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The Evolution of European Development Cooperation: Taking the Change Agenda Forward

Time (GMT +01) 08:30 11:30


Martin Dinham - Director-General International, UK Department for International Development


Jean-Michel Severino - Director General, AFD, France

Paul Engel - ECDPM

Richard Schierre - Chief Economist, African Development Bank

Dirk Messner - Director, German Development Institute

Simon Maxwell
- Director, ODI

1.    Simon Maxwell, Director of the ODI, introduced the event which followed on from a meeting which gathered around 50 ‘change-makers’: political decision-makers, heads of development institutions, economists, and researchers. The purpose of the meetings was to take forward discussion initiated by the Agence Française de Développement in December 2008 in Ermenonville on the next steps in the evolution of the EU’s development architecture.  The aim of the London meetings was to focus on practical steps to make EU Development Cooperation more effective in reducing poverty and achieving shared development goals.

2.    Martin Dinham (Director-General International, DFID) was the speaker on a panel with four discussants: Jean-Michel Severino, Director General of the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Dirk Messner, Executive Director of the German Development Institute (DIE), Paul Engel, Director of ECDPM, and Richard Shiere, Senior Economist at the African Development Bank (AfDB). He opened the debate with a recognition  that EU development cooperation had improved, in particular with regards to the quality of delivery, project monitoring feedback and greater importance given to results and not only inputs. But he admitted that more could be done, including the improvement of institutional and geographical coherence. This year is a golden opportunity for change in the EU (second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Parliamentary elections, new Commission). The EU also has an opportunity to build on its leading role on trade, climate change, peace and security policies, by increasing coherence and putting development at the heart of its external policy. The current economic and financial crisis creates a new challenge as developing countries are hit hard, but it is also becoming more difficult to maintain public support on development issues in donor countries where problems are growing closer to home. As a result, there is a need to reaffirm aid volumes and accelerate disbursements to deal with the effects of the crisis, but there is also a need to demonstrate that all European actors are working together coherently and efficiently towards the MDGs.

3.    The discussion covered five different themes which set out the frame within which the panel considered reform of EU development cooperation should take place: (i) the current global context, (ii) the need to define a vision for EU’s role in this context, (iii) resulting policies, (iv) organisation, and finally (v) how to make these changes happen. Contributions from the audience led to refining some of the ideas that are presented below.

4.    The world has recently witnessed an acceleration of globalisation, in terms of climate change, location of business, financial crisis, poverty, diseases, conflicts and security. Jean-Michel Severino underlined the importance of a clearer and deeper vision of the EU, defining what role it wants to play in this globalised world. Dirk Messner argued that the only way European countries, as small nation states, can influence these changes is as part of the EU.

5.    There are many different views of the EU’s role in this context, from a political entity to a single market. This vision will be further influenced by new EU entrants, which have no historical track record in development cooperation and do not view it as a priority. According to Dirk Messner, we need multilateral answers to global problems. He put forward two options to improve consistency: greater integration; and building a strong European cluster with the EC playing the role of a “network manager”. According to Jean-Michel Severino, there is no incentive for member states to favour a multilateral approach as they will always want to ‘plant their flag’ to ensure visibility. There is also some resentment that the European Commission (EC) is thought to ‘represent’ Europe: AFD, KFW and EIB combined are twice as big as the EC’s aid budget. In order to have real consistency between member states, there can either be: a shared vision and a shared method to implement a shared policy; or many entities supplying aid under a shared vision, but contributing in their own way. In Mr Severino’s view, the EU’s role is as a regional player not a global one, bringing coherence and coordination to member states’ development cooperation while not excluding bilateral players: the EU should invest in intelligent policy-making and converging instruments.

6.    The vision will need to be translated into shared policies which will aim at improving coherence and consistency, both between member states and the Commission and among the different areas of intervention of the EU. There seemed to be consensus on the need to appoint a strong Development Commissioner who would be able to ensure the prominence of development issues in the EU’s other external policies on climate change, migration, security, trade. It was also suggested that the High Representative take responsibility for coherence across the external affairs and should be selected on the basis of a strong track record in development to ensure integration of development issues in EU’s external policies.

7.    Participants argued that the organisation must be shaped according to objectives set in the shared vision for the EU and aim at delivering effective aid, as stressed by Richard Shiere. All discussants agreed that the Code of Conduct on Division of Labour and Complementarity has contributed to the improvement of coordination and European aid effectiveness. However, it was underlined that there are currently no incentives to follow the Code. It was agreed that European stakeholders’ interventions need to be more coherent and consistent: the Code of Conduct is helpful in this regard but would first need to be implemented at country level. While Dirk Messner pointed out that the current 27+1 approach is expensive in addition to being incoherent, Jean-Michel Severino also warned of the costs of coordination efforts and stressed the importance of striking a balance.

8.    In terms of a process to make change happen, Jean-Michel Severino suggested that this debate should be opened to other stakeholders within and outside the EU, including representatives of civil society and the private sector. Paul Engel recalled that Member States and the European Parliament drive the Commission’s agenda, and therefore, they need to continue working on institutional reforms to guide the Commission’s work alongside their vision. Mr Severino pointed out that the current model is based on an historical vision instigated by the UK and France. The Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries and the European Development Fund were set up in order to get the EU to pay for their ex-colonies.  Whilst this model might have been right back then, it now needs to be changed.

9.    Simon Maxwell concluded the meeting by focusing on the need to find out which processes will produce better global governance. Cooperation is clearly necessary but its format has yet to be defined. In order to promote this approach, the EU will have to build on trust, incentives, institutions, and networks.


This is a momentous year for EU development cooperation.  In 2009, against the backdrop of the financial crisis, the EU faces major changes and choices – the result of elections to the European Parliament, the appointment of a new European Commission, the potential final ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the results of the fundamental budget review.

As a regional organisation with a world-wide presence, the world’s largest single market, the world’s largest aid donor and the main trading partner of most developing countries, the EU is an essential pillar of development. But how do we maximise the impact of EU development cooperation and how can it respond to the challenges and opportunities of a global financial crisis that threatens to put 50 million people back into extreme poverty by the end of the year?