Europe against poverty
First of all, it must be acknowledged that the decision to present for public consultation an Issues Paper in view of a "repositioning" of the European development policy, is a welcome move, and Commissioner Michel should be commended for it.
We strongly believe, in line with the EU Constitution, that the primary objective of the EU development policy should remain that of eradicating poverty.
Therefore, propositions such as are found in the paper's introduction are just unfortunate:
"the question is whether [combating world poverty] should still be the number-one goal four years on. The answer ‘yes' is not as obvious as it may first seem, given the new priorities that have arisen"
Especially when coupled with other, disconcerting phrases in the paper's conclusions:
"points from the 2000 Declaration [the joint Council and Commission Declaration on development policy of November 2000] need to be reiterated for reasons of credibility and relevance. A long-term policy should not be subjected to radical changes every five years".
"A repositioning is needed to ensure the very survival of development cooperation in a turbulent context where new priorities, particularly the issue of security, are attracting the attention of the public and the political decision-makers".
"Avoiding interactions with other policies in order to ensure the autonomy of development" is labelled as a "defensive approach". Indeed, the objective of eradicating poverty "should be understood in a multidimensional sense".
These considerations are clearly steering the proposed substantial debate in one direction: security, trade, migrations, are all issues that need to be tackled using also tools that until now were enjoying, to some degree, some sort of policy autonomy. The paper draws a scenario that somehow suggests the progressive uprooting of an ‘altruistic' development policy built on principles that perhaps, originally, could be made acceptable to an institutional setting such as the EC mostly thanks to the prevailing ideological confrontation, but that with time had in fact managed to develop into a doctrine (but also in a praxis) of its own, from Willy Brandt to Amartya Sen, through the vast UN-sponsored gatherings of the past thirty years and the intellectual production that accompanied them.
An appropriate example of what we mean is found in a study published by the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University in November 2004: ‘Aid distribution and the MDGs', by Bob Baulch (http://www.chronicpoverty.org/pdfs/48%20Bob%20Baulch.pdf):
"With just over a decade left until 2015, most donors are waking up to the fact that substantially more aid - along with appropriate policies and commitment in the developing countries - will be required to achieve the MDGs. It is essential that the additional aid is targeted to the countries which need it most and which can use it most effectively. Unfortunately, as this paper demonstrates, some donors are not distributing their aid in a way that is consistent with the MDGs. There are, however, major contrasts between the progressivity and regressivity of different donors' aid programmes whatever the MDG indicator chosen. The USA and the European Commission spend the majority of their aid budgets in middle-income countries, which have already met or are "on track" to meet the MDGs."
The Commission issues paper, conversely, affirms that:
"a considerable number of middle-income countries are strategic players with an important role in global political, security and trade issues, [they] are confronted with striking inequalities and weak governance, which threaten the sustainability of their own development process. Consequently, the EU's policies, including its development policy, have to take account of this wider strategic importance of many middle income countries in order to fully reflect the EU's interest".
We are worried by such propositions, even when carefully framed within formal statements of faith in the Millennium Development Goals and commitment to supporting Least Developed Countries. Just a few days ago the EC and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries have found an agreement on the first five-year revision of the Cotonou Agreement -the legal basis for the provision of EC aid to most of the poorest countries on Earth-. The EC has however refused to provide any confirmation of the degree of financial commitment for the second five-year period. There was just a generic pledge for a resource envelope not inferior to that of the previous period, adjusted for inflation, growth and enlargement. This is far from enough, given the dimensions of the funding gap to attain the millennium development goals, and the current level of the EU official development assistance (0.42 % of GDP by 2006, at best). In these very days, commissioner Louis Michel is touring the EU capitals trying to convince Member States to raise their pledges to development aid to 0.51% of GDP, but we are still far below the 0.7 % of GDP pledged for a very long time by the OECD members.
Moreover, the recent European Commission proposal for the financial perspective 2006-2013 proposes an increase of the budget for EU external relations from 0.11% to 0.18% of the entire EU GNP. These two European Commission moves, considered together, tend to confirm the shift of resources away from the poorest countries, and the hard financial implications, in terms of resources allocations, of the policy statements quoted above.
Issue 1 : The objectives of the European Community/Union development policy
The question emerges also because of the new responsibilities the EU institutions will derive from the EU Constitution in terms of a joint foreign policy. In that perspective, it does indeed make sense to think about the coherence of policies, but this is hardly a new concern: trade for instance is already -and has been for a long time-a matter of European Community exclusive competence. This has not prevented serious policy coherence problems; to mention but one, the free trade areas promised light-heartedly by former commissioner Leon Brittan in the nineties, largely incompatible with the Common Agriculture Policy of support to European farmers.
It is definitely true that the EU Constitution opens important opportunities for the EU to play a more relevant role ‘as a global partner and a global player'. But if the coherence and the "synergies" between the various policies are important, the first issue to consider is of substance: the definition of a consensus over the content of a truly European development policy.
The issue paper rightly mentions the most important: Millennium development goals, peace security and disarmament, environment, human rights, democracy and good governance, protection of vulnerable groups, Africa's specific problems and strengthening the UN system. This is an agenda rooted in the EU Constitution and should indeed be the basis for the definition of a EU development policy.
Issue 2 : Development and security
This is a very ambiguous field for development policy. While the paper makes important statements about the need to avoid the "diversion of development resources for other, legitimate, security type concerns", and the need to examine "carefully" those specific cases where "peace and security expenditures are legitimate for development", "especially in Africa", there are also some concerns.
Security versus stability is one: stability is generally considered the objective of a foreign policy that -at EU level- includes concepts of neighbourhood, pre-accession etc.
The acceptable relative cost of stability varies remarkably and induces inequality of treatment because it is linked to our security, trade and other interests.
There should instead be a clearer reference in the paper to stability as a long term concept rooted in poverty eradication, democracy, good governance and respect of human rights. This is the answer to the mentioned issue of "prevention of state fragility". How often, especially in Africa or Central America, state fragility has been the outcome of previous short sighted visions on ‘stability' by some powers?
Issue 3 : Trade and Development
The paper subscribes without reserves to a neoliberal perspective on trade, ie taking all assumptions for granted: "the need to ensure that developing countries have the appropriate domestic policies and capacity in place". This is manifestly short-sighted in a world in which globalisation runs alongside localisation and often fragmentation. What about social institutions, cultures ?
How can the pressure to focus on comparative advantage be reconciled with food security policies, especially in Africa ?
The scope of the social and institutional reforms necessary "to fully reap the benefits of increased openness" are underestimated, especially if the objective should also be to distribute equitably the "potentially large gains".
The problems that are emerging in attempting to provide a developmental dimension to the WTO agenda are proving huge.
Not least because of the inhomogeneity and incoherence of many developing countries, which include potential large exporters well capable of mastering the complexities of trade negotiations, and poorer countries that are unable of developing a firm position, pulled between diverging interests, one day advocating free trade, the other day complaining for preference erosion, ie the loss of the privileged positions obtained in less globalised times.
It must also be noted that some global opinion makers broadly counted amongst the critics of ‘globalisation', such as some large international NGOs in Europe, also contribute to the confusion attacking agricultural protectionism of the EU thus aiming at destroying food self sufficiency both in Europe and in those developing countries still enjoying it.
The role of the EU should be, first of all, inspired by a non-ideological approach to trade.
An approach that accepts that trade is not ‘natural'. An approach that is fully considered by Pascal Lamy, the former commissioner for trade in the Prodi Commission, when he talked recently of the need to consider that "market-opening does not jeopardise legitimate collective choices", and the respect of the "sovereign duty to safeguard such ‘collective preferences' as markers of identity" (see: http://trade-info.cec.eu.int/doclib/docs/2004/september/tradoc_118929.pdf ).
These concerns are manifestly not those of commissioner Michel when the paper euphemistically calls "trade-induced adjustment challenges" the unpredictable and potentially catastrophic loss of revenue from eroded import duties and growing balance of payment imbalances from decreased exports due to preference erosion. The only realistic alternative in terms of revenue is increased reliance on indirect taxation, which will make even harder any attempt of achieving equity in liberalisation.
Another ideological issue mentioned in the paper is that of "establish transparent and predictable regulatory legal and institutional frameworks", "essential to creating a stable and attractive environment for (...) trade and investment". Also called ‘locking-in' of reforms, it is in fact a blatant declaration that democracy is undistinguishable from liberalised market economy. It is ideological because it has fixed recipes that do not take into account national specificities, submitting in practice the functioning of the economy to an external system of rules, equal for all, but developed with no participation of the poorest countries as stakeholders. Using Pascal Lamy's conceptualisation, the societal choices, the ‘collective preferences' of poor countries' peoples, often ignored by less than democratic regimes, are further disregarded by such ruthless expansion of unrestrained market liberalisation.
Apart from these political consideration, technically these ‘frameworks' shift the liability for implementation problems and capacity shortcomings on the poor countries' governments. As the stakes get higher, this has an effect on the policy orientations, which will tend to prioritise the minimisation of such potential liabilities, and thus implement measures that will favour those benefiting from such legal frameworks. Example: a one-stop investment authority grants to a multinational permission to set up a large sugar factory, along with land for sugar cane plantation. The local authority engages in dialogue with customary tenants on the terms of their eviction. Negotiations take longer than expected, the firms sues government and government sends troops to evict people in order to avoid paying compensation.
The issue of non-tariff barriers is even more delicate than the polemics on the role of agricultural subsidies. It is obvious that developing countries will not be compliant in many cases and for still a very long time with the standards expected within the EU, where consumers are getting ever more attentive to quality and safety (clearly, another collective preference). And this is specifically the case of the poorest countries. Generic promises that these issues "should be addressed" are little short of hypocrites.
Issue 4 : Migration and development
The issue papers is very disappointing on this highly sensitive topic: migration is one of the most visible aspects of globalisation, especially in some EU member states such as Italy.
The paper starts outlining the double nature of threat and opportunity of migration.
This is true, and although the situations behind migration forces are deeply different from one another, one can accept this kind of generalisation.
However, it is less clear what this has to do with a development policy, until one reads worrying statements such as "consider how migration concerns can be integrated into the development agenda, including EU concerns in relation to illegal migration to the EU".
Worse, the possibility to "integrate the migration and development agenda (...) into the national and regional strategy papers" should be "done while maintaining a clear distinction between aid for development purposes and aid for other EU objectives". This is a very problematic statement as definition of strategy papers is done following strict guidelines, are focused on priorities and are generally succinct documents. It is suggested implicitly to put migration -and the concerns on illegal migration- at the very centre of the development policy towards some of the developing countries (instead of less politically heavy approaches that could be adopted through the use of horizontal, global programmes, such as the current Aeneas programme, which should however be funded from EU budgets other than development).
The paper proposes then to promote "well-ordered international labour migration, including for low skilled workers, through the enhancement of GATS mode 4".
First of all, it is quite extraordinary that migration, to be considered ‘well-ordered', had to be temporary (this is what mode 4 of the GATS -one of the WTO treaties- is about). It is then incredible that measures so blatantly undermining the idea of citizenship and universality of rights find place in official EU documents at the same time when the European Parliament is busy burying the ‘Bolkenstein directive' (from the name of the former neoliberal commissioner for internal market in the Prodi commission). Compared to the proposal of this issue paper, the Bolkenstein directive was just an humble attempt to extend to services within the EU the reciprocity rules already in place for goods. Just as if a chocolate is good for the British should be just as good for the Spanish, it was argued that a regulated profession or trade would be valid and could be practiced under home regulations everywhere within the EU. This has raised such fury that the project will be largely shelved (see the FIOM-CGIL site on the Bolkenstein directive: http://www.fiom.cgil.it/uff_inter/europa/bolkestein/appello.htm ).
In such context, the Issue Paper proposes candidly, as part of the EU development policy, to ‘promote' measures that would have far heavier impact than the Bolkenstein directive !
On a different note, the paper contains positive indications on two important issues: brain drain and asylum.
The case of Ghana and other African states has been recently publicised on the media: too many of their doctors and nurses leave their countries for greener pastures in Europe (especially the UK), after their impoverished countries have spent scarce resources for their training, leaving them in severe shortage of essential manpower (http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/scuk/jsp/resources/details.jsp?id=2611&group=resources§ion=news&subsection=details ).
The paper recognises the problem and hopes to ‘encourage EU Member States to refrain from harmful recruitment', although the European Commission should start setting the good example.
It should forbid, for instance, European NGO obtaining grants from the EU from recruiting key civil servants in the poor countries to cover managerial positions, and thus effectively de-structure governance capacity.
In recent months, the question of ‘off-loading' the burden of asylum seekers to developing countries was on the European media, with talks on creation of camps or similar measures where refugees seeking asylum in the EU would have been kept while their destiny was being decided.
In reality, the immense majority of refugees in the world go to developing countries, and latest data available shows that the flow of refugees into Europe is decreasing.
The paper rightly affirms that the EU should be "rejecting proposals to give these developing countries the responsibility for asylum claims of people seeking refuge in the EU".
Issue 5 : Environment
The considerations developed under this isse are not especially controversial, although one may note the tendency to overlook the responsibilities of the developed world. Eg "it is essential to address the activities of wealthier sections of society since they are the source of most environmental damage". The reference, certainly, is to the societies of poor countries. Nevertheless, it sounds rather odd that the environmental damage caused by developed countries in developing countries is not mentioned, such as deforestation for logging.
The paper makes another questionable statement on global environmental issues that "are often not seen as an immediate priority for developing countries". Given the USA position on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, this is a rather ironical statement. Indeed, one may recall the controversies on GMOs in some Southern African states during the draught of late 2002, when the USA were stunned to see their food aid (surpluses of their grain production not certified as GMO-free) rejected or required to be milled before importation.
The truth is that developing countries do show concern on these global issues, but from their own specific perspective. For instance, energy is one fundamental concern for most developing countries, and providing meaningful responses to energy concerns would very significantly contribute to addressing deforestation and cascading issues.
Also, some countries did enact legislation aimed at curbing uncontrolled deforestation. Unfortunately, these initiatives are sometimes partial or incomplete: where logging is regulated, it may well be the case that deforestation for livestock or commercial agriculture is not.
Another question that should have been outlined is related to the EU-supported lending facilities to enterprises of both public and private sector. The resources of the EU, channelled through the European Investment Bank or other institutions, must not, under any circumstances, be used for ‘dirty' development, from businesses destroying the mangrove forests (we remember the tsunami...) to asbestos production, to mining generating lead waste, and many other instances.
Also, there should be resources available, perhaps under regional programmes, aimed specifically at building capacity in developing countries to fully own and utilise the existing multilateral agreements on environmental issues.
Issue 6 : an EU policy or a 25 + 1 policy ?
This issue has in fact less to do with development, than about the institutional balance of power within the EU, as it will emerge after the ratification of the EU Constitution in a couple of years from now. The paper is concerned about a ‘division of labour' among EU members, the 'synergies' with other external activities, ‘harmonisation (...) based on the comparative advantage of individual Member States in certain regions, countries and/or sectors': an elegant way of saying that UK, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands could have the upper hand in their former colonies, on behalf, and with the resources, of the EU.
These ambiguous statements are worrying and may hide an actually less focused development agenda than what is presented in this paper, with a much larger -and unjustified- role for national concerns and interests. Unjustified because development, unlike foreign policy, is not a new game in the EU institutional setting.
Indeed, bringing the EU development policy under member states tutorship would mark a major step backwards in the historic process of European integration.
It is an institutional problem: the foreseen new position of EU Foreign Minister, with a double allegiance to both the European Commission and the European Council (made up of Member States' ministers) as well as an unclear job description, risks to make EU development policy much more controlled by intergovernmental processes (the continuous bargaining of interests and reciprocal concessions that leads nowhere).
The real question here is: how sincerely is commissioner Michel convinced that he has to act in defence of the EU Constitution, which does not formally touch the European Commission's prerogatives in matters of development ? The ambiguities that he introduces in this paper and that are described above strongly suggest that he is still thinking and acting rather as the Belgian minister of foreign affairs.
Compared to this paper, there is much more clarity in the note that the President of the European Commission Barroso and the Secretary-General of the European Council Solana have prepared in these very days containing the first proposals on the new European diplomatic service that will be created under provision of the new EU Constitution. In this joint note, they affirm that development issues will be under exclusive European Commission competence, and not at the mercy of the forthcoming EU diplomacy.
Under this issue, however, the paper also presents some positive and interesting ideas aimed at more efficient implementation of EU aid. It is very important to "focus on country-based and country-led approaches". In these days of fashionable ‘global' initiatives: on HIV/AIDS, water, energy, education, (and this paper later devotes an Issue to them) it is necessary indeed to reaffirm the importance of looking at the specific needs of the beneficiaries, and reject imposition of the necessarily standardised vertical programmes, which also have serious de-structuring effects on the local fragile public services systems of poor countries.
It would also be important to move towards "joint multi-annual programming", and a "common framework for implementation procedures". This is a particularly acute problem, with aid implemented in the average beneficiary country through a dozen different donors' administrative rules and procedures. One suggestion would be to proceed, by analogy with the EU common market integration process, through reciprocal acceptance of other EU donors' procedures and thus much easier joint programme funding.
Finally it is high time that the issue of a true EU representation at the international institutions is raised and backed with political commitment, especially at the International Monetary Fund and at the World Bank. The presence of a EU seat at the UN system agencies is also a priority, to counter the temptation for some EU member states to pursue policies of narrow national interest.
Issue 7 : Partners: reinforced ownership and broader participation
Ownership, ie the capacity of the beneficiary country to tell the donors clearly what it wants and how, is a buzzword in development. Unfortunately donors are rarely really committed to ownership. Disruption caused by large vertical initiatives has been mentioned above. Unfortunately these initiatives tend to raise the attention of the European media (it is questionable whether they also raise consistently the attention of the European citizens) much more than regular humble work done in close partnership with the beneficiaries. When media talk of poor countries, they like portraying heroes fighting on one front rather than professionals at work on a broad range of interrelated issues.
Ownership is also undermined by overlapping programming exercises requested along different modalities by different donors. Much more should be done at EU level to improve this. An harmonisation at both programming and implementation should be firmly guided from donors' headquarters in order to avoid that it translates in little more than fragile, locally built practical arrangement often based on personal liaisons.
Unfortunately the European Commission's legal and administrative services, even within the Development departments, are guided by middle management almost completely ignorant of the challenges and specificities of development and, as a consequence, more often than not a blind eye is turned to these questions.
The paper confirms once again, in discussing this issue, the unilateral appreciation of weaknesses. "Difficult partnerships" seem to be routine situations that the European Commission knows how to tackle: "stepping up political dialogue", "emergency exit strategy", "involving (...) development partners". The reality is that the European Commission has considerable difficulties in acknowledging the existence of problems of partnership.
Its technocratic approach is process-led and not well suited to face ‘political' questions. The institutional setup for this kind of decision making is very heavy. The outcome often ambiguous, procrastinating real decisions, especially in chronic situations.
This needs to be improved, but not in the sense of giving all powers to the future Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rather, through a better working of the institutional triangle Parliament, Council, Commission.
This is especially important as more emphasis is given to ‘agents for change' in beneficiary countries as well as ‘action for development' in the EU. Through a better involvement of the European Parliament it would be possible to broaden this action to include issues such as peace, dialogue for multicultural societies etc.
Issue 8: Priority sectors and cross-cutting themes.
This issue is very much linked to internal troubles the European Commission experienced in justifying to Member States its broad engagement across too many sectors.
Has the ‘concentration' process being really successful? Definitely, not. Most especially, there has been a failure to build expertise and competence behind the supposed areas of concentration.
The personnel reform led by Neil Kinnock, Commissioner for administration in the Prodi Commission, has instead exacerbated a system that provides career rewards only through management positions. Senior sectoral experts quit their thematic posts to became middle managers in totally different areas. It is a deliberate wastage of the most scarce resource: expertise. As a comparison, the organisation in DFID, the British development administration, includes positions of ‘Heads of Professions', to reward senior experts and keeping them focused on their areas of competence. If the European Commission fails to retain in place highly specialised competences, any proclaim to concentration, division of labour among EU actors etc, will be little more than empty rhetoric, or worse, the premises for giving up to better staffed Member States administrations the real management of European Commission resources.
Issue 9: A common thematic framework for the EU and Member States development policies.
This issue lists six broad themes in an attempt to propose a common denominator for a common EU development policy.
The questions raised are very broadly defined. Overall, there is a repetition of themes already tackled earlier in the paper.
However, they are rhetorically introduced and closed with statements reaffirming that the ‘European social model' has something to teach to ‘those that may lose from globalisation'.
If ever the ‘European social model' ever meant anything at all, it is definitely not in this paper, inspired -as we have seen- by neoliberal theories on trade and economic reform, that one may find trace of it.
A clear example is readily found in theme 1 (human resources and citizens' rights), where the logical order of priorities is quite clear: the freedom ‘to pursue their endeavours in a context that is conducive to self realisation and entrepreneurship (...) requires (...) the principles of good governance and democratic accountability' : Democracy is a requirement of the free market.
Only later comes ‘ability to leave in freedom, peace and safety'.
Theme 2 (Governance for development and security) touches politically sensitive areas like conditions for assessing stability in a country, and suspension of cooperation for violations of human rights, corruption, etc. The proposal here is to develop ‘targets and benchmarks' but in reality the challenge here is to reconcile the current situation of a European Commission politically dull, but relatively independent and freer from political considerations and entrenched interests, and the risky situation after ratification of the EU Constitution, where the boundaries risk to get blurred within the new EU diplomatic service.
Theme 4 (Economic growth), is a mix of pious intentions -from social safety nets, core labour standards, corporate social responsibility (!)- and more crude realities: ‘tailored trade-related assistance (...) to adapt to and integrate into the international trade system' .
Theme 5 is oddly titled ‘Land use planning', but it actually spans over important issues such as decentralisation. The issue of development of localities is potentially very interesting given the wide experience of the European Commission in community-led microprojects programmes in many poor countries (not mentioned -on purpose- as an area of ‘comparative advantage' in complementarity with other EU actors, because of the suicidal narrow-mindedness of legal/administrative middle management at the European Commission, which has de facto abolished them).
However one problematic dimension completely missed in the paper is that of uneven development and regional divide (yet quite well present in intra-EU debates on regional development...). This should be fully recognised as a benchmark for good governance and stability.
Theme 6 advertises the ‘European social model'. In proposing to apply such ‘model' to developing countries, the paper only succeeds in paying lip service to a concept hazy to most, and in conveying a double standard message that we protect our own from the hazards of globalisation, but we bluntly preach to others to bear the rigour of it.
Issue 10 : Differentiation
This part of the paper reformulates the same ambiguous arguments in favour of support to Middle income countries that we have already presented in the introductory remarks (and which is in reality a bias against the poorest, as shown by the IDS study quoted).
The question remains on why does this paper insinuate scepticism in the mind of the thoughtful reader with such candid references to ‘EU's interests' , within a discourse on the importance of a true development policy.
Perhaps the only transparent way out is to redefine benchmarks and targets: the EU development policy should set aside a percentage of EU GDP specifically for poverty reduction in poor countries, identified strictly on the basis of cost-effectiveness in achieving MDGs. This should imply that even if ‘a large share of the world's poor live in Middle income countries', but that country is on track towards achieving MDGs, it should not benefit from this ‘poverty reduction budget'.
Perhaps ironically, the setting aside of such ‘poverty reduction budgets' is also a conditionality that the World Bank, with the support of the EU, imposes on many poor countries' own government budgets for accessing debt relief. Also, for the sake of transparency, ODA statistics should not capture ‘aid' to candidate and neighbouring countries.
Issue 11 : Transition situations: Linking relief and development aid
The paper outlines the interesting ‘contiguum' principle, where phasing out of humanitarian aid and phasing in of rehabilitation and development may overlap significantly.
‘Linking Relief Rehabilitation and Development' is a good principle, but the complexities of reality leave important questions open.
As mentioned above, developing countries experience uneven development and regional divide just like regions in Europe do. This is exacerbated by chronic crisis requiring relief, coexisting with localities where development interventions are required.
The European Commission analytical tools are inadequate to address such situations (that are quite common, anyway: Sudan, Ivory Coast, Uganda...). They cause imbalances due to lack of synchronisation between the two bureaucracies in charge of development (EuropeAid) and humanitarian aid (ECHO), and also to excessive reticence in using the legal instruments for opening consultations with developing countries, when political dialogue fails to address outstanding questions.
Why does the European Commission seem incapable of drawing lessons from such situations, which blatantly contradict commitment towards "prevention of state fragility"?
There is urgent need of better use of political dialogue tools and better lucidity in assessing stability in the sense described under issue 2: a long term concept rooted in poverty eradication, democracy, good governance and respect of human rights.
Issue 12 : Allocation of financial resources
This part of the paper is largely devoted to profession of commitment towards least development countries, almost appearing as to balance statements going in the opposite direction under Issue 10.
It is also affirmed that ‘additional assistance [to candidate and neighbouring countries] has not been given at the expense of developing countries'. While this is true looking at absolute figures, it is not true in terms of proportion of available resources. As indicated above, in the preliminary considerations:
-it is proposed that resources for EU external relations will significantly increase in the period 2006-2013
-however, resources for development will increase less dramatically, and will remain well below the commitment on 0.7% of GDP
-finally resources for the group of the 77 African-Caribbean-Pacific countries, where almost all least developed countries are found, will remain the same, simply adjusted for growth, inflation and EU enlargement.
Amongst the points for discussion there is the issue of ‘initiatives for new types of international financial contribution'. This should be firmly on the EU agenda and instead it appears to be the semi-monopoly of this or that European politician. Less spectacular and more substantial work aiming at gathering consensus on feasible options should be pursued under the impulsion of the European Commission.
Another issue discussed here is that of rewarding performance, as well as addressing needs. This is very sensitive and very difficult to implement, there being little consensus on the concept of ‘good performance'. Narrow-minded exclusive consideration for macroeconomic stability and market liberalisation would lead to macroscopic aberrations (partly actually ongoing).
But the debate is worth pursuing, because developing broader benchmarks and indicators adjusted to capacity constrained settings would increase capacity to address the lack of ‘lucidity' mentioned above, under Issue 11. Peace and relative social harmony should be valued as positive benchmarks, while corruption, extravagant expenditure by elites, tribalistic distribution of power, military expenditures should be negative benchmarks. Indicators of commitment to equity in delivery of social services and in addressing extreme poverty through forms of social welfare should also enter in the picture.
The European Commission should work on framework guidelines including these type considerations in view of the next round of five-years Country Strategies Papers programming support to each beneficiary country.
Issue 13: Global initiatives
It is questionable that Global initiatives are ‘powerful instruments', attracting ‘attention and win over the public more easily'. The paper itself admits that ‘evidence is not conclusive' on the capability of ‘mobilising additional financial resources'.
This has been the bitter experience of Italy, whose government withdrew last year pledges to the Global Fund for HIV Tuberculosis and Malaria worth 100 million euros, showing that promises of tax cuts ‘win over the public' much more easily than solidarity with the sick and poor of the world.
On the basis of past similar experiences, it is also surprising reading that ‘conventional aid channels are administratively inefficient slow and cumbersome'. In fact the whole area of aid delivery has almost completed a profound reform of implementation modalities over the past six to seven years (see issue 14 below), such that now the global initiatives are the ones rather suffering from such constraints (also because they are multilateral instruments often heavily influenced by more tightly administered American funding mechanisms).
But the major objection to these global mechanism is their ‘verticality', that imposes in the beneficiary countries -already overstretched with capacity and more general lack of human resources- parallel planning, management, administration and monitoring mechanisms.
The result may be undermining sustainability of national plans, destructuring of national systems, and wastage of resources (when relevant financial commitments prove hard to be absorbed, the agenda of decision-makers at local level will be progressively dominated by concerns for quick spending).
Issue 14 : Aid modalities
It has become very common to hear complaints about the burden of reporting and controls that plague both the donors agencies and the beneficiary countries. While this is certainly true, there is no mention of constraints that have a more significant impact on the beneficiary countries: first of all, the absence of predictability of aid. In spite of impressive theoretical paraphernalia deployed to propel the budget support modality of aid disbursement, the Commission in the last few years has actually managed to decrease medium-term predictability and increase conditionality; what is worse, it is often an unwished for conditionality caused by procedural, administrative or legal hiccups caused in turn by both the European Commission bureaucracy as well as the beneficiary country inefficiencies.
There are undeniable strong points in budget support. The problem is whether the European Commission has a thoroughly clean conscience in advocating it. The European Commission is plagued by heavy bureaucracy and Kafkian rules and procedures. Over six years of continuous restructuring, reorganisations and fresh regulations have produced a situation where legal loopholes make actually simpler and faster to disburse large sums through budget support than, for instance, through traditional development projects.
The doubt may legitimately arise observing that the European tax payer is actually delivering aid to countries such as Burundi and Congo through their government budgets, but is prevented by bureaucratic obstacles from offering support to the poor brutalised communities in the same countries (even if this issue mentions that microprojects are one of the possible modalities of aid delivery, it is in fact not true in practice).
Almost all the innovations in aid delivery that occurred in the past years, and that were mentioned under issue 13 above, often developed and experimented by EU Member States bilateral development aid, are banned under European Commission regulations.
The only way for the Commission not to appear anachronistic is to leap forward to budget support!
The pervasive power of the legal/administrative bureaucracy can be noted even in the formulation of this issue:
There is an ridiculously abstract approach, with a rigid classification of countries by eligibility to the various EC instruments, instead of starting the other way round from the beneficiary country, its needs and capacities. There is no reference to the need to elaborate a instrument-mix appropriate to its specific situation and addressing inevitably incoherent and complex situations.
Finally, twinning seems a tool meant for middle income countries, aiming at promoting deeper ties within external policy concerns, and should simply disappear from a development policy paper. Secondment of EU member states' civil servants to beneficiary countries administrations under twinning arrangements in order to create capacity and systems does not seem a good idea for poor countries. The use of professionals is not a matter of elitism but of the concrete needs and specific situations presented by poor countries in radically different settings.
This analysis of the European Commission issue paper open for consultation is a radical analysis in some ways and it is not expected that Commissioner Michel would change his mind on fundamental choices, however contradictory they are with other policies fostered by the European Union.
However, civil society has to show that it does not react only to slogans and easily identified ‘enemies'.
This analysis does propose an alternative way forward: on principles, but also on many practical issues, offering a fresh look to entrenched interests that may seem, from an insider's point of view, insurmountable.
They are not.