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What should a European Voice on Development actually say?

March 22, 2012
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Had a slightly frustrating session (but they’re often the most productive) at ODI recently on the next-but-one (2013) ERD logoEuropean Report on Development, which will be on the post-2015 debate, aka what comes after the MDGs (ODI’s doing lots on this).

My frustration sprang from the contrast between the avowed mission of the ERD – to open up a space for a European Voice on development, presumably to counterbalance overwhelming US dominance, and their plans for the report, which gave me little sense of distinctive European-ness, in terms of lessons from Europe’s own experience, whether historic or current, a different way of seeing the world, or the areas in which other parts of the world might see Europe as naturally credible – quality universal health and education maybe, sound economic management – not so much.

So here are a few thoughts for what a distinctive ERD might contain:

A European approach: how about focusing much more on the political economy of development, rather than an economic report which just berates leaders for not adopting all those ‘first best’ policies that economists love to recommend? For example, how about looking at post-2015 in terms of what kinds of reforms are most feasible in a downturn? Aid is highly likely to fall over the next decade or so, and the austerians are likely to remain dominant, so it seems pretty pointless to ask for more aid money. But economic shocks in the past have led to lots of other interesting reforms – re-regulation, new forms of revenue raising etc. Why not start there?

What’s going on in our neighbourhood? Europe is within a few miles of one of the most exciting development stories of recent years – the Arab Spring. What did it tell us about development? (e.g. if you have a rapidly improving university system, but no jobs for young people plus lots of corruption, watch out). Or about how the aid system reacts to sudden shocks and windows of opportunity? (by ignoring them, in general). Could we get away from the planner’s paradise of the MDGs and discuss complexity and emergent, unpredictable changes and how the Europe2international community and aid system respond?

Where does Europe have credibility? Asking a range of developing country thinkers would be the place to start, but my short list of possible would include welfare systems; conflict prevention through integration; getting (relatively) serious on climate change; food (UK excepted); much better cinema than Hollywood; Social democracy/welfare capitalism, social contract etc.

Then of course, a European Voice could concentrate on improving Europe’s own developmental impact, e.g. by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, reforming financial markets, dropping counterproductive biofuels mandates, CAP reform, or stopping using trade negotiations to inhibit tech transfer. Don’t hold your breath on that one, but even if they did devote the ERD to it, would it really have much impact? (after all, look how little has been achieved by 30 years of research and criticism of the Common Agricultural Policy).

This all matters because I think the ERD’s underlying proposition is sound. Europe’s voice needs to be louder, but I see little evidence that the reports have found that voice yet. They began in 2009, and have covered fragility in Africa (2009), social protection (2010). Snappy title award goes to this year’s report, ‘”Effective natural resource management for inclusive and sustainable growth in the context of increased scarcity and climate change: what role for the public and private sector?”. My impression is that they are more ‘me too’ exercises than distinctive contributions, but feel free to set me straight – which ERDs have you heard of or used in your work?


  1. Linked to your final point – wWhat about global governance? I thought the role that the EU played in the UNFCCC in the run-in and during Durban COP was interesting and would like to see more thinking on how Europe might operate in the new context (G20, emerging economies etc) to pursue more developmental outcomes in global negotiations eg on trade, investment, climate change, food, tax etc

  2. Duncan

    Sorry you missed the first of the ERDs, on the MDGs, led by Francois Bourguignon, to which I contributed. See http://www.eadi.org/fileadmin/MDG_2015_Publications/Bourguignon_et_al__PAPER.pdf

    On the question of what Europe has to contribute to development policy, I do hope you will connect with the work of our ODI project on European development cooperation (see http://www.international-development.eu) and also with the output of the European Think Tanks Group, which has been thinking about your question for some years. See, for example, our publication ‘New Challenges, New Beginnings’, published in 2010, which explicitly discussed EU comparative advantage (http://www.odi.org.uk/resources/details.asp?id=4735&title=new-challenges-new-beginnings-next-steps-european-development-cooperation).

  3. Dear Duncan

    Many thanks for your blog.

    You raise a lot of interesting issues, but I can only comment really in my personal capacity on the substance of the ERD 2011/2012 (I was the team leader) – the first ERD that a consortium of ODI, ECDPM and DIE was leading (not including the ERD that Simon mentioned), and which indeed received a number of useful inputs and presentations including two by Oxfam in London and Brussels which motivated us further in selecting a chapter in the ERD on land.

    The ERD 2011/2012 will be launched in May 2012. The report is called Confronting scarcity: managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth. You can read about some emerging findings presented at the recent World Water in my blog http://www.odi.org.uk/opinion/details.asp?id=6382&title=g20-rio20-european-report-development-2012-managin-resources and in the blog by Imme Scholz and Ines Dombrowsky (from DIE), core ERD team member resp. lead author of the water chapter (http://www.erd-blog.eu/blog/world-water-forum-2012-well-defined-rights-are-key-allocating-water-across-uses-and-sectors ).

    The final chapter of the report (implications for EU policy) deals inter alia with issues you think are important (so hold your breath): the need to improve Europe’s own developmental/environmental impact, it discusses biofuel policies from a WEL (water-energy-land) nexus perspective, and highlights correct pricing and abolishing the range of distortionary subsidies (from ODI’s previous and current work we learn about the economic damage of CAP subsidies, but I had not realised until I embarked on this ERD, the considerable extent to which environmental experts are vehemently opposed to the use of resource wasting subsidies, outpacing development specialists on this it seems).

    On the Common Agricultural Policy: don’t give up especially now, because of the need to influence the decisions on CAP reform when it matters most – which include 2012, as the multi annual spending limits are being discussed. There are a whole range of policies where spending could usefully help achieve food security (a stated goal of CAP) world-wide as opposed to European farmer security alone.

    On political economy: we use a lot of case study material and also try to tease out a number of political economy aspects helpful in explaining achieving results(or failures), such as leadership, capacity, interministerial / intersectoral co-ordination.

    Your discussion on what makes the ERD “European” is interesting – having spent several years of education (starting in the 1980s in the Netherlands, stuck between the German and UK forms of capitalism) on different forms of capitalism (and several have been added in Europe since), it is not easy to capture all the European aspects in a few buzz words. Having said that, the current report is on inclusiveness and sustainability, terms that are firmly embedded in the European Treaty. By the way, one of the commentators at the Bonn nexus conference felt the EU/report was too European focused , rather than it being too little European focused. The ERD has implications for EU (development) policy, which in my eyes is an important element of it being a European report. One could indeed suggest that the EU could build on its leadership role at Durban and extend to other environmental areas as Toby suggests. Europe does have much to offer, and we all need to engage with the best of research and action to get the best out of Europe.


    Dirk Willem te Velde

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