Putting EU development policy back on the map

Everyone involved in development and humanitarian aid policies will benefit from better coordination and stronger EU leadership, writes Tomas Tobé.
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By Tomas Tobé

23 Jun 2020

A year ago I was a newly-elected MEP, and became Chair of the European Parliament’s Development Committee. From the very beginning, my ambition has been to challenge old truths and contribute to a fresh start. Last summer, I invited a group of senior development experts of various nationalities to share their views on the European Union as the world’s biggest donor of development assistance.

They made many observations, but their main conclusion, boiled down to two things: the visibility of EU efforts doesn’t match the huge volumes of aid, and that development policy isn’t fully integrated with the EU’s foreign policy goals. The world has changed from the days when European development policies were clear and concrete. There is no ‘Business as Usual’ approach anymore, especially now that geopolitical rivalry for influence and resources is rising.


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Both China and Russia’s international ambitions come at a time when the US is withdrawing from the world stage, leaving a void that the EU can fill. At the same time, the world is becoming increasingly unstable. Climate shocks such as floods, drought and locust swarms are impacting the most vulnerable. Local conflicts serve as mirrors for global geopolitical competition, with protracted conflicts, proxy wars and insurgent attacks on civilians, to mention a few.

In the near future, we will face unparalleled demographic challenges as the world’s population is growing faster than gross global income. We need to find employment opportunities for the millions of young people that will soon enter the job market. In addition, food security concerns mean we could be looking at a humanitarian disaster on an unprecedented scale in the aftermath of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This could see the return of diseases such as measles and tuberculosis, high levels of unemployment and interrupted education for children.

"Both China and Russia’s international ambitions come at a time when the US is withdrawing from the world stage, leaving a void that the EU can fill"

These unprecedented circumstances call for an unprecedented response. Therefore, I do think a fresh start for the world’s biggest development assistance do- nor is not only needed but absolutely fundamental. It requires a leadership that must recognise, and build on, the complex global trends that are rapidly reshaping the world, and use all the available EU instruments comprehensively and strategically in each partner country. We need to go from beautiful words in policies to concrete action on the ground.

The huge volumes of development cooperation must reinforce and complement the EU’s foreign policy goals and values, such as democracy and human rights. And, we must be more visible. So, how do we do it? I think we can help our partner countries through these unprecedented challenges by showing strong leadership and willingness to use the full range of instruments in the EU toolbox.

All EU actors involved in development cooperation and humanitarian aid must also drastically improve the coordination of their efforts on the ground. As I have said on many occasions, “Everybody wants to coordinate, but nobody wants to be coordinated.” I am convinced that an action-oriented EU response can achieve a demonstrably higher impact on the ground, if efforts are coordinated under an EU flag. So does speaking with a single EU voice.

"I am convinced that an action-oriented EU response can achieve a demonstrably higher impact on the ground, if efforts are coordinated under an EU flag"

Time is short and the needs are extraordinary. Now more than ever, a restart for development aid is vital, so we can act more efficiently and achieve our desired results more effectively. It is in the interest of the European Union as a global actor, to do everything possible to help.

 

Global partnership for effective development cooperation

The EU recognises that they are one player among many dealing with development, and that the benefits that accrue in terms of the impact of aid and the success of the development process in partner countries also depends on how others act. Inappropriate policies by our partner countries and poor practice by other development cooperation providers can to negatively affect aid and the environment in which it is delivered.

The EU therefore strive to ensure that the approaches used by governments, donors and other partners at country level are consistent with the principles and practices of development effectiveness. For this reason, the EU is a member and active supporter of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC).

This multi-stakeholder platform brings together governments, bilateral and multilateral organisations, and representatives from civil society, the private sector, parliaments, local governments and trade unions, to advance the effectiveness of all development actors’ efforts.

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