Enlargement and the near abroad: will Europe be distracted?
Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Director, Royal Institute of International Affairs
Gisela Stuart MP, UK Representative on the Convention of the Future of Europe
Sir Tim Lankester, Corpus Christi College Oxford
1. Simon Maxwell, Director of ODI, opened the first event of the new Meetings Series. He referred to the ODI co-authored Working Paper on European Development Cooperation to 2010, introducing the issues to be covered in the series.
2. Sir Tim Lankester introduced the speakers.
3. Victor Bulmer-Thomas described the EU enlargement process as a step into the unknown. Its effects for development cooperation were somewhat unpredictable, but he did not see enlargement as a major risk. There were a number of important issues.
4. The ten accession countries were small countries that combined represented only five per cent of the EU's GDP when measured according to the official exchange rate. Their population amounted to twenty per cent of the enlarged EU. However, on the EU Council, their ten seats (out of 25) would be significant given the preference of the EU for consensus in decision-making.
5. With respect to development aid, the accession countries would soon change their status from net recipients of EU funds to net donors. Their current aid portfolio was small and clearly reflected a focus on their neighbours to the East. For example, 95 per cent of Slovenia's aid budget went to the former Yugoslavia.
The impact of the Convention
6. Victor Bulmer-Thomas said that the EU was the largest donor worldwide, contributing nearly 50 per cent of ODA. However, 80 per cent of this was bilateral, and highly diverse. For example, the biggest recipient of aid from Belgium was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from Germany, China, from the UK, Tanzania and from the European Commission, Poland. The Draft Constitution would not do much to redress this diversity, since it explicitly acknowledged the right of the Member States to formulate and implement their bilateral aid programmes independently from each other and from the EU.
Overall aid spending
7. The target set at the Monterrey Conference for developed countries to spend at least 0.39 per cent of GDP on ODA by 2006 would be very difficult if not impossible to reach for the new EU Member States. Their aid budgets would represent at best 0.1 per cent of GDP and this amount was unlikely to go up significantly within the next decade. Their first priority was to catch up with the richer Member States in the EU. As a consequence, their interest in development issues beyond the 'near abroad' was inextricably linked with the overall economic situation. There were no 'Asian tigers' in this group. Hence, as long as there was not a higher growth rate in the EU, their willingness to devote scarce financial resources to countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America would be limited.
8. With respect to trade, the bigger single market in the EU could be good news for developing countries. However, the likely trade diversion from enlargement was a drawback for them.
9. Regarding the important issue of the Common Agricultural Policy, the accession countries had little incentive to push for further reform beyond the previous week's agreement. In fact, between 2006 and 2013 this would be a zero-sum game since increased agricultural subsidies for new members were only possible at the expense of subsidies for existing ones. Likewise, there would be little incentive to abolish the EU's Sugar Protocol, since nearly half of the new Member States were net producers of sugar.
10. Concerning the future of the ACP Group and of the Cotonou Agreement, the opposition to reform would only be minimal from the accession countries. They simply did not show a great interest in this topic.
11. In conclusion, the real danger for the EU development aid budget did not stem from enlargement per se, but rather originated in larger geopolitical trends. The countries in Central and Eastern Europe did not wish to choose between the EU and the United States. This would lead EU members to put more focus on geopolitical issues such as security, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction. In addition, immigration was now a much higher priority. All these factors could lead to a shift in the priority given to development.
12. Gisela Stuart began her remarks by emphasising that the issue of development did not figure prominently in the discussions in the Convention. Instead, the institutional shape of the EU, especially related to the common foreign and security policy, was at the centre of attention. She observed that the widening and deepening of the EU did not have to be contradictory goals, but could rather go hand in hand under the heading of 'widening the political debate and deepening the bureaucratic structures'.
13. Whereas the UK government perceived development cooperation not as a tool for foreign policy, the view among the majority of the EU Member States seemed to go in the other direction. Controversial issues in the Convention included the political representation of the EU in international organisations and the extension of EU membership to Turkey. It was also pointed out that the EU could now act as a signatory to international human rights accords.
14. Gisela Stuart felt certain uneasiness about the consultation process with NGOs and civil society organisations as part of the Convention process. In her opinion, these actors merely repeated their mantra of accusing the EU of being undemocratic and unaccountable, but not offering constructive feedback. Instead they should take a longer time perspective and engage in strategic relationships with the EU.
15. In conclusion, Gisela Stuart argued that the political will to assure a prominent place for development in the EU must come from the Member States, not the Commission. However, she was rather pessimistic about this prospect as long as economic growth remained sluggish in the Euro zone and so no additional financial resources could be tapped into for increasing development aid. She also added that the Convention required careful study to tease out its many nuances.
16. Comments from the audience included:
- Can the EU relationship with its new Member States be a useful model for other parts of the developing world?
- Aid money that had previously gone to Central and Eastern Europe could now be diverted to developing countries outside of Europe, which would be a major windfall.
- The shift in the EU's foreign and security policy would primarily affect its relationship with developing countries, but in which ways given that the decision-making process still requires unanimity?
- The competence of the EU with respect to "teaching" the new Member States about aid administration was questioned; what role, if any, was there for NGOs and civil society in the education about development issues?
- There was substantial heterogeneity among the accession countries with respect to their economic development, with important repercussions for their willingness to engage in poverty-focused development programmes.
- Accession countries have a good deal of experience to offer in the field of development and do not want to be patronised. In the future debate on the shape of European Development Cooperation, they need to be given plenty of opportunities to contribute.
- It was pointed out that the acquis communitaire is substantially less demanding regarding the protection of minority rights compared with the international Copenhagen criteria.
- The poverty focus of the development cooperation of the new Member States must be asserted, or else the scenario of secession from the EU-based development cooperation outlined in the ODI Working Paper will soon become a reality.
This meeting looked at the EU enlargement process and its effects for development cooperation.