effect as from 1st December, makes the Council of ministers more transparent, gives us Members of the European Parliament more legislative powers and – very relevant for the development world – it gives us a say over the budget for agriculture.

True, the EP has seen a shift to the right after the elections last June. The right is traditionally more friendly towards farmers than towards the development world. Still, the Lisbon Treaty creates an opportunity to modernise the agricultural subsidies. It also introduces a specific legal base for humanitarian aid. Furthermore, it states in article 208 that the reduction and the eradication of poverty is the primary objective of the Union’s development cooperation policy. This goal must be respected when the Union implements policies likely to affect developing countries. This implies also that development policy is a policy in its own right, and not an accessory of common foreign and security policy. Viva article 208, Viva!

All good news for development cooperation. Has Christmas come early this year?

The Lisbon Treaty also foresees in an European External Action Service (EEAS) which will function as a more or less full-fledged diplomatic service. Voices in the European Commission and the Parliament propose to include development in this EAAS. If article 208 is really leading, the EAAS should be totally coherent with our aim for European development aid, namely poverty eradication. It would give the Directorate-General for Development a whole toolkit of skilled diplomats whose only goal is to help the poor, end famine, bring democracy to the world and introduce really fair trade.

Why worry?

Because theory does not always get along with the real world. The European Commission delivered its second report on policy coherence for development. Policy coherence is the key to making article 208 happen. However, it is not so easy, because it means that Europe has to surmount the conflict between domestic interests and those of development countries. Trade springs to mind when I think of incoherent European external actions.

Just this week the ambassador for South Africa to the EU gave me a little historical lecture about the negotiations with the Southern African Development Community on an Economic Partnership Agreement. It was not a nice story. We Europeans should be ashamed of the way we force countries like Lesotho and Swaziland to open up their markets, while keeping our borders closed for their rice and sugarcane. Trade, therefore should be the first issue on the agenda for policy coherence. But now, because it is all such a hassle, the European Commission report proposes to focus on only five instead of the previous twelve areas. Trade is not one of those five…

So there you go, in this historic month of November 2009 that saw the Lisbon Treaty finally unblocked, we urgently need a reality check and an honest talk with ourselves. Who are we kidding? The Ambassador for South Africa? Lesotho? Swaziland? Or just ourselves?