European think-tanks call for new beginning in EU development policy | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 23.02.2010
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European think-tanks call for new beginning in EU development policy

Leading European think-tanks propose new approaches in development policy to cope with future challenges. The EU should take on more prominent role in the area, argue this week's commenators Sven Grimm and Simon Maxwell.

Simon Maxwell from the Oversees Development Institute, London

Simon Maxwell is an economist with ODI, London

While the new EU Commission in the process of constitution, the European Think-Tanks Group has presented a memorandum entitled "New Challenges, New Beginnings – Next Steps in European Development Cooperation". The group comprises the think tanks DIE (Germany), ODI (UK), FRIDE (Spain), and the European Centre for Development Policy Management ECDPM.

The memorandum analyses both current European policy and emerging challenges in climate change, migration, trade policy as well as the coherence of and division of labor in development policy.

EU should become more prominent actor in development field

Based on this analysis, the Think-Tanks Group has formulated a number of recommendations for national and European decision-makers. Europe has still not succeeded in carving out a place for itself as a player in the world of the 'Big Two' - the US and China.

Protesters with poster showing US president Barack Obama

Activists were disappointed with the lack of results at the Copenhagen climate talks

This became evident not least at the failed climate negotiations in Copenhagen, where, when it came to the pivotal rounds of the talks, the US and China constituted more or less a group of their own.

If we viewed the European Union's external relations as a chorus, what we would see is a group of inveterate soloists seeking to prepare a new piece without a conductor. In adopting the Treaty of Lisbon the EU might be said to have struggled though one page of the score. This deserves praise.

But at a point of time where the dilapidated state of the global concert hall is becoming only all too evident, the real concern is: At present the substance and emphases of world politics are shifting towards the Pacific.

Europe depends on international decisions

While Europe is a globally networked region, it does have a marked Atlantic orientation. Peace and prosperity in Europe are dependent in crucial ways on whether or not the decisions taken in international bodies are of a long-term nature. One consequence of this is that the distinction between domestic and foreign policy is growing increasingly blurred.

There is no Isle of the Blessed in a global financial and economic crisis, neither in Europe nor in Africa nor anywhere else. The global climate is changing, and our way of life is going to have to change. This goes not only for the US or China, the new global polluter, but also for Europe, and especially for it – as well as for Africa, which has contributed as good as nothing to climate change. In short: We have an enlightened self-interest in global development.

EU should offer global leadership

The tenor of the EU memorandum's authors: If Europe is to continue to be taken seriously as a global actor on its own merits, both European and national leaders need to address five central points:

EU Flag

The Eu should take on a more a more prominent role in development policy

First, development policy needs to be seen as an element of approaches to global problem-solving – which means that it needs to become one of the central areas of European foreign policy. Here Europe must offer global leadership.

The world trade talks are set to continue in Geneva this year. In September the United Nations will be hosting a summit on the state of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In June Canada is to host the G8/ G20 for a conference on the financial crisis. In addition, the climate talks will be returning to Bonn in June. How far will Europe's voice carry in these concerts?

Effectiveness of development aid impacts on European credibility

The second point concerns commitments on the volume and effectiveness of global development assistance. This is a matter of Europe's own credibility. Not enough that the donors operating in Africa often trip over one another for lack of coordination, the EU countries are currently offering 20 billion euros less in aid than they had originally pledged.

And there are fears that commitments on climate protection finance could come at the expense of other fields, with Europe, in effect, pursuing a zero-sum policy –taking, as it were, funds from its right pocket and putting them into its left.

Coordinating different fields

Third, development assistance must not be allowed simply to make up for what European policy has taken away elsewhere. Trade, climate protection, and immigration policy are key fields that need to be coordinated with the objectives of development policy. This is a permanent task for which there can and will be no quick fixes.

Investing in international partnerships

Sven Grimm

Sven Grimm, researcher with Bonn-based think-tank DIE

Fourth, it is essential to invest in global partnerships. These are investments in a shared future. Partners need to be able act on equal terms – in order then to seek, on an equal footing, solutions to common problems.

In view of the fact that reforms of the Bretton Woods institutions are on the immediate agenda, the international decisions that need to be taken in the near future will put Europe to the test. International power shifts are already becoming evident.

Measured in terms of its economic power, which is declining in relation to Asia, Europe is overrepresented in IMF and World Bank. When it comes to international bodies, Europe often seems to confuse quantity with quality, and having a large number of representatives in the G20 or the IMF does not necessarily mean more influence if efforts to coordinate such steps have not been successfully coordinated in advance. Only as a chorus will Europe prove able to make its voice heard.

Potential role of EU foreign service

And finally, fifth, the memorandum points to the potentials of the new European Foreign Service. Its mix of personnel drawn from member states and EU institutions may be seen as an opportunity. At present, though, there are more questions than answers concerning this matter.

Agreements – including the reform-oriented Lisbon Treaty – will be doomed to lead a life on paper unless Europe's responsible institutions and leaders prove able to improve their cooperation. In other words, the question is: Does Europe now need to opt for more centralization? This is, in fact, not a realistic option, as the protracted wrangling in recent years over EU reforms has shown.

Taking Lisbon treaty as framework to improve policies

The Treaty of Lisbon is certainly not the big bang for European global power. But it does provide a good framework for improved coordination. It is essential that efforts to improve the EU's division of labor actually bear fruit if Europe's diversity is to be orchestrated to form a good chorus.

Otherwise Europe's voice is likely to turn out to be little more than world-political background noise. But one thing that can be said with certainty is that for the European countries global acoustics would be far worse in a world dominated by the Big Two."

Sven Grimm is a researcher at the department Bi- and Multilateral Development Cooperation with the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), a think tank based in Bonn. Simon Maxwell is a Senior Research Associate with leading British think tank, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

The German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) is one of the leading think tanks for development policy world-wide. DIE draws together the knowledge of development research available worldwide, dedicating its work to key issues facing the future of development policy. he unique research profile of the DIE is the result of the cooperation between research, consulting and professional training. DIE is building bridges between theory and practice and works within international research networks.

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