What should a European Voice on Development actually say?
Had a slightly frustrating session (but they’re often the most productive) at ODI recently on the next-but-one (2013) European 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 international 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?