Monday 10. August 2020
#136 - march 2011


Rethinking the external action of the EU


The Commission has opened a wide process of public consultation that aims to redefine crucial elements in the external aid policies of the EU


The Commission has developed an intensive process of public consultation in the sphere of the EU’s external relations, and cooperation for development. In recent months three green papers have embodied the Commission’s overriding political aim of encouraging participation of stakeholders and of engaging public opinion. These documents seek to show the developments and choices made so far, and put forward the challenges and dilemmas to be solved for future action.


The first green paper, and its background document, is entitled: ‘EU development policy in support of inclusive growth and sustainable development’. The subtitle is still more revealing, ‘Increasing the impact of EU development policy’. The Commission wants to ensure high impact for its development policy: ‘so that every euro spent provides the best added value and value for money’, all this promoting sustainable development as a driver of progress, especially in the area of agriculture and food security.


The second green paper, ‘The future of EU budget support to third countries’, deals with the so-called ‘budget support’ consisting in the transfer of financial resources of the EU to the National Treasury of a partner country. The financial resources thus received become part of the global resources of the partner country, and consequently may be used according to its own definitions of priorities and management. This budget support has become increasingly prominent amounting to more than € 13bn over the period 2003-2009. However criticism has been directed at several elements of the program: the role of political dialogue with these third countries; conditionality in relation to economic performance and results; domestic and mutual accountability; the programming of budget support and its coherence with other instruments; risk assessment and dealing with fraud and corruption; budget support in situations of special fragility; and the growth and mobilisation of domestic revenues as well as fiscal policy on such revenues.


The third document is ‘What funding for EU external action after 2013?’ With the end of the current 2007-2013 Multi-annual Financial Framework the financial instruments for external relations will also expire, so that revision is now indispensable. The additional complication of this process is that while the demands are growing for this foreign aid (on crucial matters such as preparedness of candidate countries; improving neighbourhood policies; Millennium Development Goals; crisis management and natural disasters; peacekeeping operations) the available resources are limited by the current economic crisis.


A real moral dilemma

In moral terms, real dilemmas arise. In political terms, it seems budget capacity comes first and principles need to be adapted. In this sense, the Commission’s attempt to encourage public debate and participation among stakeholders should be appreciated.


In particular the review of external aid policies should meet certain criteria. Above all, these policies should not simply be subject to other EU interests, such as commercial or security interests. The sustainable development of people is a value that deserves to be intrinsically respected in itself, respecting also the values perspectives of the recipients. In this sense, commitments to make aid more effective or to require more transparency in the recipient governments are certainly to move in the right direction.


It is also important that external aid policies are consistent with other policies. It makes little sense to invest resources for Africa to adapt to climate change unless we, in Europe, lessen our own greenhouse gas emissions. Similar arguments can be applied in immigration policies when recruiting qualified staff from poor countries, or trade policies when we accept the exploitation of natural resources in opaque markets, affected by corruption.


Finally such a review of development policies, precisely in times of economic crisis, shows the moral engagement of those who implement such policies, bearing not only economic costs but the burden of negative public opinion. When times are tough solidarity is even more valuable.


José Ignacio García SJ


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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.