'Unambitious' EU outcomes put Addis prospects in jeopardy

By Richard Jones 29 May 2015

EU development and cooperation ministers meet May 26, 2015, at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by: The European External Action Service / CC BY-NC-ND

The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council met Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium, to adopt a formal position setting out the bloc’s position ahead of July’s third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and September’s U.N. summit on the post-2015 development agenda.

Last week, Devex reported that disagreements between member states ahead of the council meeting meant European governments could drop their aid pledge — known as the 0.7 percent aid target — to developing countries and that this, in turn, could threaten to derail the EU’s anti-poverty commitment.

While development ministers renewed their collective commitment to achieving the official development assistance target of 0.7 percent of gross national income, a number of international nongovernmental organizations were left cold by the collective EU position, which sees the deadline for achieving this target pushed back from 2020 to 2030 — within the time frame of the post-2015 agenda.

Indeed, a number of NGO representatives told Devex that without strong EU leadership, a meaningful international consensus at the upcoming conference in Addis could now be in doubt.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the agreement was a “solid basis for EU action and leadership” in the upcoming negotiation process, and a “clear sign of the EU’s commitment to poverty eradication and global sustainable development.”

But civil society remains unconvinced.

Concord — the European confederation of relief and development NGOs — said that while it welcomed the fact the EU and its member states have highlighted the critical role that ODA will have to play post-2015, branding the re-commitment “vague and nonbinding.”

Ben Jackson, CEO of Bond — a network of U.K.-based NGOs — told Devex the entire FfD conference was now at risk.

“Hiding behind a collective re-commitment means individual countries can’t be held to account for 45 years of broken promises,” he said, referring to the historic aid pledge. “This firm commitment to 0.7 percent from the Foreign Affairs Council needed to be set up as a way to negotiate a better commitment at the FfD on issues around tax, domestic resource mobilization and private sector resources — leadership and governance was needed from the EU, but this has not materialized.”

Extended timelines

One council insider told Devex the “devil lay in the details,” outlining a number of areas that had caused disagreement among ministers present at Wednesday’s gathering.

The main problem during discussions concerned timelines, Devex has learned. France, Germany and other countries not having yet reached the 0.7 percent target pushed for an extended 2030 deadline, while the U.K. and the Scandinavian member states were in favor of a re-commitment to collective delivery by 2020.

Devex has learned that the U.K. and Germany, in particular, were in disagreement, with France, Austria and Spain also voicing opposition. The EU’s 12 newest member states — which joined the bloc in 2004 and 2007 to bring the total to 28 — were less vocal, the insider shared, but nonetheless insisted on maintaining the maximum commitment of 0.33 percent that was agreed back in 2005.

Bond’s Jackson said that although Britain had led the way with its commitment to aid in the bloc, other EU member states did not “put their money where their mouth is” by following suit.

Concord meanwhile lamented the lack of “concrete and verifiable national-level timetables” in the council conclusions and said that the post-2015 time frame up to 2030 is “too long to have any meaningful impact” on the implementation of the sustainable development goals.

Support for LDCs

The second problem among assembled ministers concerned aid commitments to least-developed countries.

In advance of the meeting, civil society groups had hoped that the council would commit to pledging 50 percent of ODA to LDCs. But no agreement could be reached here either, since this would have meant an additional commitment for member states amid continuing economic woes in much of the bloc.

One well-placed EU source said that the council's agreed interim target of 0.2 percent of individual EU member state GNI by 2020 had been “watered down,” and claimed there had been “no serious steps” around the table on Wednesday to find common ground on a revised LDC target. The source opined that this was an example of “lowest common denominator politics in action” and “the weakest possible outcome, apart from no outcome at all.”

Valentina Barbagallo, policy and advocacy officer at ONE, said the council’s conclusions in this area were not ambitious enough.

“The best bet to support the world’s poorest is for the EU to allocate half of its collective aid to the poorest countries,” she said, pointing to the examples of Belgium and Ireland, which have publicly committed to this target — one also endorsed by the European Parliament.

So where does this leave prospects for Addis — and beyond?

Tove Maria Ryding, head of tax justice and financing for development at Eurodad stressed that the EU is “absolutely central” to any global agreement and unless ministers become more ambitious, there is a “very real risk” that international negotiations will collapse.

“This would not only be a missed opportunity to repair the broken financial system and mobilize the funding we need to end poverty,” she said. “It could also cost us the new SDGs as well as the climate treaty, which is supposed to be adopted at the end of the year.”

Hilary Jeune, Oxfam’s EU policy adviser said that European member states insisting on emerging countries providing their fair share while continuously failing to reach their own aid targets was a “backward step.”

Another Brussels-based source went further, telling Devex that asking middle-income countries to agree to timelines they can’t deliver themselves “smacks of hypocrisy.”

Concord meanwhile warned there were “too many potential excuses to justify not reaching the targets,” which undercut the EU’s credibility as a global actor in development.

Bond’s Jackson opined that the “lack of leadership and iron-clad commitments” from the EU seriously jeopardized the current negotiations on a new set of global goals, for which ambitious finance commitments were essential, he said.

“Our best hope now … is that other countries present at the FfD conference in Addis Ababa in July will force the EU to get in line [with their proposals for more] ambitious global targets on agreeing timelines to reach 0.7 percent in 2020,” he concluded.

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About the author

Richard jones profile
Richard Jones@richard_devex

Richard oversees editorial content for campaigns and media partnerships at Devex. Previously an associate editor, he covered the full spectrum of development aid in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, supervising a team of correspondents and writers, penning articles and conducting high-level video interviews at events across the EMEA region. Currently based in Barcelona, Richard brings to bear 12 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. His development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador.

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