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Consolidation or cooperation: the future of EU development cooperation

Working papers

Written by Simon Maxwell

Two competing visions lie at the heart of debate about the future of EU development cooperation. They are: first, that there is a strong case for the European Community (EC) to play a greater part in shaping policy and delivering programmes; or, conversely, second, that the EC role is one of coordination and network management, rather than actual delivery. We conceptualise this as a “swingometer” in which different visions lead to a pendulum being positioned in different places along a continuum from consolidation to cooperation. In most policy areas, the pendulum will lie somewhere between complete consolidation and complete coordination: a patchwork of laws, rules and practices operates across the development space.

The development agenda is evolving in what can be thought of as a consolidationist direction. The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has dominated the development agenda for over a decade, and has directed attention to national development policy. However, while the MDGs remain an important focus, increasing attention is being paid to international policy issues, like climate change and financial stability. This is reflected in the increasing priority being given in the EC to coherence between aid, trade, migration, climate, security and other policies.
Consolidation will not be easy to deliver, however. A review of theory suggests that specific conditions need to be met for the EU to become more consolidated. These include the legal framework, of course, but also the way in which the scope for collaboration is defined, the rules of engagement, the decision-making framework, the underlying values, and the interests of Member States. At present, the forces are pushing in a cooperativist rather than consolidationist direction for development policy.
A survey of senior policy-makers confirms this. Respondents recognise the importance of a new development agenda and acknowledge the value of collective action. They confirm the value-added of “Europe” in tackling global problems. They see improvements in the performance of the EC. They support greater cooperation in setting standards and working together to improve aid effectiveness. They oppose greater consolidation, for example of aid budgets.

Four conclusions can be suggested:

  • First, it is worth bearing in mind that the scope for pendulum swings is partly shaped by the Treaty. There is little point, for example, in arguing for less consolidation on trade policy or more on foreign and security policy, unless the argument is also to change the treaty. Legal competence is a determining factor, although not the only one.
  • Second, a theoretical implication is that no single integration theory, no single variable explains the location of the pendulum. Policy areas and the distribution of legal competences in the EU, institutional factors, the Member States’ constellation of interests and identity all need to be taken into account.
  • Third, it looks as though the “quick wins” will be on the cooperation side of the pendulum: in setting standards and targets, working together on aid effectiveness, and improving information collection and dissemination.
  • Fourth, the arguments for future consolidation are not negligible. The case will need to be made more strongly, however.

In practical terms, the cooperation-consolidation debate will play out in Brussels in the context of the new institutional architecture and the evolving development agenda. The establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) will result in some of the chess pieces being moved around the board – in particular, some policy and programming responsibilities units moving into the new EEAS. An overarching question will be: what
capacity is needed to run a global development programme, including a €10 billion per year aid agency?

  • Consolidation or cooperation: the future of EU development cooperation

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Mikaela Gavas, Deborah Johnson and Simon Maxwell