Sunday, December 17, 2006

European Development Days call for better governance

"Good governance" was the cornerstone of the European Development Days, organised by the European Commission from 15 to 17 November last.

Because NGOs do not agree with the European Commission's limited definition of what constitutes good governance, they met earlier among themselves, for two days, to discuss the issue with their partners from the South.

During the European Days, the NGOs then presented the conclusions from their seminar – entitled "Just and democratic governance: a people's perspective" – to the European Commission's DG Development and the Director of UN-HABITAT. NGOs from North and South are calling on the European Union to adopt a different, broader concept of governance which brings the focus back onto poor countries and their people.

By imposing a Western-style model of governance and democracy, while focusing on their own trade and security interests, current EU policies will never meet the needs of people in the poorest countries. In the words of Ousmane Sy, former minister for local and regional administration and local communities in Mali, "Change is possible in Africa under certain conditions. The most important of these conditions is better governance based on the experiences of Africans".

The European Commission has not initiated a genuine consultation, nor has it really sought the participation of African or European parliaments or civil society organisations in drawing up an appropriate agenda on governance. This lack of transparency has confirmed fears that the EU will continue to use its promotion of "good governance" to try and impose new conditions, and its own definition of governance, on its partner countries.

Although in its latest Communication the European Commission has broadened its concept of governance, abandoning its strict policy on conditionality, it concentrates mainly on governance shortcomings in the ACP countries without taking into account the many reasons that explain why it is impossible for States and institutions there to meet the expectations of their people. As an example, while it emphasises the fight against corruption in Africa, it does not consider the role of multinationals or how they interfere in the setting of national political agendas, any more than it examines the international processes which, to varying degrees, help determine why and how a State may lag behind in terms of social services, social welfare and its role as protector.

Nor does it examine the urgent need to reform the governance of aid, despite the fact that its main donors, including the World Bank, operate without following truly accountable democratic processes. If there is to be more effective action against poverty and injustice, therefore, it is crucial to improve governance within the international institutions.

Finally, the European Union is inconsistent in applying criteria to partner countries. For example, although it reduces assistance to some countries (such as Zimbabwe) on the basis of respect for human rights – thereby punishing mainly the poorest groups in those countries – it does not take comparable steps in relation to Tunisia or China, which regularly disregard such key bastions of good governance as freedom of expression and the media.

See more news and reports from the European Development Days.

Source: CONCORD Flash, November 2006.