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The evolution of EU development cooperation: taking the change agenda forward

Research reports

Written by Mikaela Gavas, Simon Maxwell

On 27, 28 and 29 April 2009, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) co-hosted three events to discuss the future of EU development cooperation. The first event was a dinner for policy-makers, parliamentarians, academics and NGO representatives from across Europe. Three speakers, the UK Minister of State for International Development, Gareth Thomas; the Swedish Minister for Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson; and the Director-General of EuropeAid in the European Commission, Koos Richelle, gave their thoughts on opportunities for EU development cooperation and on maximising the EU’s future potential. The second event was as a private seminar which brought the same participants together to have a frank and open discussion, off the record, about opportunities and proposals to restructure EU development cooperation in light of the changing development agenda, the global financial crisis and the timetable of decisions in the immediate future. It built on and took forward the discussion on the next steps in the evolution of EU development cooperation initiated by the Agence Française de Développement, at Ermenonville in December 2008. The third was a panel debate open to the public. A copy of the agendas for 28 and 29 April are in Annex 1. A copy of the list of participants in the private meeting on 28 April is in Annex 2 and a copy of the background conference paper written by Mikaela Gavas of ODI is in Annex 3.

Participants gathered together in London to hone in on some of the issues identified at Ermenonville, in particular, the EU’s development vision and structure. There was a general sense that the EU has the power and potential to make a real contribution to development on a global scale. Participants recognised that EU development cooperation had improved since the reforms of external assistance in 2000, but that more could be done, in particular in terms of a consistent and joined-up institutional and geographical approach to development cooperation.

Well into 2009 and with decisions looming on the future of Europe, the sense of urgency was heightened. With the election of a new European Parliament, the appointment of a new European Commission, possible ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and a fundamental review of the EU budget, there was a recognition that decisions made this year would be key to the EU’s future in international affairs. 2009 offers real opportunities to put development issues at the top of the international agenda. In order to grasp those opportunities and make real headway on the path of change, participants set about identifying a vision for

EU development cooperation and a set of proposals for translating the vision into action.

All participants expressed a commitment for ensuring a strong EU voice for development embodied by a Development Commissioner, responsible for the development budget. There was agreement on the need to ensure that all policies, in particular, trade and climate change, are coherent with development objectives and this responsibility should lie with both the High Representative and the Development Commissioner within the Commission. Enthusiasm was expressed for the Commission’s April package.

At the same time, participants felt EU development cooperation currently lacks vision. In order to articulate the vision, Member States need to define their own role in the world, a new political impetus is needed to define the EU’s role in the world and a commitment is needed to overcome the discrepancies.

Finally, all participants agreed that discussions on the vision and the architecture had to be taken forward in the immediate future and that the debate needed to be had with a wide range of stakeholders within and beyond Europe.

Mikaela Gavas and Simon Maxwell