The current European Union financial framework is coming to an end and a new one has started to be negotiated with a concrete proposal being made by the Commission on 14th June. There are important budgetary changes in different areas, but this article will focus on cooperation for development and the way in which these changes will affect the EU as an international actor in the years to come.
This proposal sees the creation of a new, single instrument merging the existing ones. Latin America, Asia, Africa and the European Neighbourhood will come under a single financial tool: the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDIC), aimed to create policy coherence and to increase co-ownership of the EU cooperation for development programmes. In the context of the programming involved by this new instrument, the idea of ‘a joint document between the Union and the concerned partner or partners setting out common priorities’ comes out as particularly relevant and an important innovative element of the Commission approach.
Yet there are important caveats and challenges that the Commission will need to face both in the interinstitutional negotiations through which this proposal will go in the next months, but also and more important in the negotiation of different association and partnership frameworks with countries around the world.
One important negotiation that is pending and will be developed at the same time as the new budget is being decided is the one with the ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States), an intergovernmental forum existing in this format as a consequence of a privileged relation with the EU. In the mandate published by this group of countries on 30th May concerning the negotiation of the post-Cotonou Agreement, it is highlighted that ACP partners are ‘strongly in favour of maintaining the European Development Fund (EDF) as the main financial instrument in support of ACP-EU development cooperation‘. If the proposal made by the Commission will be approved by the Parliament and the Council, EDF will become just another part of the new NDIC instrument, and this will pose an additional challenge to the post-Cotonou negotiations. So the question that we could ask is: does the European Commission sacrifice privileged relations with third actors for the sake of internal policy coherence?
In addition, the NDIC proposal appears as a limited reflection on how a changing plethora of actors will affect the development landscape in the next decade. While mentioning middle income countries (‘who play an increasingly important role in world affairs, global governance, foreign policy, the international economy, and multilateral fora‘), the document does not account for how this should be reflected in terms of budget implications. In addition, other actors that are protagonists of the sustainable development debates, such as land-locked developing countries (LLDC), least developed countries (LDC), small island developing states (SIDS) and highly indebted middle-income countries (HIMIC) are missing from the Commission proposal or are just briefly mentioned. This shows at the same time a narrow translation of the sustainable development agenda at the EU level. While the new European Consensus on Development (2017) makes the sustainable development goals its centre piece, this proposal shows a rather selective engagement with the different points of this international debate. The SDGs were actually expected to provide a solid framework for the new budget, but this is not the case and it has been highly contested by think tanks and experts.
And a last point, the nexus that has become a crucial dimension of EU development approaches, the one with security, is also reflected only to a limited extent, by placing the new Peace Fund outside of the EU budget. This creates most likely a conflictual relation between development and security and to some extent development can be seen as an entry point on the agenda and a way to legitimise EU security concerns.
The aspects mentioned here point to few implications and limitations that this new instrument may involve, however the debate in the Parliament and the Council promises to be the fighting ring from which a new instrument is to come out and hopefully reinforce the EU as a relevant actor in a switching international development landscape.
Ileana Daniela Serban es profesora de la Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICAI-ICADE. Es especialista en cooperación internacional, enfocando su trabajo en las políticas de la UE. Más detalles sobre su currículo disponibles aquí.
Foto obtenida de CONCORD – European NGO confederation for relief and development