Only joint European efforts can be successful

Development Policy20 Jun 2008Dirk Messner

Europe has to play a specific role in the world. In some areas it is a pioneer in terms of managing globalization challenges: managing crossborder problems, pooling sovereignties of different nations, creating law-based relationships between states and citizens, transforming ‘international relations’ in Europe into ‘domestic European policies’. The European Union is far from perfect, but it is the most interesting and fascinating laboratory for organizing governance beyond nation states and for providing a model of global governance. Moreover, Europe has a good reputation in world politics. Europe is responsible, for example, for around 60 % of global official development assistance (ODA), while some European States invest more than 0.7 % of their GDP in development cooperation. Europe should be able to translate these investments and its experiences of organizing regional cooperation into political capital in the development policy arena.

Recent European investment in eastern European countries to cope with the transformation from socialism towards democracy is a real success story. And, Europe may be the protagonist in the field of climate change and the first region in the world to develop a road map towards a low carbon economy, aiming for the 2 degree Celsius target in order to avoid dangerous climate change. There is a lack of global leadership in this arena: the US is still more of a problem than a solution; the UN provides a good political platform for climate policy, but is not a powerful actor; China slowly accepts its future responsibilities as a driver of global warming, but still isn’t a pro-active driver of global climate policy. Europe, with its ability to build climate alliances before the climate conference in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, might be decisive and could really make a difference in the world.

But the other side of the coin is also obvious. European States are all small and medium sized countries with very limited power resources. Only joint European efforts to shape globalization would have a chance to be influential and successful. All too often, this vision is undermined by special interests of individual EU member states (remember the Iraq war, policies towards Russia, China or India). Plus, Europe is too slow when it comes to global political action and is not willing to invest massively to shape the future. Europe, for example, is a leading actor in climate change but where are the European investment packages to convince China and India to be partners in the process of reconstructing the global energy markets and to find alternatives to a fossil fuel based global economy before the end of the century? All the European approaches in this field are still too fragmented and too small. Imagine a new US government deciding that US investments to stop global climate change might create the ‘green Silicon Valleys’ of the future … and that converting cities worldwide into CO2 efficient zones might be the ‘man to the moon project’ of our generation. US policy makers are thinking large scale (remember the 3000 billion US dollars that the US government invested in the Iraq adventure during the last five years? After having invested in the destruction of US soft power around the world, the next US government might develop a new global leadership programme that reconstructs it`s international reputation). Europe is still a global player but its ambitions are limited coupled with a limited scope of action. I wish this could change.

There is another important reason why Europe should, and could, make a difference. China and India are rising global players – we are observing tectonic shifts in the global order. A multipolar power constellation emerges as the power of the US, currently the ‘only superpower’, declines. From history we know that this kind of process creates tensions and conflicts. Strategies to build pre-conditions for peaceful power shifts are needed (Kaplinsky / Messner 2008). In this new context, it is even more important to build Europe. And for Europe to develop strategies to build bridges between the rising and the (relatively) declining powers in the world.

That`s why I think, a European Report on Development would be an interesting instrument to create European perspectives, to push and promote European thinking within Europe and worldwide, to help European research networks to become more visible and more attractive as global partners, to become a global agenda setter, but not to dominate others. The vision should be: Europe as cooperative global power and partner.


German Advisory Council of Global Change (WBGU) (2008): Climate Change as a Security Risk, London: Earthscan.

Kaplinsky, Raphael/ Dirk Messner (eds.) (2008): The Asian Drivers of Global Change. Impacts on the Development World, in: World Development, Special Issue, No.2/08.