Skip to main content

Opening Panel of the EADI Directors’ Meeting: Update on European Development Policy

What are the key features of last year’s development consensus of the European Union? How have the EU’s role and its financial instruments changed over the years and what is the status implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the EU? This year’s Directors’ Meeting kicked off with some reflections on these issues:

Maja Bučar from the University of Ljubljana started the session by critically summarising the main pillars of the European Consensus on Development - 'Our world, our dignity, our future' agreed by the European Commission in June 2017. The consensus, meant to provide effective development response and an implementation response to Agenda 2030, builds on a set of guiding principles and values for the development cooperation of the EU and its member states: democracy, rule of law, human rights, equality and solidarity, gender equality, rights- based approach and civil society. In view of this, Bučar pointed to the obvious discrepancy between these values and discussions in the EU on migration issues, when “the language of this consensus seems to be forgotten”.

Following closely the Agenda 2030, the consensus organises around four main pillars: people, planet, prosperity and peace. Bučar highlighted that, apart from discussing poverty, health, education etc., the section on people even includes a short text on migration, calling for a carefully designed, balanced, evidence-based and sustainable policy response, as well as a strengthened engagement of EU.

As for the section on prosperity, she pointed to the increased attention given to private sector participation, such as additional private resources, technology transfer and the EU’s External Investment Plan. This, in her view, raises several questions: how transparent is the role of the private sector, how does each side see its role and where are sufficiently clear guidelines and criteria for involvement of private capital?

The section on peace mainly focuses on criteria such as good governance, democracy and rule of law. Another section on partnership acknowledges new partners in cooperation on both sides –from the private sector again, as well as from civil society, philanthropic organisations and governments. Another section focuses on triangular cooperation which includes the engagement of more advanced developing countries.

Regarding the introduction of the term “multi-stakeholder approach” as key to implementing the SDGs, Bučar emphasised the need for careful examination who the stakeholders and key actors actually are.

On another critical note, she mentioned that the consensus reiterates the 0.7% target (i.e. that all countries should allocated at least 0,7% of their budget to development cooperation) with no reference to the very low number of countries who have fact achieved it.

She concluded saying that EU member states should be expected to align their own roles with the consensus. The consensus is, however, mainly used by civil society, which uses its language as advocacy for ideas they want their own governments to follow up on.

The second speaker, Niels Keijzer from the German Development Institute (DIE) examined the changing roles of the EU development policy and its evolving financial instruments. In 2005, the EU had assumed the role of a donor, coordinator and norm maker, the last role both encompassing the spread of international norms and the entry of new member states after 2004. Today, the EU mainly profiles itself as a donor, while having considerably de-emphasised coordinating and normative roles. In recent years, Keijzer pointed out, the EU has assumed a stronger profile in blended finance, and increasingly conceives of development policy in the context of the EU’s integrated external action. Further key differences between 2005 and 2018 are that in 2005, the EU had positioned its development policy as complementing that of the member states while being distinctly different. Today, following the 2010 treaty change, the EU and member state policies are supposed to complement one another. The result is that the EU pursues an integration at the implementation level, which is shown in an increase of indirect management approaches.

With regard to finance, the latest agreed financial instruments are divided into three types: thematic instruments that are predominantly managed from Brussels, geographic instruments where the EU delegations have a key role, as well as humanitarian aid and civil protection. In the meantime, however, the EU started viewing the large number of instruments as unwieldy and fragmented, and the package of instruments as ‘overtaken by events’, notably the so-called ‘migration crisis’. For these reasons, it has proposed a single instrument, currently under negotiation, that would integrate many of the existing financial instruments.

The proposed single instrument rests upon a complex legal basis, since it is expected to uphold and promote EU values and interests abroad whilst pursuing the many objectives of EU external action as stated in the treaty. Additionally, it would govern several types of cooperation: grant-based cooperation and blended finance such as investment co-financing, guarantees, interest rate subsidies and technical assistance. Another challenge relates to the division of roles between the EU institutions concerned, since there has been a two years conflict between the Commission and the European Investment Bank over the division of labour in relation to blended finance instruments. Moreover, it remains an open question how the European Parliament and Council can steer and scrutinize the Commission while allowing for the flexibility and responsiveness that the single instrument aims for.

Keijzer projects that there will likely be no new EU budget agreement until December 2020 in the light of the possibility of finance ministers overruling a decision. He wrapped up with a cautious outlook to the period from 2021 to 2027 when the EU might still have an ODA budget, but perhaps no longer a development budget.

Michael Obrovsky from the Austrian Foundation for Development Research (OEFSE) offered a critical analysis of the SDG implementation in the EU itself. He provocatively noted that, since their resolution in 2015, the world has seen so many contradictory developments to the SDGs, that it almost comes as a surprise to still find them on the global agenda. He highlighted that, although the SDGs were included in most European strategies and programmes as a cross-cutting issue, they do not seem to have concrete political implications.

Accordingly, the main areas of the SDGs and their social, economic and ecological dimensions were also presented as an integrative part of the Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. Despite this is poverty reduction, as Obrovsky pointed out, only one element of this Global Strategy, although being the main goal of European development policy. In this light is the linkage between development cooperation and the prevention of illegal migration a clear reference to the priority of the Strategy. With this approach to the SDGs, he noted, “the EU rids itself of the transformative requirement of the SDGS: I miss the goal ‘transforming our world’”.

At the same time, Obrovsky said, “multi-stakeholder language is coming from every side and from everywhere”. Efforts by a multi-stakeholder platform on the SDGs established by the European Commission in May 2017 are supposed to feed into one of six reflection papers, to be discussed next June 2019, when the future of Europe will be on the agenda of the European Council.  Obrovsky expressed cautious hope that this platform, convening at the same time as our Directors´ Meeting "will adapt a paper calling again and again for an overarching sustainable European strategy".

At the same time, he noted that we are still confronted with the huge problem that the European Commission is quite late: "My impression having looked at all the papers about SDG implementation, it seems more slow motion than transformation. Many governments are waiting for guiding papers from the commission and are not very far with their national implementation strategies of the SDGs."

He concluded with the hope that the scientific community will raise the pressure on governments to bring the SDGs back on the agenda.