This is an important moment in the history of Europe's relations with developing countries. Over the next five years, an unprecedented number of decisions will be taken which bear on the relationship. These include the content of the European Constitution, the design of a Common Foreign and Security Policy, the size of the European budget, the future of various regional groupings, the architecture of European institutions, and decisions to do with trade policy and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. All these discussions take place at a time when the global community as a whole faces troubled times, and when questions of European identity loom large in national debates.
The series of meetings looked at the future of European development cooperation. Speakers in the meeting series were, among others, EU-Commissioner Chris Patten; Baroness Valerie Amos, then UK Secretary of State for International Development; Gareth Thomas, Under-Secretary of State for International Development; Glenys Kinnock, MEP; Peter Mandelson, MP; and Gisela Stuart, MP and UK Representative on the European Convention.
Seven key messages have emerged from the debate.
- Those who want development and humanitarian aid to be independent of CFSP, or on an equal footing to it, have battles still to fight. Gisela Stuart emphasised that CFSP had featured much more prominently than development in the Convention discussions, and said that most EU countries viewed development cooperation as a tool of foreign policy. Development Strategies Consultant Carlos Montes agreed, saying that most member states saw aid as a form of soft power to be deployed in pursuit of European values. So did Howard Mollett (BOND, the British development NGO umbrella organisation), who talked about the 'instrumentalisation' of EU aid. The draft constitution has a chapter on development cooperation which emphasises poverty reduction , and these aspects were praised by Baroness Amos, who also said it would be necessary to preserve them in the IGC. However, the Constitution appears to give the new EU Minister for Foreign Affairs (a Vice-President of the Commission) overall responsibility for coordination. Joanna Macrae (ODI) saw some erosion in the draft constitution of the commitment to neutrality and impartiality in humanitarian action, with the risk that humanitarian aid would also be instrumentalised for foreign policy purposes. Martin Griffiths of the Henri Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue on the other hand, argued that the EU should become more active in the field of 'humanitarian diplomacy', and wanted greater involvement in the political sphere. EU-Commissioner Chris Patten addressed this issue head on. He rejected the idea that development policy should be subservient to foreign policy, but argued instead that foreign and development policies were interdependent: there should be greater coherence between them.
- The ACP faces a major challenge. It still has defenders - for example, Glenys Kinnock pointed to a strong sense of solidarity, purpose and identity in EU-ACP relations, and said the Association was strong. The Cotonou Agreement had a life of twenty years. However, as Adrian Hewitt (ODI) pointed out, there is also recognition that the benefits to the ACP of its special relationship are being eroded, for example as a result of trade liberalisation, but also by virtue of new trade arrangements (e.g. EBA), new trade alliances and new regional economic partnership agreements. Even aid had become more conditional over successive renegotiations of the Convention. The EU was actively pursuing relationships with other regional groupings, some of which (like the African Union) cut across ACP boundaries. As discussed in one meeting, the key strength of the ACP arrangement may lie in the political relationship and the network of joint institutions (e.g. the joint Council of Ministers and the joint parliamentary assembly): there is potential here for genuine partnership and reciprocal accountability, which could well be extended to other developing countries and regions.
- The opportunity has to be taken next year to restructure the Commission, with a single Commissioner for development and a reorganised internal structure. This point was made forcefully by Baroness Amos. Peter Mandelson suggested that the Union should set up more autonomous agencies. Others also argued for less micro-management of the Commission by Member States and the Parliament: Development Consultant Carlos Montes, for example, argued that they should concentrate on strategic issues.
- Enlargement will make little difference economically, at least to aid flows, but may well do so politically. Prof. Victor Bulmer-Thomas of the Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA) made this point, noting that the accession countries will together have ten voices out of 25 on the EU Council. Their aid programmes are small, and likely to remain so, but they will contribute a special concern for security and development in Eastern Europe.
- The battle to preserve the special status of the EDF has been lost, but there's still a battle to fight on poverty orientation. There seems to be a consensus that the EDF will be 'budgetised' when the new Financial Perspectives come into force in 2006: Glenys Kinnock made this point, welcoming the move because it would increase parliamentary scrutiny of aid programmes, but arguing for ring-fencing of aid for ACP countries. EU Commissioner Chris Patten broadly agreed, suggesting that the external affairs budget separate and distinguish between security and development spending. The question will be whether poverty orientation 'sticks'. As UK Under-Secretary of State Gareth Thomas pointed out, the Mediterranean area currently receives $98 per capita, compared to $US 0.50 in Asia: he wanted to see more emphasis on poverty reduction, though he also recognised the special expertise and opportunity for the EC in middle income countries. Some believe that the poverty orientation should be reviewed. For example, Carlos Montes argued that the EU had a legitimate role in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Former Soviet Union. Others, however, disagreed, pointing to the importance of implementing the Monterrey consensus, including the requirement for more money for poor countries.
- The collapse of the Cancun talks raises important questions about the commitment of the big players, including the EU, to multilateralism in the trade arena. The US has already indicated its preference for 'competitive liberalisation' and for bilateral agreements. Some think the EU may go the same way. Tim Abraham of the UK Department for Trade and Industry and Sheila Page (ODI) both shared this fear, but both argued strongly that a multilateral process should be preserved, since it offered the best prospects of favourable outcomes for poor countries. The new G20 grouping of developing countries was promising in this connection. There was plenty to do on the trade front, including CAP reform and possibly the imposition of unrealistically high safety standards. However, Sheila Page cautioned against confounding trade and development objectives.
- It should come as no surprise that progress on these questions will require careful balancing of interests and positions. Peter Mandelson argued that the key to progress was a strong vision, shared by the Commission and by the 'Franco-German motor', preferably supplemented by the UK. Howard Mollet emphasised the role of civil society.