The fifth UN Conference to support Least Developed Countries (LDC5, as it’s known) is around the corner. This is another moment – following hot on the heels of the disappointing COP26 – when the EU must step up. Given the extremely difficult situation that LDCs are facing, the EU must not only meet previous pledges but go further. Unrealistic? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.
Forty-six countries are today categorised as least developed countries (LDCs) by the UN. And of those, 31 are in Africa, the continent with which Europe wants to create a ‘partnership of equals’. By sheer coincidence, January 2022 is not just the month of LDC5, it also marks the one-year anniversary of the European Commission’s DG International Cooperation and Development undergoing a rebranding as DG International Partnerships. So what more perfect an occasion to show – at last – that the EU is serious about rethinking and reframing relations with Africa?
LDCs account for only 14% of the world’s population, but for almost half of the people living in poverty. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, 140 million more people have fallen into extreme poverty and inequalities have sky-rocketed, with marginalised people (girls, women, informal workers, people living in slums etc.) being the worst hit. The EU promised that it would give 0.15-0.2% of its GNI in ODA to LDCs by 2030. Despite this, as CONCORD’s 2021 AidWatch report has shown, in 2019, the EU only managed to give 0.1% of GNI, and of those 46 LDCs, only Afghanistan and Ethiopia were among the top ten recipients of the EU’s collective ODA. The country which received the largest amount of EU ODA was Turkey, despite it being classed as an ‘upper-middle-income country’.
Meanwhile, LDCs rely on rich nations keeping their promises. Their investment and spending needs are enormous: it will take $485 billion annually to eradicate extreme poverty alone by 2030. So in fact, what the EU needs to promise at the upcoming LDC5 Conference, is to provide at least 0.35% GNI for ODA to LDCs, or to scale up the total portion of ODA to LDCs to 50% of net ODA. And of course, it goes without saying that it should prioritise grants over loans. Will the EU deliver?
So far, the EU is not faring very well on improving its image as a reliable partner. Now the EU has another chance – but will it come up with the goods?
For the last 10 years, under the Istanbul Programme of Action, the focus has been on improving countries’ productive capacities. This will be an important moment to take stock of whether the necessary changes were brought to bear. Looking to the future, the international community must align its support for LDCs with the 2030 Agenda, its principle of ‘leave no one behind’, and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The upcoming conference, and the Doha Programme for Action, must take a more comprehensive approach, focusing on all three dimensions of sustainable development and the very important governance components which will enable LDCs to make the progress on their own.
The conversation about countries’ Integrated National Financing Frameworks must be pursued and rich nations must support their implementation. It goes without saying that domestic resource mobilisation will not be able to meet the needs. Even were global taxation regimes to be reformed and the race to the bottom halted, even were countries’ debt to be cancelled, even were international trade to be made fair, outside assistance to LDCs would still be key in the coming period. And given that not one of those three premises is currently in place, “an authentic global partnership in support of LDCs goes well beyond the moral commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ ”. External financial support is quite simply owed to these countries. But, it must not be used as an excuse to postpone reforming international governance and the economic and financial systems which penalise poorer countries.
Richer nations, including the EU bloc, have a duty to right the power imbalances inherent in global governance and to ensure that they ‘do no harm’ in the international relations they establish – whether they be economic relations, security relations, political relations and so on. Only in that way will current relationships with Africa be transformed into partnerships.
That is also why the EU must step up this time. Why it must not only meet previous pledges but go further. Unrealistic? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.