6th Dec 2019

Brussels soothes member states' fears over development plan

  • Commissioner Michel -"This is not about flying the European flag further afield" (Photo: European Commission)

EU development commissioner Louis Michel has attempted to soothe member states' fears that Brussels is encroaching on their development policy through plans for greater EU harmonisation of aid programmes.

The commissioner on Thursday (2 March) outlined plans to improve the effectiveness of EU development aid, the majority of which is paid for by member states individually.

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Brussels is proposing greater EU co-ordination for analysing developing countries’ needs, followed by a "common response strategy" for each developing country.

The commission is also seeking a harmonisation of member states' procedures when dealing with partners in developing countries.

"With these proposals, we can deliver on our promises: to do more for development, and to do it better and faster," Mr Michel said.

"Although development is and will remain a competence shared by the [European] Community and the member states this does not prevent us joining forces, harmonizing our procedures and sharing the job," he added.

Bilateral ties in danger?

But member states particularly active in development policy, such as Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, are concerned that the scheme will interfere in their bilateral aid relationships, European diplomats said.

"This is a delicate issue for many countries but the commission has not consulted us," said one source.

Brussels itself argues it received a mandate for planning greater development co-ordination on the basis of member states' conclusions on development policy in November 2004.

But one diplomat claimed that the plans presented by commissioner Michel fall outside this mandate, saying "They have come up with something completely new."

25 different regulations

The development commissioner tried to soothe fears that Brussels is seeking more influence.

"We don't want any more power than we already have ... This is not about flying the European flag further afield," said Mr Michel.

"We just want to make the system more effective," he stated, underlining the importance of harmonising the many different EU donor procedures that developing countries are confronted with.

"Countries have to deal with 25 different regulations from the EU," the commissioner said, pointing to great costs of administration and time consumption.

He added that co-ordination of EU aid in a certain developing countries should not necessarily be done by the commission, but also by one particular member state that is experienced in the country.

"I don't want to be the head coordinator but I'm offering coordination," Mr Michel said.

The Belgian commissioner also pointed to the voluntary nature of the scheme, indicating "If any member state does not want to participate, that's fine, I cannot do anything about it."

EU biggest donor

The controversial commission proposals will be discussed by development ministers in April.

Nearly half the money spent to help poor countries comes from the EU and its member states, making it the world's biggest aid donor.

In 2004, the EU spent a total of nearly €36 billion on development aid, of which member states paid €27 billion.

€8.6 billion was handed out from the EU budget and the European Development Fund, which is funded by member states and partly managed by the commission.

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