June 14, 2017 15:30

New EU thinking on Development and Resilience: important steps, serious concerns

The new EU Consensus on Development and Joint Communication on Resilience present an important step towards improving the EU's development cooperation, but there are some serious concerns.

The European Commission has just published two key agenda-shaping documents for its development cooperation: the new European Consensus on Development, and the new Joint Communication on Resilience. As the EU and its member states are jointly the biggest donor for development and humanitarian aid worldwide (see OECD figures), these policy commitments stand as a marker of global leadership in challenging geopolitical times. But they send mixed messages, containing risks which civil society organisations (CSOs) with their feet on the ground, like Alliance2015, are keen to help highlight, improve and mitigate.

The Consensus has welcome elements, such as a continued focus on eradicating poverty, tackling inequality, fighting hunger through sustainable agriculture; ensuring space for CSOs and a renewed commitment to European values of solidarity. The Resilience Communication helpfully emphasises, for example, transformative approaches and tackling protracted crises, and bringing in longer programming cycles with short-term flexibility, and linking individual and community resilience to that of societies and states.

However, these positives are challenged in two key areas. First, there is a tension between the humanitarian and development objectives enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty and the push, criticised by NGOs, to instrumentalise aid towards security and anti-migration goals (see for example CONCORD’s statement). Second, there is a lack of analysis, nuance, and risk mitigation behind the emphasis on private sector partnership as the resource engine to drive delivery of the ultimate ends, defined in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Both documents suggest that private sector partnerships are a silver bullet to fix problems around resourcing and innovating EU development aid (see Euractiv interview with European Commissioner Neven Mimica). At Alliance2015 we believe in working with the private sector as an engine of growth and innovation. We understand this as a complex and challenging field, where we must work with our eyes open, and a robust commitment to principles and accountability in our focus on the eradication of poverty and hunger. As actors in the field with decades of experience in working with the most vulnerable populations, Alliance2015 members and our peers are well placed to understand the benefits and risks of private sector engagement for the individuals and communities, and how to design people-centred programmes which integrate learning and international principles on humanitarian and development aid.

These two documents are important steps by the Commission to bring its development programmes in line with global agreements and adapt them to new challenges. But to provide the leadership we need, the EU must stand up to national and international pressure, cleave to its treaty obligations, maintain and step up its partnerships with civil society at all levels, and approach its private sector partnerships with caution as well as creativity.