Policy Coherence for… what did you say?

By Laura Sullivan, CONCORD Vice President



Over the last seven or eight years I’ve been working with ActionAid and CONCORD to try to get the European Union to acknowledge and set right its negative footprint on some of the world’s poorest communities.

When you say ‘international development’, peoples’ first thoughts are of development aid. But a much bigger part of the story is the likes of trade deals, energy and agriculture policies which can totally obliterate the good work done with that aid. From Europe. From the US. From anywhere. In EU speak this is known as Policy Coherence for Development or PCD.

Ahh Policy Coherence for Development. Every time I say that phrase, I sigh. Because unfortunately, it tends to have the effect of either putting people off to sleep, completely confusing them or setting them off on a tangent. It is sometimes confused with completely other things. I once typed PCD into a search engine, only to be told that to the rest of the world PCD is short for ‘Pussycat Dolls’. Maybe its time to start rebranding it?

So just what is Policy Coherence for Development?

It ultimately is about the EU taking a fair and coherent approach to developing countries, making sure that not just its work on development but all of its policies do no harm to and indeed reinforce human rights and poverty eradication.

As many of you’ll know it’s the European Year for Development 2015 and there’s a real opportunity for both NGOs and institutions to communicate development issues better.


This week a pretty historic event took place in Brussels: CONCORD together with the Directorate General for Development of the European Commission managed to bring together more than 110 participants including 23 officials from 7 different departments of the European Commission, officials from EU member states, civil society representatives from the EU, India, Somalia, Mali, South Africa and the Philippines.  We came together to talk it through. And although it was not easy, it was a very good step in the right direction.

In particular I found the comments of some of the colleagues from beyond the EU as enlightening. ‘Policy Coherence for what?’ said Flavio Valente from FIAN. Because depending on how you define the ‘D’ in PCD, it can mean very different things. 

For DG Trade of the European Commission for example, the deals with Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries known as the ‘Economic Partnership Agreements’ have been a success because they are different to normal trade deals. They require demonstration of development results. But what kind of results? How are they helping poor people to escape poverty? Does an increase in exports from African country X count here? And how do small producers unable to access even national markets break into international trade openings?

Fair agricultural policies – the role of small producers

The reality is that small producers and farmers, predominantly women, are simultaneously the main producers and the poorest sections of society. They are half a world away from being able to break into national, not to mind international trade markets.  DG Development is conscious of the need to support women farmers to access the benefits of trade deals.  But the issue is still timing. It is impossible to slap trade deals on countries when the majority of their populations cannot even hope to benefit, and then call this poverty eradication by trade. The reality is that only a small elite are benefitting.  And that has got to be the deciding factor ‘who benefits?’  For the record, when I asked DG Trade to provide evidence of how the EPAs have served the EU’s poverty eradication goals, I got no answer. The response was ‘DG Trade takes development very seriously’.

DG Trade representative explained that they work hand in hand with DG Development so that on one hand they can strike a good trade deal which will offer open access to EU market and on the other hand EUdevelopment projects are set up to help local farmers to enhance their export capactity. At the same, we were told that there is not much they can do when observing human rights violations in a country with which they have a trade deal; this is the primary prerogative of the country government to deal with it. Hmmm.  


The New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition

There are some other programmes supported by the Commission and DG Devco itself which are not entirely development friendly. The New Alliance on Food Security and Nutrition for example. This is a G8-born initiative to support MNC agribusiness in agricultural investment in Africa as a means of creating jobs and prosperity for Africans. A win win. Except it’s hard to see that double win.

The New Alliance is a framework to create an ‘enabling environment’ for investment. It puts MNCs in a position to negotiate with African countries on rearranging a whole range of policies that are potentially interesting for their business e.g. land and seed laws. It has seen countries setting aside huge tracts of land for agribusiness, complicating matters at a time when already complicated land reforms to establish peoples’ rights to land are ongoing. To boot it has no real poverty framework to show how it is impact on poverty. 

Looking at the last progress report, the figures of smallholder farmers benefitting comes from the MNCs investing themselves and it is pretty impossible to figure out where they got those figures.  DG Devco is doing some pretty amazing work in terms of supporting 10 African countries to adopt the internationally agreed Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure. It would be the height of irony if in a given country, the EC was funding that process, whilst simultaneously supporting an enabling environment for land grabbing.  This issue will be part of a big discussion at the World Social Forum this March.  The EU needs also to start an honest discussion on it, answering the ultimate question ‘who really benefits?’

The EU and biofuels

There were many other issues on the table at that event, the impact of biofuels targets and subsidies in terms of incentivising land grabs and food price volatility for example.  In 2009 the EU signed off on a 10% target for renewable energy in transport by 2020. Thanks to the efforts of DG Climate Action – who recognised that a) biofuels were not the climate silver bullet they were thought to be and b) the idea of using food as fuel was a ludicrous idea to begin with – the European Commission proposed that the target be capped at 5%. Just last Tuesday, on the same day we were talking about the Pussycat Dolls in Brussels, the European Parliament voted for it to settle at 6%, a compromise with the EU member states, many of whom have battling for it to stay as high as 7%. The battle of those numbers continues and we will see if sense and rights prevail there. But the important issue is this: development and green NGOs have managed to reframe the debate. It is no longer that biofuels are a smart alternative to fossil fuels. It is about ‘no food for fuel’.  This is a fairness agenda, a PCD agenda, which the EU cannot afford to ignore in its next moves on the 2030 energy package.

Leaving the event this week I felt hopeful.  Sitting around the table with the people working on these policies is the first very positive step forward.  Even if we are stil
l at the stage of clarifying concepts, we have well and truly managed to challenge eachother to think more broadly. Bringing in a southern perspective to redefine PCD is also a good idea. As Biraj Patnaik from the India Right to Food Network put it, it’s simple, it’s about ‘A just world via just means’.