A demonstration following last month’s shooting of Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris. Photo by: Romain Lefort / CC BY-NC-SA 

Europe is under siege.

From the bloody, protracted conflict in eastern Ukraine to the barbarity of the Islamic State group in Libya, Syria and Iraq and the violent Boko Haram incursions in northeastern Nigeria, Europe finds itself surrounded by conflict.

Still reeling from terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen which have fueled tensions, European governments are feeling the heat — and find themselves at a policy crossroads in the face of threats from nationalist populism in the polls.

But what does all this mean for global development? How are these incidents at home and abroad affecting support for the development policies of the European Union and its 28 member states? And will it signal a push toward new, previously unchartered territories in the design and funding of its programs?

Fears and tensions versus strong support

Multiple murders Jan. 7 on the premises of French political satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent hostage-taking and shootings at a Jewish grocery store have aroused fears and tensions in many European societies.

There is a sense that such incidents will fuel Europe’s anti-EU and anti-Islamic nationalists, who are clamoring for an end to open migration and a retreat behind borders. But will this call for isolationism affect support in Europe for humanitarian aid and international development cooperation?

Europe’s right-wing populists are certainly no lovers of global development policy. Anti-Islamic and anti-migrant feelings are running high, even in stable and prosperous Germany, where the Pegida movement has been bringing thousands onto the streets to protest against the “Islamization of the Abendland,” a wording that refers to the mystical notion of a traditional European culture under threat.

Hans Jansen, a deputy of Geert Wilders’ Dutch Freedom Party — who caused a ruckus last year by calling for “less Moroccans” in the Netherlands — recently dismissed aid as “vague plans to give away European money to corrupt countries far away” during a debate in the European Parliament.

EU seeks experts in at least 3 new focus areas

Do development organizations still have the right expertise to cope with modern-day threats? A series of recent crises have created demand at the European Commission for some new, original global development vacancies and skill sets. Which ones?

In France, the Front National under Marine Le Pen, who topped a recent poll on potential 2017 presidential candidates, plans to make foreign aid conditional on migration control. In Britain, the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party, which won the popular vote in the U.K. component of the 2014 European Parliament election, wants to lop off three-quarters of the British foreign aid budget — and has pledged to do so if it comes to power in May’s general election.

Still, despite the aversion to foreign spending by populists and becoming embroiled in a very public debate in the tabloid press — where it is often a byword for waste — support for aid and development cooperation beyond borders still rides high.

Indeed, the latest EU polls — based on surveys conducted in September but issued just five days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks — suggest that two-thirds of Europeans are in favor of more aid; 85 percent apparently believe that it’s important to help people in developing countries.

“We haven’t seen evidence of waning support for development cooperation in Europe,” James Mackie, a researcher on EU development policy at the European Center for Development Policy Management, told Devex.

A symbiotic relationship

In order to understand and tackle the challenges facing Europe, what happens abroad should not be walled off from events in European countries.

“We must remember not only Charlie Hebdo, but also the many victims of violence in Syria and at the hands of Boko Haram,” Marcus Cornaro, deputy director-general at EuropeAid, the European Commission’s international cooperation and development department, told Devex in an exclusive interview.

“For us as a development actor, it is important to see the cross-link between the two,” he added.

If anything, the recent events are an incitement for the development community to stress the need to tackle the root causes that fuel radicalism at home and abroad.

“More than ever, our task as NGOs is to remind people of the importance of showing international solidarity and combating poverty and exclusion,” Philippe Jahshan, president of the French association of development NGOs Coordination SUD, told Devex.

Even though development cooperation itself may not be contested in the present European debate, the violent incidents within Europe and the crises in its surrounding neighborhood are certainly affecting the nature and future focus of aid. The focus is increasingly on crosscutting issues such as security, migration and economic development, and the EU is seeking more expertise in these fields.

But these are not new trends: They have risen to prominence in recent years in places such as Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“At this moment, the road has become bumpier, and the bumps are now closer to us,” said Cornaro. “But I see this more as a gradual shift of emphasis, rather than a sudden realization that the world remains an instable and unjust place.”

Indeed, EU policymakers have been discussing the development aspects of security and migration policy for many years already. On migration, the answers lie in the field of governance and economic development. After all, according to Mackie, “This is not different from what development is all about.”

A more holistic approach

Bigger EU contracts to tackle big #globaldev challenges

The EU is embarking upon a fundamental shift. How will a move away from smaller, individual contracts toward larger programs affect development implementers?

What is new, however, is that Europe is now making efforts to tackle these challenges in a more holistic way, involving all sectors within the European institutions and the EU member states in formulating a solution strategy. This is a complex procedure that requires integrating various agendas, while at the same time factoring in that action on any given issue — whether growth, environment or governance.

Policy integration — or policy coherence — is being enhanced by the new European Commission under President Jean-Claude Juncker, who is shaking up working methods by pushing for the formation of cluster groups. These groups make it possible for the commissioners to each put forward their concerns and solutions, allowing for a broader range of analytical input and response capacity.

Under this system of cross-pollination, EuropeAid too has been enlisted in the struggle against radicalization. For example, for some years now, programs to counterterrorism have been set up under the Instrument contributing to Peace and Stability — known as the IcPS — which provides for long-term actions to “address emerging threats and strengthen socio-economic developments.”

This has brought EU development action to the Horn of Africa, where local authorities, women, youth and civil society organizations are being engaged in countering violent extremism. Meanwhile, in northwestern Pakistan, a local NGO is being supported for its deradicalization program.

Does this mean that EuropeAid is being mobilized in a war against terror? In fact, these efforts reflect a basic axiom on EU assistance: There can be no development in a country unless there is stability, and vice versa.

It is to be hoped that stability will soon return to Europe and its neighborhood and that the transition from military intervention and humanitarian action can smoothly transition to development in a way that fosters collaboration, builds mutual trust and respect and avoids radicalization.

Only then will the siege on Europe truly be at an end.

Do you think isolationist tendencies across Europe will affect foreign aid? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • Diederik Kramers

    Diederik Kramers is a freelance correspondent in Brussels covering EU and NATO affairs. A former spokesperson and communications officer for UNICEF and UNHCR, he previously worked as foreign desk and Eastern Europe editor for the Dutch press agency ANP and as editor-in-chief of the Dutch quarterly Ukraine Magazine.
  • Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.

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