Shaping Europe’s international role

Development Policy12 Sep 2009Paul Engel, Simon Maxwell, Dirk Messner, Pierre Schori

The decisions that are made over the next three months will shape Europe’s international role in the future. The script that drives global policy making is being rewritten, in response to the financial crisis, climate change and global security challenges. Meanwhile, the institutions of the European Union are on the brink of a radical overhaul – whether or not the Irish referendum on 2 October allows the Lisbon Treaty to be ratified. By January 2010, we will have new institutions, new leaders and the outline of a new script. But will we also be optimistic about Europe as a progressive force in the world?

The financial crisis exposed the extent of global interdependence. It affected the real economies and living standards of both rich and poor countries. In Europe, the economy has shrunk by 1% and unemployment is up two percentage points. But in Kenya, remittances are down by a quarter. In Cambodia, 50,000 textile workers, or one in every seven, have lost their jobs. In Zambia, a quarter of all mining workers have been dismissed. Overall, more than 100 million people have been driven back below the poverty line as a result of the crisis. And faltering growth in developing countries also undermines export markets and therefore growth in developed countries.

The G20, meeting in New York, London, and shortly in Pittsburgh, has been unambiguous that ‘a global crisis requires a global solution’. The EU has major contributions to make in the areas of financial regulation, trade policy and aid. Collectively, the EU provides nearly 60% of all aid to developing countries.

The climate change agenda is similarly far-reaching. The test of international commitment will come at the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December. Agreement is still to be reached on overall targets for carbon reduction, finance, and technology transfer. Some observers have argued that a multilateral deal is too ambitious an objective, and that China and the US, the G2, must resolve the climate crisis. The EU, however, is at the forefront of innovation, through the European Emissions Trading Scheme and its own commitment to carbon cuts of 20% by 2020. It can provide the ideas and resources needed to broker a deal.

The security challenge hangs over all the other issues. If the financial crisis leads to long-term recession, then migration, crime and drug-related problems will affect all countries. If efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change fail, people will take adaptation into their own hands, with potentially destabilizing results. Coherent, whole-of-government approaches are the new mantra, linking development more explicitly to diplomacy and defence – or poverty reduction to peace and democracy. The EU has increasing experience and capacity in making these links – for example in the former Yugoslavia, and through the Africa Peace Facility. Its role will surely grow in the fragile states where the ‘bottom billion’ are to be found.

Tackling the three big challenges we are facing –the financial crisis, climate change and security – will require new frameworks and structures for international cooperation and providing what are often described as global public goods. The United Nations and the World Bank are essential pillars in this system. But Europe has special advantages. It works, or tries to work, on the basis of shared values. It offers economic, financial, diplomatic and emerging military options. It engages with other regions on the basis of mutual accountability, for example, through the Cotonou Partnership Agreement with 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states. And it offers economies of scale and a means of simplifying negotiations.

All of these features are likely to be reinforced over the coming months. There is already a new European Parliament, and by January 2010 there will be a new leadership team in Brussels. If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, there will also be a new post of president of the European Council; a new and more powerful high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who will also be vice-president of the European Commission; and a new, jointly owned diplomatic service, the European External Action Service.

Several new arrangements at the European level have the potential to ensure that Europe is a progressive force, but only if six conditions are met.

First, the links between development and other sectors must be made more explicit. Some countries talk of this as ‘joined-up thinking’, or strengthening coherent policy making – in economic matters, but also in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas where diplomats, soldiers and aid workers must find ways of working together. In Europe, the phrase is ‘policy coherence for development’. In the Commission’s own analysis, the Common Agricultural Policy has been a prime example of the failure to achieve policy coherence, as has immigration policy. But Europe has actively begun to develop joined-up strategies, for Africa, for example, or for specific regions like the Horn of Africa. Progress in delivering these strategies needs to be monitored. Has the EU used all its collective resources constructively to bring peace to Somalia? How would we know? Who is accountable?

Second, taking development seriously means having a strong development commissioner at the heart of policy making. Too often in the past, development has been a sideshow when it comes to sharing out jobs, a detail left to one side while the ‘big beasts’ scramble for the glamorous portfolios like competition or trade. When candidates for the new Commission are presented to the parliament for approval, MEPs should ask whether development has its rightful place in the hierarchy, alongside the new high representative and Commission vice-president, and whether the candidate commissioner is of the right calibre. It is ironic that EU member states have insisted on open recruitment procedures for the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and UN agencies, with job descriptions and formal interviews, yet they allow decisions on the appointment of EU commissioners to be made largely behind closed doors.

Third, the development commissioner needs the staff and resources needed to do the job. The existing arrangements are fractured and unsatisfactory. The current commissioner, Karel de Gucht, has full control of a planning and policy team, but not of the implementing agency, EuropeAid, which ultimately reports to the external affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero Waldner. Furthermore, the instruments of European development cooperation, which add up to nearly €10 billion a year, are split in geographic coverage and ownership between the two commissioners and have different forms of parliamentary accountability. Particularly intriguing questions are whether the proposed new European External Action Service will be designed as a champion of development, and what its relationship will be to EuropeAid.

Fourth, the European Parliament must also raise its profile on development issues. The development committee has a new chair, Eva Joly, a French Green MEP, whose job it will be to rally MEPs behind a more ambitious and comprehensive vision of development, with a strong focus on policy coherence for development.

Fifth, European development cooperation has been characterized by a high degree of accountability to developing countries, and this needs to be preserved. The EU–Africa strategy is jointly owned by the two sets of partners. The Cotonou Agreement has strong arbitration procedures and is governed by joint councils of ministers and parliamentary assemblies. Europe must strengthen its partnerships. Why, for example, should Asian countries like India or Pakistan not benefit from the same kind of accountability structures as those that apply under Cotonou to African, Caribbean and Pacific states?

Finally, none of this will make any difference unless words and action come together. Development should be more tightly targeted on the poorest people in the poorest countries, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Trade policy must be reformed to enable countries to grow. Political dialogue needs to be strengthened, with democracy, human rights and gender disparities at its heart. Unless women are made equal partners, there will be no sustainable development, democracy or peace. The EU already has a consensus on development policy, signed in December 2005, by heads of government meeting in the European Council, but also by the Parliament and the Commission. That consensus affirms the central objective of poverty reduction and of development ‘as a central goal by itself’. Similar principles are also reflected in the Lisbon Treaty. The consensus needs to be updated, however, to reflect the changing agenda.

It is easy to imagine a Europe enmeshed in its own problems, treating the developing world as a threat or as a suitable recipient of our charity, and relegating development to a minor role as the handmaiden of foreign policy. But in the coming three months we have an opportunity to craft a different approach.

(This article has recently been published in the German newspaper Die Zeit)