A vision for European development cooperation

9 December 2011

‘I wish to express my most sincere appreciation and also of the Secretary General's for kindly accepting the invitation to share your perspectives with the ACP Ministers. Ministers expressed their appreciation for your providing lot of foods for thought, and clear view of the unfolding situation in Europe.’

Paulo Kautoke, Assistant Secretary General, Secretariat of the, African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of countries 

The European Development Cooperation Strengthening Programme (EDCSP) at ODI aims to improve the quality, vision and impact of European development cooperation.

At the mid-point of its four-year programme, the EDCSP has already gained a track record of success in establishing itself as the preeminent resource on EU development cooperation in the UK; forged a European Think Tanks Group (ETTG) with four of Europe’s leading think tanks; and built an extensive pan-European network of ‘EU Change-makers’ comprised of policy-makers, parliamentarians, journalists, civil servants, academics, private sector representatives and civil society representatives.

The challenge

Together, the countries of the European Union comprise the world’s biggest donor, providing around 60% of all aid to developing countries, represented in over 140 countries in the world. The European Commission is the largest provider of bilateral aid within the EU and the second largest donor in the world (following the US). The EU has the power to make a significant contribution to development on a global scale.

There is general consensus that EU aid has improved significantly over the past decade, but it has the potential to do even better, to become the benchmark for the international community. At the same time, development cooperation must fight for its place on the agenda of a continent that is grappling with the eurozone crisis and massive public debts. Now, as never before, all public expenditure is under intense scrutiny.

What European development cooperation needs, therefore, is a new vision that reflects current realities and development thinking that is re-cast in the language of shared interests, value for money and high impact.

The response

Responding to the clear and unmet need for more research and policy advice, ODI created the European Development Cooperation Strengthening Programme (EDCSP). The EDCSP, in turn, created the European Think Tanks Group (ETTG), building on ODI’s existing strong links with research institutes and think tanks across Europe, and playing to the strengths of all four partners: ODI, the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), the German Development Institute (DIE) and Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE).

In February 2010, as the new European Commission took office in Brussels and began to shape the institutional innovations propelled by the Lisbon Treaty, the ETTG called for a new impetus to tackle global development challenges. Its landmark report – New challenges, new beginnings: next steps in European development cooperation – called on the Commission to update the narrative of EU development policy to reflect new thinking and lessons learned from the food, fuel and financial crises.  Andris Piebalgs, European Development Commissioner was wholehearted in his praise of the report, saying ‘This book is my bible’. 

In a series of blogs, reports and meetings – including with the Development Commissioner himself, EDCSP encouraged the Commissioner to declare a moratorium on all policy initiatives in order to articulate a ‘strategic intent’ for EU development cooperation.

The impact

The Commission’s Green Paper, published in October 2010, heralded the launch of a consultation on the future of EU development policy. The Green Paper was billed as a milestone on the journey to a rethink of EU development policy, with proposals on ‘modernisation’ to be made in the second half of 2011. EDCSP facilitated ODI’s input into the consultation and the subsequent discussions with the Commission. In recognition of the role of EDCSP, Commissioner Piebalgs invited Simon Maxwell to launch the new development strategy – An Agenda for Change – with him on 19 October 2011. Following seven months of negotiations, the Agenda for Change was finalised in May 2012. 

The EDCSP is now midway through its four-year programme and is setting out its next steps. It will continue to focus on the modernisation of the policy and assess how well the new policy translates into tangible action, as well as how it will be financed in the next multi-annual financial framework (2014-2020). It will also focus on joining up other policies (like trade and climate policy) with development policy. And it will continue to push for better delivery of results and transparency.

Despite the turmoil of the eurozone crisis, the EDCSP will continue to provide the impartial, independent analysis that aims to keep development cooperation high on the EU agenda.