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The EU dressed for a new world order

For Denmark it is crucial that the EU remains a relevant and effective actor in global development cooperation. This requires that the EU continues to adapt to changing global conditions, moves away from the traditional role of development donor, and positions itself as a preferred cooperation partner that is capable of demonstrating flexibility and innovation.

A changing global context

In recent decades the global economy has changed significantly. A large number of actors have announced their presence on the global stage and in the field of development cooperation, just as many developing countries are experiencing significant economic growth and thus have reduced the need for traditional development assistance. Moreover, a changing poverty landscape shows that a great part of the world’s poorest people are concentrated in fragile states or in pockets of poverty in middle-income countries. The EU must increasingly respond to new partners in development and to new forms of cooperation by developing instruments that integrate development with trade and economic cooperation, climate and environment, and private sector development. At the same time, the EU needs to focus its development cooperation on countries where the need is greatest and where impact can be made. As the EU has always been more than just a donor it has a good point of departure for making the transition to a world, where the need for traditional development assistance is declining.

The increasing inequality both between and internally within many countries of the world constitutes a greater problem than ever before, which the EU must address. Inequality is not just an isolated problem for the poorest segments of a population. Inequality can curb economic growth, limit opportunities for making growth and sustainable development, and make existing fragility and vulnerability worse. The UN Sustainable Development Goals have also included Reduced Inequality in its goal number 10.

The EU's development policy framework - An Agenda for Change?

During the Danish EU Presidency in May 2012, a development policy for the EU, Agenda for Change, was adopted. It has created the framework for a more effective and focused EU development cooperation, in terms of both policy priorities and implementation at the country level. Denmark left a significant fingerprint on the policy, which in many areas reflects Danish priorities. However, there continues to be a need for the EU and its Member States to clarify which role the EU should play in the broader global development agenda and in relation to issues outside the sphere of development policy. These are areas in which the EU must focus on in the future – particularly in light of the 2030 development agenda.

The EU in change

The EU’s institutions have undergone a major reform and decentralisation process. The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force in 2009, and the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the rolling out of the EU Delegations at country level followed suit. This has contributed to creating a strong platform for coordinating all of the EU’s external policies as well as the efforts of the Member States. Moreover, the restructuring of the European Commission’s Development Directorate has meant closer interaction between policy development and implementation.

The preliminary lessons from the first few years with the Lisbon Treaty’s new institutional framework in the field of development have shown that the division of labour and responsibilities between the EU’s institutions has been a challenge. There has not always been a common understanding of the short and long-term objectives, and the present modalities of cooperation have made a more strategic integration of development cooperation into the EU’s overall external activities difficult. Clearer common goals and more well-defined mandates between the Commission and the EEAS are needed. The review of and adjustments to the EEAS and the appointment of a new Commission in 2014 will present an occasion for addressing these issues.

The EU’s Member States are obvious and like-minded partners for Denmark, even though the three EU-enlargements in the last decade have been accompanied by a change in the internal dynamics between the Member States. The new Member States participate in EU development cooperation with priorities that are closer to their own experiences with transition and their own spheres of interest. This creates challenges with regard to achieving consensus in the EU, but it also provides opportunities for forging new alliances, which Denmark will be ready to make use of.

Possibilities and challenges in a strengthened EU cooperation

The EU possesses a wide range of comparative advantages and is a key platform for Danish development cooperation. Together with its Member States, the EU constitutes the largest development actor and trading bloc in the world and has a broad palette of policies and instruments along with a presence in nearly 140 countries. This gives Denmark an opportunity to contribute in countries and areas where Denmark does not have the resources or the capacity to have a presence on its own. The EU has the political and economic weight needed for joined up and comprehensive engagement for both the short and the long term, which can also allow investment-heavy and regional projects and more predictable financing because of the long-term, seven-year financing framework. The EU has also been a lever for the increased mobilisation of development assistance, partly through the new EU Member States’ mandatory contributions and partly through the political objective of the EU to contribute 0.7 per cent of GNI to development assistance by 2015.

The EU has a normative role – both internally within the EU, where the Member States can be driven forward by common positions and Council decisions, but also globally, where the EU can set an ambitious line in international negotiations. For Denmark, this provides an opportunity for direct influence in international forums, including the G20 and the G8, where Denmark is not a member but where the EU participates. The EU has a central position in relation to promoting better coherence between policies within the many sectors that impact developing countries. This also applies to the question of promoting global public goods. Moreover, the EU has a clear strength in its coordinating role at the country level, where the EU and its Member States gain a greater impact and more visible results when they speak with one voice. The EU also has a special position because of its cooperation and dialogue with European civil society and its close connection to civil society around the world.

However, EU cooperation continues to suffer from varying levels of political will within both the EU’s institutions and the Member States to implement and transform the adopted strategies and decisions into actual practice. At times, the EU can be bureaucratic and slow at delivering rapid and coherent efforts. The Member States can find it difficult to reach consensus regarding joint initiatives, proposals and decisions when national interests in the area of foreign and development policy stand in the way. In its future work Denmark needs to be realistic about and conscious of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the EU and have a sharper focus on where strengthened EU cooperation will benefit Denmark. Where it creates added value, Denmark should to a higher degree be ready to be coordinated with other Member States, but also be ready to lead the way in promoting the EU in order to enjoy the fruits of strong cooperation. For Denmark to be able to act as an agent of change, its effort needs to be adapted to the political realities, which will always be influenced by Member States’ own interests and the institutional limitations of the EU.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark
Asiatisk Plads 2 
DK-1448 Copenhagen K
Tel. +45 33 92 00 00
Fax +45 32 54 05 33
[email protected]



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