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The future of European development

Submitted by on 14 Jul 2017 – 10:00

The challenges facing the EU and its neighbours over the next two years are numerous and increasing by the day. Linda McAvan MEP fears that the EU cannot deliver the SDGs as planned if Brexit means less development cooperation with our European neighbours

We stand at a key moment in history for the EU. Buffeted on all sides by the winds of populism, and by economic and political crisis; the EU needs to adapt if it wants to ensure that the next 6o years are as prosperous for its members as the first 60 have been.

As with other areas of EU policy, development policy is under pressure to evolve. Many of the international challenges that the EU faces, from conflict in its neighbourhood to migration, are linked to poverty. The EU has recognised that, as the world’s major aid donor, development is a key pillar of its foreign policy. Development, as well as trade policy with developing countries, played a prominent role in the EU’s new “Global Strategy” launched last year by Federica Mogherini.

But we can’t allow development policy to be totally subsumed by foreign policy objectives. Yes, there can be no long term solution to the current refugee flows or security crises without effective development aimed at addressing the root causes of these issues, but that is not to say that development policy must be completely refocused on migration or security. As policymakers, we have to make sure that the main aims of development, ending of poverty and inequality, remain the focus of policy.

Global development policy in the next fifteen years will be shaped by the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for development financing both agreed in 2015. The SDGs in particular represent a global rethink in development policy in that they are a universal agenda applicable in the developing world but also in Europe. The challenge for the EU and its member states and for the rest of the world is to translate these commitments to ending poverty and inequality by 2030 into concrete policies. This will require reimagining not just development policy but internal economic and social policies as well.

At the EU level we are already starting with a New Consensus on Development, the EU’s roadmap for international development until 2030, currently being negotiated by MEPs, the Commission and national governments with the hope an agreement will be reached by this summer.

Another piece in the puzzle will be to make sure that there is enough money to fund the estimated $1.4 trillion USD per year of investment needed if we are to meet the SDGs. As agreed in Addis, the key will be to bring in private finance and investment, at the same time as helping developing countries increase the amount of money they are able to take in taxes.

The EU is currently working on developing new legislation to deliver that extra investment, the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) aimed at de-risking private sector investment in more fragile countries. It is critical that the next step be effective action against tax evasion by closing legal loopholes that reduce ability to raise domestic spending. Added to this needs to be a renewed commitment within the EU for member states to finally meet their target of spending 0.7% of GDP as development aid.

Whilst being the largest aid donor, the EU is able to use the size of its economy to help developing countries by granting them market access. The size of the EU’s market also means that actions taken within the EU can have impacts right up the supply chain. MEPs have recently been successful in getting binding regulations on conflict minerals importers and have started work on examining how to ensure that workers in the supply chain of the clothing sector are protected so that we avoid tragedies like the RanaPlaza disaster of 2013.

I was recently in Bangladesh to take a look at the progress in this area, but whilst there I had to field almost as many questions about Brexit. For Bangladeshis, Brexit is a great unknown that they fear may prove to be economically damaging for them. When Britain joined the EU, its former colonies gained a privileged access to the EU market – a policy which in Bangladesh has allowed the massive expansion of the clothing sector and a corresponding rise in living standards.  And within the EU, the UK is one of the biggest markets.  Bangladesh, like other developing countries, worries about whether tariff free access will continue after Brexit. So far, there is little certainty and poorer countries fear they may find themselves well down the list of countries with which the UK tries to pursue a trade deal.

In this and other areas, the spectre of Brexit casts a long shadow over the future of EU development. The UK has always been a driving force of the EU development policy and one of the few member states to have delivered on its 0.7% promise. We can’t say at this point how Brexit will impact on the EU’s development budget, or whether the EU member states, without the UK, will retain their commitment to development and increase their spending to 0.7% of GDP as promised.

There are other open questions that need to be resolved during the Brexit negotiations. Will the UK’s priorities in development continue to be aligned with those of the EU, focusing on poverty reduction? And will it take the opportunities if they arise to work together with its EU partners, pooling resources if necessary?

Whatever choices the UK and EU make, when it comes to development, they will still be facing common challenges. The answer to these challenges, and to delivering the SDGs is not to raise the drawbridge against a changing world but to work to make our world safer, more equal and prosperous. We will certainly be no closer to achieving this if Brexit means less development cooperation with our European neighbours, not more.