As EU Development Days talks kick off, NGOs press for concrete plans

Top officials of the European Union opened this year’s European Development Days with the expected high-level talks on how the bloc is changing the way it will deliver foreign assistance in the next few years. It remains to be seen how the promises they set out would sit with civil society and nongovernmental organizations clamoring for more concrete plans.

Opening the EDD 2011 in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday (Dec. 15), European development commissioner Andris Piebalgs summed up one of the key changes in how the European Union will allocate future assistance: “More attention will be given to a country’s record on democratic governance, and in particular on human rights and gender.”

Piebalgs explained the financial instruments the European Union plans to use for its development programs in the 2014 to 2020 budget period are designed to “embed human rights and democracy even more deeply in our practices” and provide the bloc with a wider variety of channels to support human rights protection and good governance.

Among the new financing mechanisms being cooked up by the European Union is a platform that would allow the bloc to provide assistance as a combination of loans and grants. The EU Platform for External Cooperation and Development is being developed by a group of experts from the commission, the European External Action Service and the European Investment Bank. Based on this group’s findings, the commission is expected to report about the platform to the European Parliament and the European Council in mid-2012. 

Piebalgs’ speech at the EDD 2011 confirms the EU aid direction set out in the EU’s Agenda for Change policy, which also says the bloc will focus its aid on “countries most in need and where the EU can have a real impact, including fragile states.”

This shift in focus countries has earned criticism from development-oriented NGOs. 

“Development NGOs highlight that 75 percent of the world’s poorest people live in so called middle income countries, which could see aid cuts,” Concord said. “We hope that the EU will use the development days to explain how it plans to maintain its objective of poverty eradication in this context.”

There are also calls for EU officials to use the EDD 2011 to discuss how to make their policies more coherent.

“The EDD discussions, and the ongoing EU development debate, sometimes feels like assisting to a lion who is pitying the antelope it has just eaten,” said John Patrick Ngoyi of the Nigeria-based Justice Development and Peace Commission, a member of the NGO group CIDSE. “We urgently need more coherence in EU policies. The EU can’t continue giving with one hand and taking with the other.”

The EDD 2011 will run through Dec. 16. This year’s main theme is on development and democracy, inspired by the recent democracy movements in the Arab region. The event also includes high-level sessions on the new development agenda, aid effectiveness and human rights.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.