Why a European Report on Development is not needed

Development Policy19 Jun 2008Lars Engberg-Pedersen

The European Report on Development is likely to bring only marginally new perspectives into the field of development, to kill whatever originality European research may have, and to be counterproductive to the attempts to shift the responsibility for development to the poor countries.

The European Commission and a number of EU member states are currently supporting the elaboration of a new European annual report on development issues in the same vein as the Human Development Report by UNDP and the World Development Report by the World Bank. It seems that this new publication should contribute to at least three different objectives. First, it should provide a forum for policy discussions based on research being undertaken at research institutions in Europe. The argument for this being that much of the research carried out at European institutions does not reach international policy discussions. Secondly, the Human and World Development Reports are seen as being too narrow in different ways. There is, it appears, a need for a publication adopting a multidisciplinary approach and putting development into a global context including issues of security, climate change, trade, migration, etc. Thirdly, the European Report on Development (ERD) is supposed to contribute to a strengthening of Europe’s role on the global scene.

While it is relevant to consider how particular values and views, often believed to be European by Europeans, can be furthered in a world dominated by other values, it is questionable that the ERD constitutes a useful tool for this. First, the big lacuna in the struggle for development is that it is not about European ideas and views, but those of poor, developing countries. Another report disseminating the views of outsiders on how impoverished societies should develop is old hat, unnecessary and detrimental to the attempts to build ownership. Actually, an important implication of the Paris Declaration should be for donor agencies to downplay their individual and some of their collective objectives, strategies, principles and policies. A new publication with the purpose of furthering donor views on development is counterproductive – to say the least.

Secondly, it is difficult to see what new insights Europe and European donor agencies can contribute to the subject, having spent the last couple of decades supporting World Bank and IMF policies. It is not credible that Europe is about to depart from the well-trodden paths of these institutions with respect to Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, economic policies and financial management. Accordingly, the ERD is likely to bring only marginally new perspectives on development.

Thirdly, European research institutions may be able to provide original contributions to policy debates, but being forced into the straitjacket of the ERD is probably not the way to bring these insights into the public if they should maintain their originality. The ERD is bound to be determined by policy concerns and the needs related to European ambitions in global power struggles. This is a context that is not conducive for an unbiased dissemination of research.

A more ambitious and interesting initiative would be to develop a development report based on, for instance, African and European perspectives. Such a report could provide space for views rarely expressed or heard, it could develop new insights when bringing different perspectives together, and it could give a stimulus to the emerging interest in studying development issues and poverty reduction in different social, economic and political settings. Given the multilateral perspective inherent in ‘European values’ another possibility is to strengthen UN publications on development issues instead of furthering a particular European perspective. Finally, it is worth considering a variety of publication possibilities linking research and policy, some of which could seek to create policy interest in significant research findings, and some which would seek to develop research that covers the policy needs in relation to Europe’s role as a global player.