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Simon, Mikaela Gavas, Deborah Johnson and Leah Kreitzman were in Brussels for two days on 17-18 March 2010. The highlights were a presentation of our European Think Tanks Group Report in the European Parliament, and a private breakfast with the Development Commissioner for the four think-tanks in the EUEuropean Union Think Tanks Group. 


The question of who does what and who owns what instruments, as between the various Commissioners, has been and still is a huge distraction. A settlement is beginning to emerge, however, which is not too bad for development. The development Commisisoner (Andris Piebalgs) has control of DG Dev and EuropeAid, and will play a significant part in managing the main development funding through the European Development Fund and the Development Cooperation Instrument. The shape, funding and precise responsibilities of the new External Action Service are still to be decided. Humanitarian aid remains apart, which is unfortunate, but, ironically, Haiti (or rather post-earthquake Haiti) is being cited as a case of effective joined up action by the Commission and the Member States.

Meanwhile, Andris Piebalgs is beginning to articulate priorities, including rights and governance. He is framing EUEuropean Union commitments as a moral problem, not a matter of billions. He is open to discussion with think-tanks, and has agreed to a seminar with think-tanks and our European Change-Makers Group in September, timed to discuss a draft of his five-year vision for EUEuropean Union development. This will be held in Germany, organised on behalf of the Think-Tanks Group by the German Development Institute.

At the same time, the development agenda is moving onwards. The main focus has been the Spring package, which will contain a number of MDG-related proposals, but also throw in a bit of a rag-bag of other topics (the policy coherence work programme, Communications on health, tax and food security, measures on education and gender). Later in the year, there will be Summits with both Asia and Africa. There have also been important developments on climate financing.

Our calling cards were the think-tanks report, ‘New Challenges, New Beginnings’ (see here), a new paper on the External Action Service by Mikaela and Eleneora Koeb from ECDPM (see here) and the draft of our ‘swingometer’ paper on cooperation versus consolidation in EUEuropean Union development cooperation (available on request).


Policy priorities

The presentation and discussion of our report was the final point on the two-day agenda of the Development Committee.  There were perhaps 250 people present, including European Commission staff, NGONon-governmental organisation representatives and at least ten MEPs from the Development Committee, including Michael Cashman, Charles Goerens, Franziska Keller, Maurice Ponga, Isabella Lövin, Judith Sargentini, Harlem Désir and Nirj Deva.  Eva Joly was in the chair.  Commissioner Piebalgs joined for our presentation. 

Simon began the presentation of the report with an overview of the changing development agenda and the challenges for EUEuropean Union development cooperation.  Dirk Messner, Paul Engel and Richard Youngs followed with short presentations on the challenges of climate change, policy coherence and fragile states.  Piebalgs then responded to the presentation.  He claimed that there were too many focuses for EUEuropean Union development cooperation making it difficult to measure progress.  He argued the importance of governance and the need for long-lasting, clear-sighted development policy with well-defined instruments. He said that fulfilling aid commitments was a moral issue, and key to the EU’s credibility.  He used Haiti as a positive example of aid effectiveness and cooperation, where division of labour had been established and European Member States were working together.  He also emphasised the importance of policy coherence for development.

Most of the MEPs had the opportunity to respond, each on their own ‘pet’ issues, which covered fisheries, Overseas Countries and Territories, trade policy, the EAS, the informal economy etc. 

On the Parliament’s side, Michael Cashman is the rapporteur for the report on the mid-term review of the MDGs.  Michael promised to send a draft of his report which will be adopted by the Parliament on 15 June.  In his report, he proposes an ‘MDG Added Value’ tax, supports the financial transaction tax, supports a process of peer review and pushes for timetables for meeting commitments.


The Commissioner’s priorities and the transformation of ECEuropean Community development

Andris Piebalgs is still developing his work programme and priorities, but is beginning to develop themes. He plans to outline a five-year vision, and has agreed to test this out with the think-tanks and change-makers in September.

We challenged him at the breakfast to think about transformation of the ECEuropean Community development enterprise. There are two elements: (a) positioning the ECEuropean Community so it punches its weight intellectually and programmatically in comparison to the World Bank and the UNDP, say; and (b) maintaining efficiency improvements while simultaneously maintaining and improving market share as aid increases. Bottom line: an agency which is perhaps twice as big in five years’ time, and much, much better. The Commission is quite focused on the discussions about the next Financial Perspectives (2013 onwards), which will start shortly. In the UK, cross-Whitehall discussions on the negotiating position have already begun.

Summing up the discussion in the parliament, SM said that the big risks for the future of ECEuropean Community development cooperation (and by implication, the opposite opportunities) were:

  • Bureaucracy without values;
  • Money without policy;
  • National without global;
  • The Commission without the Member States; and
  • Words without action.


The Spring Package and the MDGs

We discussed the Spring Package at a number of our meetings.  The draft is now in inter-service consultation and the Communication should be ready by the end of next week.  It will be presented to the Council in May (sectoral issues) and June (ODA targets).  The Council Conclusions will then be presented to the June European Council for endorsement.

According to our informants, the Package is broader than usual this year, including the PCD Work Programme and a number of sectoral policy papers on heath, food security (Communications due out end March), education, gender and taxation (Communications due at same time as Spring Package).  The Package aims to articulate a clear EUEuropean Union common position on what needs to be done to achieve the MDGS, which will be endorsed at the EUEuropean Union meeting in July and feed into the MDG Summit in September.  The Spring Package will make reference to the 2008 EUEuropean Union Agenda for Action.  We were also told that the G8Group of Eight is conducting an accountability exercise assessing the delivery of the commitments made at the G8Group of Eight Summit in Gleneagles in 2005.



Many of our discussions centred around the creation of the EASEmployment Assurance Scheme (India) and the uncertainty that continues to surround it. See Mikaela’s paper for background and analysis of different options. Everyone acknowledged that the discussions had become tense and dictated by sensitivities.  It would appear that the favoured model is currently a ‘horizontal one’. Accepting the horizontal model, there was much discussion around the levels of programming.  Some were in favour of the first three stages of programming sitting within the EAS, with four and five DG Dev’s responsibility.  We heard rumours that a legal team had been asked to assess the legality of giving certain responsibilities and in particular, programming, to the EAS, with the proposition that this would be illegal according to the Lisbon Treaty.  These rumours were underpinned by an article published by a consultancy firm, EEPA, that the Treaty extends no powers to the EASEmployment Assurance Scheme (India) or the High Representative to implement stages of development cooperation or humanitarian aid.  However, there was no sense of clarity on this from our meetings.     

We also heard rumours that Parliament would delay voting on the EASEmployment Assurance Scheme (India) budget (expected in April) until September. Instead, Parliament would produce a non-paper on the principles of setting up the EASEmployment Assurance Scheme (India) due at the end of March. It was generally agreed that the suspicion and negative atmosphere surrounding the whole EASEmployment Assurance Scheme (India) process had been damaging to Ashton’s authority.   A delay to September would be very bad news.

We proposed using the UK Government’s idea of Public Service Agreements as a way of focusing on objectives rather than worrying endlessly about mechanisms, and passed details to the Secretary General’s office.


The 2008 Agenda for Action

From meetings with DG Dev, it is clear that the creation of the Agenda for Action in 2008 was a real battle with the Member States for the Commission.  Despite its purpose of setting targets for 2010 in 2008, the politics surrounding its creation meant that no specific monitoring mechanisms were ever established.  DG Dev referred to the Agenda for Action as a ‘strange approach’ and highlighted that the actions were developed without consultation with partner countries. There has been no consistent adoption of the Agenda across Member States. 



We learned that ECOFIN has committed €2.4billion a year over the next three years to fast-start climate financing.  However, it was admitted that, during these discussions, additionality had not been raised.  The Commission will be publishing a Communication shortly on alternative climate financing mechanisms, but it is not yet decided if this will be part of the Spring Package.  There are apparently two items on the agenda for meetings between the development and climate change commissioners: (1) fast start, and (2) upstream coordination and working together on work programmes. There will be a document on innovative financing within the next two weeks, as a contribution to the UNFCC meeting in Bonn in May.

It is important to pursue discussions about the Global Climate Change Alliance, and to find ways of collaborating with CDKN. The GCCA is currently focusing mainly on adaptation – partly because it is not funded to do very much at all.


The Belgian Presidency

Belgium’s development priorities for their presidency in the second half of 2010 are:

  • Budget support
  • Climate change and development
  • Food security
  • Private Sector

Finally, the big challenge in Brussels is to remain positive and engaged, not dragged down by endless procedures and compromises. Here’s the big question: how to create a UNICEF-style culture of entrepreneurialism in Brussels.

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