The European Union need to reform its cooperation for development policy has long been discussed. Several documents from the Agenda for Change to the new Consensus for Development reckon that a new framework is needed to cooperate with middle–income countries. Countries such as Chile, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica will no longer be eligible for traditional aid for development funds. In the post–2020 context a new framework of dialogue needs to be thought by EU policy makers if the EU is to continue engaging in development dialogues with these countries. While changes have already started and the demand driven programmes funded with EU money show a commitment to a renewed vision, policy challenges remain to be addressed through the new programming (2021 – 2027) of both geographical and thematic instruments.
Several tools have been proposed, including economic diplomacy, research and innovation, as well as security and migration as topics of dialogue, in order to implement the 2030 Agenda. The idea of peer–to–peer cooperation mainly through a triangular approach has been the only innovative policy approach aiming to give voice to the EU counterparts and build more horizontal dialogues. While it all looks great on paper, one can ask how will this be different from how the EU cooperation was conceived in the last decade? Apart from this political discourse including renewed elements, is there any policy mechanism to ensure the success and mark the difference of how the EU will work with these middle– income countries? The answers need to be nuanced.
First we need to consider the institutional dimension. Experience has shown that there is no real commitment until institutional reform happens. In this sense we have a DG NEAR in the Commission designing policy tools to deal in the best way possible with the Neighbourhood, as the region where a closer cooperation based on policy twinning is needed. In the same vein we have a DG ECHO dealing with humanitarian aid as opposed to development aid, marking the difference between aid aimed to assist a country in extreme situations such as floods or earthquakes (humanitarian), and the aid aimed at building sustainable institutional frameworks, more democratic and more accountable to the citizens (development). However, there is no institutional commitment to this new type of development dialogue with middle-income countries. One may expect that if a real difference is to be made between traditional aid for development (with countries such as Paraguay or Bolivia in the Latin American region) and peer–to –peer cooperation with graduated countries (such as Chile or Costa Rica), a new institutional framework needs to be build.
Second, we need to look into the policy content. In this sense, we could even question the idea of having “development” as the main objective of this renewed dialogue. Development of what and whose development? And if development remains at the core and the dialogue is to be a peer–to–peer one, is the EU ready to open to debate its own development model and look into alternatives of policy bits that may be adapted and replicated in the European context? Or is this European intention of horizontal cooperation just a slightly updated version of the old cooperation for development policy? Which are the mechanisms through which the European Union is to learn better and more about the needs of its partners?
The negotiations of the post–2020 development tools offer a great window of opportunity for European policy makers to design a really innovative policy framework. We will witness in the next few years the way in which the middle–income countries are to become subjects of the EU development policy, and we can think about EU policy makers as facing mainly two options: building walls or opening doors. Walls through which horizontal cooperation cannot permeate, or opening the doors for a dialogue between equal actors.