'We are not perfect' — EU development commissioner

Neven Mimica, European commissioner for international cooperation and development. Photo by: Andrei Pungovschi / European Union

Almost five months after assuming office on Nov. 1, 2014, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica has certainly made a name for himself among global development circles in Brussels.

Taking over the development portfolio from his predecessor Andris Piebalgs, Mimica started his term shortly before the high-profile launch of the European Year for Development — the first-ever edition of the thematic year to highlight the EU’s external actions and role in the world — and both his tenure and policy priorities have been thrust firmly into the spotlight.

It’s clearly a big year for development cooperation, with the international community set to agree on the future global framework for poverty eradication and sustainable development — a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals that the world agreed to reach back in 2000. The stage is therefore set in 2015 for Mimica to demonstrate thought leadership, showcase the EU’s commitment to eradicating poverty and inspire a new generation of Europeans to engage with development issues.

Although helping formulate a response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa may have somewhat distracted him from his three stated priorities of negotiating the EU position over the post-2015 agenda, the future of relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific aid recipients, and seeking a “paradigm shift” for European development cooperation policy, the Croatian claims he is now back on track and focused on the July 3 International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — the last major post-2015 event before the U.N. General Assembly in September.

“We had a lot of in-house work to do in order to coordinate the [European] Commission’s communication and the council conclusions, and setting the EU negotiating positions for this intergovernmental negotiating stage,” Mimica explained during an exclusive interview with Devex in Brussels. “The same will go for financing for development. This is a priority that is really far-reaching, which will design the overall development agenda — or paradigm — for the years and decades to come.”

Aside from those three priorities and continued work to tackle Ebola — together with his humanitarian aid and crisis management counterpart and Ebola czar Christos Stylianides — Mimica revealed another issue that ranks very high on his agenda: gender equality.

Is EU gender practice minding the GAP?

As the end-date of its Gender Action Plan approaches, the EU has a long way to go to ensure the integration of gender considerations into its aid activities.

“In all aspects of the global development agenda, or the regional development agenda in Africa, or our overall policy coherence agenda, the gender equality angle should always be taken into account to make this agenda implementable on the ground,” he said. “You can't have development if half of all people are left behind, so gender equality and empowerment of women and girls is not only a social issue … It is also about the overall economic and social contribution of women to development — and this is a priority that I will be engaging with very much.”

How to achieve a ‘paradigm shift’

Last month in an article taking stock of Mimica’s first 100 days in office, the European Center for Development and Policy Management’s Alisa Herrero Cangas called on Mimica to surprise the global development community in his next 100 days with a “more innovative” vision of international cooperation and development.

“What the world needs is more insight, political direction and creativity to generate consensus for an ambitious post-2015 framework,” she said. “Being an efficient administrator will not be enough to make his mandate a success.”

The ECDPM policy officer also criticized current EU development policy for being too reliant on official development assistance flows and its continued — and perhaps unrealistic — hope of reaching the goal of having all EU member states spend at least 0.7 percent of their gross national income on ODA.

While Mimica’s “paradigm shift” involves being more creative and innovative to maximize value for money in EU development policy, even he admits there is much room for improvement on financing.

“We are not perfect and we are working especially on making our contribution more efficient,” he said. “We are now thinking and working much more on the outcome of our overall development contribution — it’s now more about the quality of our development contribution.”

This, the commissioner explained, means that while it already considers itself the most efficient donor in the world, the Commission should not only work within the “narrow frame” of the 0.7 percent commitment, which he argued should still be seen as a development “catalyst” — even if most EU member states are a long way from reaching their targets.

Ahead of the meeting in Addis Ababa, Mimica hopes that the Commission will make progress on blending the financing capacities of the public and private sectors to increase leverage.

“This is not because we don't want to deploy our ODA more, but because the real capacity [and] potential of financing for development lies with the partner countries,” he said. “If you manage to encourage taxes — implementing a fair tax system, organizing tax collection, and tackling tax avoidance, illicit financial outflows or illicit tax evasion in those countries — then the basis for financing for development would be broader.”

What steps can the European Commission and other major donors take in the coming months to ensure more insight, political direction and creativity on an ambitious post-2015 framework? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Richard jones profile

    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.