The European Union’s international development policy is in the throes of change. In February, Andris Piebalgs, as the new European commissioner for development, took charge of the €12 billion budget the European Commission spends on development aid. In the autumn, he will present his plans for a revision of the EU’s policy framework for aid, the European Consensus for Development. The revision will take account of needs and concerns that have emerged, or intensified, since the consensus was adopted in 2005 by member states.
The needs are huge. The food crisis of 2007-08 has pushed more than 100 million people back into poverty, according to World Bank figures. Climate change is already having a major effect on the world’s poorest countries. The global economic downturn has put new strains on trade, but also on aid. And in September, a United Nations summit in New York will cast a spotlight on just how badly the world is failing to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals for 2015, particularly on child mortality and maternal mortality.
The EU will be under pressure both to meet its promises and to improve its aid. The European Commission insists that commitments on both the quality of aid and the volume of aid have to be met. But the world’s developed countries, including most EU member states, have fallen behind on their commitment to the UN to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on development assistance by 2015: they are certain to fail to meet an interim goal of 0.56% of GNI by this year.
At a time when member states are rushing out austerity budgets, calls are growing for cuts to development aid. In the Netherlands, the centre-right VVD, which won the most seats in the general election in June, wants to slash the Dutch aid budget by half – an argument it supports by pointing out that the Netherlands gives more than most of its fellow EU members.
There is a risk that member states may use effectiveness arguments in opposing increased aid flows – asking development programmes to do more with the same, or to do the same with less, rather than to do much more with more.
These changes and pressures make the EU’s changing institutional context both a risk and an opportunity. Toward the end of the year, Piebalgs will lose at least one-third of the staff in the Commission’s directorate-general for development – those working on country desks – to the new European External Action Service.
Within the institutions there is uncertainty, even a sense of paralysis in some quarters.
Defining and implementing the division of labour between Piebalgs and Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and between the Commission’s development services and the EEAS, will absorb much energy in the coming months – just as Piebalgs begins his consultations on an updated European Consensus for Development.
Beyond the transition phase, which began in December when the Lisbon treaty took effect, the new structures hold out the promise of a more coherent EU development policy. A summit of member states’ leaders in September is to be devoted to the EU’s relations with the wider world – an obvious place for a serious debate on the strategic priorities of the Union’s development aid.
What they decide will matter greatly: the EU and its member states fund aid projects in more than 120 countries across the globe, and provide more than half of the world’s total development aid.
This special report explores how the EU’s institutions are adjusting to the Lisbon treaty and the need for greater effectiveness and accountability, and sets out the scale and nature of some of the principal challenges that policymakers will need to reflect in their revised policy framework for development aid.
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