Three main policy responsibilities

Development Policy23 Jun 2010Paul Hassing

Paul Hassing responds to the background article “Going global” in the context of the online debate about Dutch development cooperation triggered by the report Less Pretension, More Ambition by the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR).

Paul Hassing is employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affaires since 1991. This contribution is the authors personal opinion and does not reflect in any way government policy

Much has been debated about globalisation and global public goods, as if the two did belong to the same category. The crises in global public goods such as climate, biodiversity and human security are not solely caused by globalisation. The crises in global public goods are also caused by economic growth worldwide and during the last decades more in particular by the emerging markets, like Brazil, India and China. Although some have argued for quite some time that this crises were emerging, society at large however sees these crises as a phenomenon that has taken them more or less by surprise. It is for this reason that politics have reacted slowly and with limited and insufficient resources. The Official Development Assistance was supposed to finance global goods actions. This has led to a competition between poverty alleviation and national development goals on the one hand and secure global goods on the other hand.. Although it has been argued that both goals reinforce each other and are intellectually interlinked, this argument was not convincing in the debate and did not really effect the allocation of ODA resources. This is illustrated by the small increase of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) over the last 10 years and the cumbersome negotiations on replenishment.

Many contributions to The Broker debate emphasize the role of policy coherence and urge to make the contradictory interests more transparent. It is affirmed by many contributors, and also in the WRR report that policy coherence can contribute more to development than traditional development assistance. Policy coherence within the donor countries would significantly help to make people and countries less dependent on traditional aid.

But would it be correct to suggest that traditional development aid with its national focus is now outdated as some debaters suggest? Should cooperation now be justified on the basis of its contribution to global public goods and the effects on assumed global crises like food and water? And with a sustainability focus? Should Dutch domestic politics be accountable for its impact on global goods and global crises? Is it not more realistic to assume that Dutch domestic policy is accountable to national goals and should be in line with EU policy. Why should international cooperation suddenly have higher moral goals, higher than we are able to handle in The Netherlands or in the EU? Is this what the WRR report means by referring to less pretension and more ambition’. To be a little more modest and realistic.

Policy implications: policy coherence, global public goods and traditional development aid.

The debate on global public goods and policy coherence has opened a new dimension to international cooperation, a new ‘’handelingsperspectief’’ (perspective to act). The traditional development aid (although some authors suggest otherwise) implies an element of unequal power relation between donor and recipient. The donor provides the resources based on policy priorities that she accounts for to national parliament or to private funders or others. The recipient governments are accountable to the donors and less to their own electorate or target groups. The donor can decide to discontinue support at any point in time. It has happened all the time. The ‘’handelingsperspectief’’ is dominated by political support in donor countries and actions taken in developing countries. There is no direct economic return to the donor countries. Therefore it qualifies within the OECD as Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Policy coherence however means that actions have to be taken at home, here in The Netherlands, within the EU or within the context of the WTO. Actions would be explicit to the benefit of developing countries and that provides them with a level playing field, with equal opportunities at the international arena. Not surprising that some authors (Sogge, Engel) emphasize that policy coherence is much debated but little implemented. This political analysis is at the centre of the debate: are we really willing to change some of the (economic and trade) measures in favour of creating a level playing field for developing countries at our own expense?. And how would the Dutch electorate that is becoming less inclined to prioritize development aid, let alone increase expenses react to such a proposition? No doubt, national policy coherence would add to the overall development policy goal of a fair and just world, as championed by The Netherlands as one of the progressive nations as far as development is concerned for many years.

The issue is also whether we have the conceptual tools and political will to improve policy coherence within our national Council of Ministers? Would such an ambition not run the risk to constant conflicts between ministers and between government officials. This might well imply a constant conflict of interest between the minister of Finance, Agriculture and Economic Affaires and the minister responsible for policy coherence (International Cooperation)? At the end someone has to pay the price or swallow the lesser income! Or is there a way to overcome this conflict of interest? At present the Ministry of Foreign Affaires allocates between 1 and 2% of the total personnel capacity for traditional development to policy coherence. One could argue that this is not in line at all with the political importance of policy coherence. It should therefore be increase to a level of 10 to 20% in the next 4 years That would be a real and substantial political signal.

The importance and deterioration of global publics goods imply another and new ‘’handelingsperspectief’’. In essence the improved management of global public goods suggest a common but differentiated interests between nations. It is in our Dutch interest to protect the tropical forests, prevent and reduce negative impacts of climate change and promote and secure human rights and safety. But it has become increasingly clear that no national government is able to solve these problems on its own. Individual governments neither have the mandate nor the capacity to solve these problems that can only be solved at global level The multinational corporations have an increasing influence, so do civil society organisations that transcend national boundaries. They need to be part of the solution and not of the problem. The negotiation model in which governments negotiate the management of global public goods between each other is at a cross-roads. Such type of negotiation between governments aimed at reaching a global consensus leads to a stale mate where one nation or block of nations can just grind the collective effort of others to a halt. The recent failure of the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change illustrates that new models of partnerships of like minded actors that are willing to commit to fundamental changes – even if it is at their own expense, across institutional and national boundaries have to be developed. National governments One could argue that governments are not willing nor able to assume the sole responsibility for climate actions. The business community and civil society organisations that have an ability to act and contribute to global governance should be part of the negotiating process. For environmental global goods the OECD polluter pays principle could be the principle directing the negotiations..

The above considerations would imply that in the future the Dutch minister for development cooperation should cover these three main policy responsibilities: ensuring national policy coherence, protect global public goods and delivering traditional development aid.