Sunday

20th Sep 2020

Opinion

Tough questions for new EU 'development' commissioner

  • EU development funds in Senegal. 'At first sight, the abandonment of the term 'development' should be applauded' (Photo: Matt Tempest/Flickr)

While much ink has been spilled on the naming of the "European Way of Life" commissioner, another such shift has gone largely unnoticed.

The new European Commission will no longer include a commissioner for "Development". Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen proposes that the Finnish Jutta Urpilainen takes up the portfolio of "International Partnerships", which the European Parliament will likely endorse during the hearing on 1st October.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Finnish Jutta Urpilainen will be grilled on Tuesday on her portfolio of "international partnerships" - formerly "development" (Photo: European Commission)

We earlier argued in EUobserver that the development commissioner should be abolished. So, are we happy now?

On first sight, the abandonment of the term 'development' should be applauded.

Von der Leyen's urge to adapt the "European model of development" to "new global realities" might signal a mounting realisation that this model is not universal and omnipotent and even a recognition that the term 'development' can be problematic.

Hence, this re-name could be read as an opportunity to fundamentally reconsider the EU's engagement with the rest of the world.

However, the rebranding of the development portfolio into international partnerships needs to be met with some caution.

First, the term 'partnership' does not really excel in originality.

It takes us back to 1975, when the Lome Convention between the EU and the member states' former colonies of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) was heralded as a new era, installing a true partnership of equals.

Ever since, "partnership" principles have characterised the EU's development discourse, serving as a disguise for asymmetric power relations and continuing neo-colonial agendas.

Second, von der Leyen's mission letter confirms rather than rectifies suspicions that "development" objectives are subordinated to European interests.

The previous commission already linked development aid to private sector interests, under the regional blending facilities and the European Fund for Sustainable Development, and to migration management, under the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

Von der Leyen seems to put less energy in selling this as a development project.

She is more straightforward (and honest) in arguing that the EU expects "value for money", that "political, economic and investment opportunities in Africa" should be pursued, and that the EU should leverage aid for private investment.

The ambition of a "geopolitical commission", the focus on "countries of migration origin and transit", and the task to "adapt bilateral funding to achieve our objectives on migration management", give an extra push to the instrumentalisation of EU aid for geopolitical and migration management purposes.

This has the benefit of clarity.

However, it also remains problematic from an ethical standpoint.

Colonial legacy

There is no sign of reflection on the flaws of the "European model of development" and its colonial legacy as such.

It does not matter whether the label is, "development" or "partnership", if the core features remain the same: the belief in endless economic growth, the rhetoric of progress according to the European standard setting, and a destructive anthropocentric worldview.

If this mission letter is a missed chance for truly re-setting the way the EU interacts beyond its borders, then what are the issues Urpilainen should rather be speaking on during her hearing on Tuesday (1 October)?

First, the EU should take this opportunity to thoroughly reflect on the "European model of development", its impacts and acknowledge the ever louder calls to 'undevelop' and 'degrow' the North.

Second, instead of focusing on rebranding 'development' into 'international partnership', the EU should shift its attention to tackling global structural injustices and inequalities:

Fair Trade: as one of the strongest trade actors in the world, the EU could take the lead in structural reforms that make the global trading system truly fair.

These should provide sufficient policy space for all countries and allow governments to restrict trade with a view to legitimate domestic needs.

Concretely, in the context of ongoing negotiations on a post-Cotonou ACP-EU Partnership after 2020, the EU could reconsider the free trade orthodoxy of the Economic Partnership Agreements.

Tax Justice

Developing countries lose more from tax evasion, avoidance and competition than what they earn from developing aid.

As one of the largest supporters of improving developing countries' macro-economic frameworks and public finance management and promoting the mobilisation of domestic financial resources in developing countries, the EU should continue pushing for global tax justice.

It may also be time to tackle these issues at EU level and discuss the responsibility of European companies and the impact of European member states' bilateral tax agreements with developing countries.

Climate Justice

As one of the leading actors in the international climate change regime, the EU should not only make binding commitments to reducing its own energy demands, emissions and carbon footprints, it should also step up its commitment to international climate justice.

It should compensate for the damages done and make sure its climate finance is additional, reliable and sustainable, and focused on the most vulnerable countries.

Reparative action

The silence on the continuing impact of our colonial past is striking.

Europe must assume responsibility of its colonial past.

While within some member states debates have been initiated on the need for decolonising relations with developing countries, it is time that discussions on postcolonial reparative action are brought to the European level.

It is likely that the hearing will focus on "development" and "partnership" within the confinements of established development narratives.

Nevertheless, we hope that it may also be an opportunity for MEPs to discuss the EU's responsibility in addressing systemic issues of injustice to fundamentally redress global inequalites.

Author bio

Sarah Delputte is assistant professor and Jan Orbie is associate professor at the Centre for EU Studies, Ghent University. Julia Schöneberg is post-doctoral fellow at the department for development and postcolonial studies, Kassel University.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Exclusive

EU development aid used to put European police in Senegal

An Austrian criminal intelligence service persuaded Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini to set up a unit in Sicily against migrant smuggling, while in Senegal EU development money is financing an European-police led reform of Dakar's defence and interior ministries.

Let's abolish EU commissioner for development

Development policy is more and more subordinated to geopolitical and economic agendas. If the EU really cares about international solidarity, it better cleans up its own internal social and democratic deficits and engages in a real dialogue on post-development policy.

Haiti reconstruction at a 'standstill', EU ambassador says

A year after a devastating earthquake ripped through the Caribbean state of Haiti, international reconstruction efforts have ground to a halt, plunged into confusion by the country's ongoing political deadlock, the EU's top official on the ground has said.

Poland's 'vague' nominee flops in EU hearing

Poland's nominee for agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, is likely to face a second hearing after MEPs from top political groups lambasted his "vague" performance on Tuesday.

News in Brief

  1. Belarus president puts army on EU borders
  2. US: Lebanese group hoarding explosives in EU states
  3. Russia loses EU sanctions appeal
  4. UK guidelines explain Brexit treaty-violation plan
  5. Over 10,000 corona cases a day in France
  6. Greek police move Moria refugees following fire
  7. WHO warns Europe not to cut 14-day quarantine period
  8. MEPs urge EU Council to 'finally' protect rights in Poland

How Covid-19 is changing the European Union

The past six months of Covid-19 response have changed the EU, but has it learnt the lessons for the crises left to come - migration, conflict, and a second wave?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. Commissioner: No one will like new EU migration pact
  2. Buying an EU passport 'no use for evading sanctions'
  3. MEPs call for first-ever EU law on Romani inclusion
  4. EU to help draft Libya's strategy on border security
  5. Spain to recognise Kosovo if it gets Serbia deal
  6. Ylva Johansson on Migration and Drama Queens
  7. Does Erdoğan's long arm now reach Belgian universities?
  8. Biden threatens UK trade deal over Brexit shambles

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us