Thursday, December 21, 2006

European Development Days – a look back

The objectives of the first edition of the European Development Days, held in Brussels on 13-17 November, were to enhance public awareness about development cooperation and contribute to strengthening the European vision on development and EU aid effectiveness. The event brought together a wide range of actors from EU Member States, African states, EU Institutions, international institutions and civil society to discuss the central themes of governance and Africa, also creating space for people to meet at the stands of the participating organizations as well as in a range of side events on different topics.

Press coverage of the event portrayed it as an effort by the EU to persuade Africans that they should accept the EU's approach of linking aid increases to political and economic reforms. This was put in contrast with the "no questions asked" approach of China, just weeks after the high-profile summit in Beijing with African leaders where China pledged to increase both its aid and lending to the continent, in parallel with increasing economic cooperation. This at times left the EU on the defensive, insisting that its plan was not to impose but to "inspire", according to Louis Michel. In an otherwise consensual opening plenary session including among others World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Aminata Traoré, former Culture Minister of Mali and co-organizer of the African Social Forum in Bamako, struck a discordant note, severely criticizing the record of Europe and the IMF/World Bank on trade and macro-economic policy choices and their impact on development and African societies.

In a plenary session with over 15 African heads of state including Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagamé, criticisms of a neo-colonial approach and failed, one-size-fits-all policy advice imposed on African countries were strongly voiced. In this sense, the desire expressed by the European Commission to stimulate frank and controversial exchanges through this event was fulfilled. Certain roundtable sessions on topics such as "shifting donor paradigms" or "stepping up the fight against corruption" allowed for productive exchanges. Bishop Desmond Tutu helped close the Development Days with an uplifting speech on African sources of inspiration for democracy and reform, also referring to the positive example of progress and peacebuilding in Europe over the past fifty years.

The CONCORD and CIDSE side events on civil society perspectives on governance were a good opportunity for exchange with the European Commission on the EC approach on governance. The Commission insisted that its approach was one of dialogue and incentives, not sanctions, and is intended to support Africans' own initiatives. The EC also stated that while they faced constraints this year regarding consultation with civil society on their approach, they are committed to a continuous process in this respect in the future.

The pre-event organised by a group of CONCORD members with the participation of several partners was quite a success and the press briefing and press release produced at that occasion were echoed in the press. The people's perspective agreed upon at the pre-event was presented during the development days at a round-table organised by CONCORD and tabled at the NGO stands.

Source: EU NEWS - Issue 10, December 2006 (APRODEV, CIDSE, Caritas Europa).

See more news and reports from the European Development Days.