Mutual understanding before real politik
At its beginning, it is striking how the notion of working together characterised the relationship between the African, Caribbean and Pacific partners and the European Community. “It is your money! You should use it to meet your priorities in the best possible way. We are here to provide technical assistance if you need it,” would say former Commissioner for Development Claude Cheysson. I cannot imagine EU member states allowing High Representative Mogherini to say something similar when she negotiates “migration compacts” with neighbouring countries.
Today, European self-interest seems to be a primary driver of cooperation, moving from a logic of partner country to donor ownership. We can only regret that European governments increasingly use development cooperation not only to tackle global challenges like climate change, tax evasion, inequality of opportunity and access to decision making of women, but to deal with Europe’s own preoccupations: stopping migrants reaching our shores, promoting economic growth including for our own large companies, promoting security cooperation with partner governments. Recent Official Development Assistance statistics largely relayed and commented by the CONCORD Europe membership confirm this trend.
Leaving GDP behind to leave no one behind
It is clear that official development assistance can be but a small – albeit unique and critical – part of the resources needed to effect a transition to a sustainable future for people and for our planet. In this context the emphasis on investment is welcome if with a big dose of caution: contrary to a frequent assumption in development planning, economic growth does not equal development. Recent economic growth has rather led to an irresponsible and unsustainable use of the earth’s resources and to rising economic, social and representational inequalities. While a number of African countries have experienced buoyant economic growth rates – this has not resulted in declining rates of poverty, although it has led to increases in the very wealthy in countries like Nigeria and Zambia.
Over the last 20 years, our conception of economic growth has led to the triumph of a notion of the free market in which intellectual property and free trade rules trump centuries old traditions. This is particularly evident in agriculture, where a handful of companies now control the global seed supply. But farmers and traditional users of the land have a different understanding of the value of seeds and land use and ownership than the private sector. If we do not undermine the role of the latter in bringing forward the Agenda for sustainable development, we also believe local and circular economy are systems through which inequalities can be reduced while preserving the earth’s resources for today and tomorrow’s generations.
“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food production through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of the food systems and policies, rather than the demands of the markets and corporations.”
Equal partnerships to out-balance singular interests: the answer to meet our global challenges
For this move to happen, we must go back to working together, across the spectrum. Partnerships that succeed are based on an honest understanding of the respective interests and strengths of the respective partners. Partnerships that are true to the values of the EU seek to advance the mutual interest and not the national or only the EU, in spite of the difficulties we may encounter.
The current political climate witnessed by the Brexit vote and rise of nationalist and xenophobic parties is the result of many people feeling profoundly unsettled by globalisation and thoroughly mistrustful of the institutions and leaders to protect them and speak for them. This has led to a Europe in which traditional political opposition (opposition parties, the media) is in many places no longer providing a balance to power or an outlet for protest.
Because of the symmetry between global and European phenomena, the role of civil society organisations is more important than ever in promoting awareness of the common challenges we globally face and in responding multilaterally and collectively to growing inequality, climate chaos, in conducting a dialogue with the public on global citizenship. NGOs, faith-based organisations, voluntary associations, charities and trades unions, we have a role and an indispensable devoir in this period of our history, as advocates and watchdogs of government policy as much as critical partners in this conversation with people.