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Europe’s global challenge: three crucial months

Simon Maxwell Pierre Schori Dirk Messner Paul Engel
9 September 2009

The key decisions made over the next three months will determine Europe's future international role. Both the world and Europe are changing. On the one hand, the script which drives global policy-making is being rewritten to address the financial crisis, climate change, and global security challenges. On the other hand, the institutions of the European Union are - whether or not Ireland's referendum on 2 October 2009 allows the Lisbon treaty to be ratified - on the brink of radical overhaul. By January 2010, the union's institutions, leaders and agenda will have acquired a new aspect. But will the changes that are coming allow Europe to emerge as a progressive force?

Simon Maxwell is senior research associate, Overseas Development Institute, London

Paul Engel is director of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), Maastricht

Pierre Schori is director-general of the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior (Fride), Madrid

Also by Pierre Schori in openDemocracy:

"Europe and the Arab world: divided souls" (30 May 2007)

Dirk Messner is director of the German Development Institute, Bonn

Also by Dirk Messner in openDemocracy:

"A new global order: Bretton Woods II...and San Francisco II" (11 November 2008) - with Simon MaxwelThe financial crisis of 2007-09 has affected the economies and living standards of countries across the world, rich and poor alike. In Europe, the economy has shrunk by 1% and unemployment is up 2%  (and both indices are worse in states such as Lithuania). In the global south, the impact has been even more severe: measured for example in a decline in remittances (down by a quarter in Kenya), a rise in unemployment (one in seven textile workers have lost their jobs in Cambodia, and a quarter of mining workers in  Zambia), and deepening poverty (more than 100 million people have fallen below the poverty-line as a result of the crisis).

The successive meetings of the Group of 20 (G20) - in Washington (14-15 November 2008) and London (2 April 2009) - have been unambiguous that "a global crisis requires a global solution". The forthcoming summit in Pittsburgh (24-25 September 2009) is a vital moment in consolidating this understanding. In all the core areas concerned - financial regulation, trade policy, aid and climate change - the European Union has a major contribution to make.

The coherence principle

The climate-change agenda, for example, is far-reaching. The test of international commitment will come at the United Nations climate-change summit in Copenhagen on 7-18 December 2009. The current intense negotiations have yet to reach agreement on overall targets for carbon-reduction, finance, and technology -transfer. Some observers have argued that a multilateral deal is too ambitious an objective, and that China and the United States - the so-called "G2" - must solve the climate crisis via a bilateral deal. But the EU's commitment to cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions of 20% by 2020 and its European emissions-trading scheme (ETS) places it at the forefront of innovation; it can provide the ideas and resources to broker a deal.

The current sharp security challenges too find Europe in a pivotal position. If the financial crisis leads to long-term recession, then crime and drug problems will spread even more widely and the tensions that can result from migration (albeit there is at present a cyclical decline here) will grow. If climate mitigation fails, states and people will take adaptation into their own hands; the results could be even more destabilising. What is needed is to turn the much discussed new mantra - "whole-of-government" approaches that link (for example) development more clearly to diplomacy and defence, and poverty-reduction to peace and democracy - into coherent practice. The EU has increasing experience and capacity in making these links: for example in former Yugoslavia, and through the Africa Peace Facility (created in 2004 under the European Development Fund). Its role and approach must be applied more consistently in the fragile states where the "bottom billion" are to be found.

Many other agencies need to be involved in meeting the policy tests, by using new frameworks and structures of international cooperation to provide "global public goods". The United Nations and the World Bank, for example, are essential pillars. But Europe has special advantages. It seeks to work, among itself and with others, on the basis of shared values; it offers economic, financial, diplomatic and emerging military options; it offers economies of scale and simplification of negotiations; and it engages with other regions on the basis of mutual accountability (for example through the Cotonou partnership agreement with seventy-nine states of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific).

All these features are likely to be reinforced over the coming months. There is a new European parliament, elected in June 2009; there will by January 2010 be a new leadership team in Brussels. If Lisbon is ratified, there will also be: a new post of president of the European council; a new and more powerful high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who will also be vice-president of the European commission; and a new, jointly-owned diplomatic service, the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Also by Simon Maxwell in openDemocracy:

"Inside the palace of glass" (27 June 2001)

"The global development agenda in 2007" (21 December 2006)

"Rome's food summit: a torch passed" (6 June 2008)

"Development in a downturn" (4 July 2008)

"A new global order: Bretton Woods II...and San Francisco II" (11 November 2008) - with Dirk Messner

"Financing development: from Monterrey to Doha - with Alison Evans" (26 November 2008)

"Global development: Barack Obama's agenda" (20 January 2009)

"The politics of climate change" (15 June 2009) The development agenda

This fresh institutional architecture could exert a progressive impact on global policy-making. To do so, the new arrangements will have to fulfil six conditions.

First, that the links between development and other sectors are made explicit. Some describe this as "joined-up thinking", though in Europe the phrase "policy coherence for development" is preferred. In either case, the heart of the matter is a common-sense overcoming of the "silo" mentality which has bedevilled coherent policy-making - in economic matters, but also in conflict-zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia where diplomats, soldiers and aid workers must find ways of working together.

The evidence of weakness and fragmentation in this respect  is evident in, for example, Europe's immigration policy or its common agricultural policy (CAP). But Europe - which collectively provides nearly 60% of all aid to developing countries - has begun to develop joined-up strategies in relation to aid and development policy. These must be extended, and their delivery monitored. The issue of coherence includes both policy itself and accountability (has the EU, for example, used all its collective resources constructively to bring peace to Somalia? How would we know? Who is accountable?).

Second, that a strong development commissioner is at the heart of policy-making. This is a key condition of taking development seriously. Too often in the past, Europe's sharing of portfolios has seen a scramble for supposedly more attractive jobs in areas like competition or trade, leaving development as a sideshow. MEPs tasked with approving candidates for the new commission should ask whether development has its rightful place in the hierarchy, alongside the new high representative and commission vice-president; and whether the candidate commissioner is of the right calibre.

Here, however, there is larger flaw in the European Union's internal processes: for though EU member-states have insisted on open recruitment procedures for the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and United Nations agencies, they still allow the appointment of EU commissioners to be carried out largely behind closed doors.

Third, that the development commissioner has the staff and resources to do the job. The present arrangements are fractured and unsatisfactory. The current commissioner Karel de Gucht has full control of a planning-and-policy team, but not of the implementing agency Europe Aid (which ultimately reports to the external-affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner). Furthermore, the instruments of European development cooperation - whose value approaches €10 billion ($14.5 bn) a year - are split in geographic coverage and ownership between the two commissioners, and have different forms of parliamentary accountability. A particularly intriguing question is whether the proposed European External Action Service will be designed as a champion of development, and what its relationship will be to EuropeAid.

Fourth, that the European parliament raises its profile on development issues. The development committee has a new chair, the French Green MEP (and anti-corruption campaigner) Eva Joly. Her job will be to rally MEPs behind a more ambitious and comprehensive vision of development, with a strong focus on policy coherence for development.

Fifth, that European development cooperation retains a high degree of accountability to developing countries. The EU-Africa strategy is jointly owned by the two sets of partners; the Cotonou agreement is governed by joint councils of ministers and parliamentary assemblies, and has strong arbitration procedures. Europe must strengthen these and other partnerships. Why, for example, should south Asian countries like India or Pakistan not benefit from the same kind of accountability structures as apply under Cotonou to Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific?

Sixth, that words and action fuse - otherwise none of the above will make a difference. What does this mean in practice? It means:

* development more tightly targeted on the poorest people in the poorest countries, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals

* trade policy reformed to enable countries to grow

* political dialogue strengthened, with democracy, human rights and gender disparities at its heart

* women becoming equal partners, without which there will be no sustainable development, democracy or peace.

The European Union already has a consensus on development policy, signed in December 2005 by heads of government meeting in the European council - and endorsed too by the parliament and the commission. The consensus affirms the central objective of poverty-reduction and of development "as a central goal by itself". Similar principles are reflected in the Lisbon treaty, whose fate rests on Ireland's second referendum. These core principles remain valid, but the consensus needs to be updated, to reflect the changing policy agenda and the greater ambitions it needs to rise to.

It is easy to imagine a Europe enmeshed in its own problems; treating the developing world either as a threat or as a mere recipient of its charity; and relegating development to a minor role as the handmaiden of foreign policy. There is an opportunity in the coming three months - at the United Nations, at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, at the climate-change conference in Copenhagen, and at the heart of Europe itself - to craft a different approach. It is time for Europe to take it.

Among openDemocracy's articles on the "great recession" and development policy:

Jonathon Porritt, "' As if the world matters': reconciling sustainable development and capitalism (30 November 2005)

Ehsan Masood, " The aid business: phantoms and realities" (18 July 2006)

Michael Hopkins, " Sustainable development: from word to policy" (11 April 2007)

John Elkington, " Brundtland and sustainability: history's balance-sheet" (11 April 2007)

Stephen Browne, " G8 aid: beyond the target trap" (6 June 2007)

Paul Collier, " The aid evasion: raising the ‘bottom billion'" (11 June 2007)

Andrew Shepherd, " The anti-poverty relay: a progress report" (24 September 2008)

Paul Rogers, "A crisis-opportunity moment" (23 October 2008)

Anita Sharma, "The core crisis: standing with the poor" (30 October 2008)

Andre Wilkens, " The global financial crisis: opportunities for change" (10 November 2008)

Paul Rogers, "A world in the balance" (13 November 2008)

Krzysztof Rybinski, "A new world order" (4 December 2008)

Paul Rogers, "A world on the edge" (29 January 2009)

Katinka Barysch, "The real G20 agenda: from technics to politics" (16 March 2009)

Sue Branford, "The G20's missing voice" (25 March 2009)

David Hayes, "The G20 and the post-crisis world" (2 April 2009)

Göran Therborn, "The killing-fields of inequality" (6 April 2009)

Patrice de Beer, "Esther Duflo: the new French intellectual" (9 April 2009)

Marta Foresti & Leni Wild, "The G8 after L'Aquila: on shaky ground" (14 July 2009)

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