Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Impact of EU aid: Some good news, more to be done

Brussels, 21 March, 2007. While the EU is the largest donor in the world, how much do we really know about the impact of European development cooperation in recipient countries? Is European aid really working in reducing poverty?

An interesting answer to these questions is given by the new CIDSE - Caritas Europa report "The EU's footprint in the South". The report draws a picture of EC aid, underlining the critical elements that determine a positive impact of EC programmes. The report focuses on the 'good stories', indicating conditions in which EC aid works better, thus putting emphasis on the positive examples of EC aid.

The case of Tanzania, for example, shows the importance of putting the focus on impact of aid in every aspect of EC actions, from planning to evaluation. On the other side, Guatemala offers a good example as far as broadening the participation of national stakeholders is concerned. The EC should assure this participation by being more transparent, making sure consultations are 'meaningful, not informative on strategies already finalized'.

A diverse mix of speakers and an interested audience debated these findings with the authors.

According to Paul Samagassou, from Cameroon, even if capacity building is still an issue, southern civil society organizations are emerging more strongly, and are more able to give concrete inputs in these processes. The key for aid that works lies in the 'dialogue between the EC/EU and the southern civil society organizations'.

MEP Alain Hutchinson, host of the event, reinforced this point, arguing that 'the EC has not the political will to engage with Southern civil society organizations in planning and implementing aid programmes'. Therefore, the call is for more Southern oriented and Southern driven development cooperation programmes.

Referring to an earlier comment from the floor, Emmanuel Mali, from Zambia, stated that 'there's no need to be an academic to define poverty: you see what poverty is when you enter my country'. Zambia is a recipient of EU aid for a long time now, but when you look for the impact of this aid, you do not really see it. In fact, he said, EC/EU actions are not in line with the priorities and needs of the country. 'It is true that roads have been built; unfortunately, these roads do not connect rural areas with each other and with commercial centers.'

Bernard Petit, defining the report as 'one of the best produced in recent month, objective, with good examples of EC actions', indicated the positive improvements that EC\EU development policy is undergoing, with the Consensus on development and the proposed division of labour among donors. Nevertheless, he recognized that much still needs to be done, and he will take forward some of the recommendations presented by CIDSE. In particular he committed himself to provide EC delegations with clear guidelines for providing southern actors with better and timely information on EC actions, and assuring their effective participation in development cooperation programmes.

Anke van Lancker, from Belgian Development Cooperation and Roland Guttack from BMZ, reminded the audience the importance of member states (and their national parliaments) in the broader picture of the EU aid. In this sense, the proposed division of labour is crucial, meaning 'less countries per donor; less sectors per country; less donors per sectors; resulting in better distribution among developing countries'. The German Presidency is putting a lot of effort in this, working together with the coming presidencies of Portugal and Slovenia.

In general, what emerged from the discussions was a certain degree of understanding between the different actors: in spite of progress and changes so far, a lot still needs to be done, and every actor has a specific responsibility in this. The EC has to focus on the needs of the poor and allow more participation, more information, and real, meaningful consultation with civil society organizations. On the other side, Member States have also to take responsibility for better aid, making sure that their aid policies work for the poor. Last but not least, civil society organizations, in the North and in the South, need to hold the EC and MS accountable on what they do, and challenge them to make sure that European aid does have an impact on recipient countries.

CIDSE and Caritas Europa will work for that, making sure that their next report draws lessons from a wider number of 'good news'.

For more information, check the Euforic dossiers on EU cooperation.

Story contributed by Pier Andrea Pirani.