Two opinion pieces on the EU development agenda in 2018
Two opinion pieces on the EUEuropean Union development agenda in 2018
Jean Claude Juncker seems to have reached a plane of serene optimism – at least that seemed to be the message of his State of the Union speech, delivered in September 2017: ‘The wind is back’, he said, ‘in Europe’s sails’.
Whether the serenity or the optimism will have survived the events since September is moot. Never mind the trials and tribulations of Brexit. What about the inconclusive outcome of the German election? The entry of a far right party into Government in Austria? The launch of conflicting visions by EUEuropean Union leaders? The problems in Poland? And the multiplicity of external crises facing the EU? Jean Claude Junker might be forgiven for dreaming about the end of his mandate, at the end of 2019.
In fact, serene on the surface or not, there is some energetic paddling below the surface to be done before the moment of retirement.
. . .
To be blunt: there is an easy option and a hard one.
The easy option is to focus on individual SDGs and design programmes accordingly. An SDG on gender? We can have a programme on that. Primary education? By all means. Malnutrition? Health care? Education? Tick. Tick. Tick.
But the easy option misses the point, or at least a point. What do European leaders say about the tectonic forces which will reshape the world economy? How can rising in-country inequality be not just excoriated, but explained? How can deep decarbonisation be achieved without putting livelihoods at risk? How can the root causes of conflict and forced migration be resolved, for good? And what role can development cooperation play in answering these questions?
Faced by these questions, serenity is not enough. Even more serious paddling is required.
* * *
The current EUEuropean Union Multi-Annual Financial Framework, or MFF, lasts for seven years and runs until the end of 2020. Discussions have already begun about the next one.
Can we agree straight away on two problems?
First, seven years is too long, especially when the detail is agreed one or two years before the planning period even starts. EUEuropean Union ministers will find themselves in 2018 and 2019 discussing a framework that might run until the end of 2027. This is at a time when the world faces great uncertainties, and when the EUEuropean Union itself is making great decisions, still unsettled, about its future. 2027 feels like a distant horizon, the very long run. And as Keynes famously remarked, ‘in the long run, we are all dead’.
Secondly, it makes even less sense to have a financial framework cycle which is entirely unrelated to the parliamentary and political cycle of the EU. The current MFF was finally decided at the end of 2013, before the European Parliament elections of 2014, and the appointment later that year of the Juncker Commission. It will expire after the 2019 repeat of the same process. So, the Commissioners and the Parliament inherit a framework designed and approved by their predecessors – and fix one which will bind their successors.
These problems are easy to solve. The elections take place in 2019 and the new Commission starts later the same year, for a five year term. They will inherit a framework which runs for one further year, and could take that year to agree a new five-year framework, running from 2021 to 2025. Their successors repeat the process, and so on ad infinitum.
Adopting that simple solution would mean we could postpone the detailed negotiation until early in 2020. We could use the time till then to have a political discussion about the overall size and shape of future spending, in the context of the 2019 elections. Indeed, those questions might well be at the heart of the political debate, as they are in national elections in all the Member States.
Unfortunately, we may not be lucky enough to be offered the logical option. In that case, a different work programme will be required, namely to look at options for the long term.
. . .
So, what is the comparative advantage of the EUEuropean Union institutions in this area, the Unique Selling Point?
That is a question we have thought about in the European Think Tanks Group, and also one addressed in core EUEuropean Union documents, like the Global Strategy and the European Consensus on Development. Economies of scale in financing are on our list, but also: the political weight of 27 countries acting together; the ability to link diplomacy, defence, trade, and aid; and the reduction in transactions costs achieved by pooling. The EUEuropean Union institutions also offer at least the potential of specialist expertise, for example in infrastructure, or in blending loans and grants through the European Investment Bank. And there is a history of political and institutional partnerships with different parts of the developing world, which facilitate political accountability: the recent AU-EU Summit is an example.
Thus, there is certainly a case for EUEuropean Union external action to feature prominently in the next financial framework – probably more prominently, given the state of the world, than in the present MFF.
However, we think a debate is needed on the purposes and orientations of the external action budget.
. . .
It will be important to avoid the external budget being captured by those who wish to ‘instrumentalise’ it for EUEuropean Union domestic purposes, especially controlling unplanned migration, or for security.
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