Aid financing and the newly launched European External Action Service were among the most-discussed topics at the fifth European Development Days. But these were only two of the numerous issues tackled by Europe’s top foreign policy officials and stakeholders at the two-day event held Dec. 6-7 in Brussels, Belgium.
One of the key topics at the various sessions of the EDD was the potential impact of the EEAS, which was formally launched Dec. 1, on European aid policy. Several members of the development community expressed fear that, with the service’s implementation, foreign aid could be sidelined in favor of the EU’s diplomatic, trade and security objectives. Another widespread concern is that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton may not be able to focus on international development given her many priorities.
Civil society members called for coherence and said they remain worried about their limited ability to influence the EEAS’ implementation process.
EDD sessions were also rife with discussions on how to mobilize more money for aid while improving its effectiveness. European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs called on EU member states to show political will in meeting their commitments to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product on foreign aid, a target that many European countries have yet to reach.
New financing tools for international cooperation are being explored, EDD sessions revealed. The development of these tools brings new questions to the table, particularly on how new mechanisms may improve the effectiveness of EU aid programs and how these tools will be implemented. The issue of effectiveness appears to be of particular importance to the European community at large, with several European countries facing domestic economic woes and the European Parliament indicating it wants to ensure that every euro allocated on aid is well spent.
Other buzzwords that emerged during the EDD include “solidarity,” “innovation” and “sustainability,” which European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso identified as the pillars of Europe’s international cooperation. Participants in various sessions also tackled aid-for-trade, private-sector development, inclusive growth and support for global health – improvement efforts which several speakers said should be treated as technical cooperation and not assistance.
Meanwhile, some participants questioned the merit of hosting the annual gathering, to which Piebalgs responded that giving people the opportunity for discussion is always a good thing.