Tackling Global Poverty: Where Next for Brussels?


HSG reporting from the House of Commons, London, 25-06-2012

To Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons for a public forum: Tackling Global Poverty: Where Next for Brussels? Malcolm Bruce’s House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC) has just published a review of the EU’s use of the ₤1.23bn ($1.65bn) of Britain’s development budget handed over to Brussels. Joining him are two others who have done similar EU development spending reviews: Lord Hollick (House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee) and Karen Jorgensen  (Development Assistance Committee of the OECD). Also in attendance is an HSG ally, Thijs Berman, a Dutch MEP who as the EU’s Development Co-operation Instrument (DCI) rapporteur, is one of the most thoughtful development advocates in Brussels.

DfID’s 2011 Multilateral Aid Review (MAR), rated the European Commission’s aid spending as “weak” in its contribution to UK development objectives, with what it termed a “low poverty focus”. Given the synergy – the EU’s sole development objective is poverty reduction – that seems unforgiveable. But the credibility DfID enjoys in making such an assessment and the EU is denied in receiving it, may be explained by other observations in this IDC report. Frankly, development, real development, as defined by the EU, namely fighting poverty, is something that gets little priority or expertise in Brussels.

The EU has less than 12 staff in its development policy division, the IDC report reveals. DfID has over 200, for a budget less than one-sixth that of the EU’s. Are the right staff doing the right jobs in the EC, the International Development Committee asks? Actually, are any staff doing any jobs? In a revelation that seems to mirror the past decade at the EU Delegation in Haiti, a Development Committee visit to the EU Delegation office in Juba, South Sudan, revealed that 18 of 27 posts were vacant. Perhaps the EU Delegation in Port-au-Prince is the norm rather than the exception we took it for.

Thijs Berman relates the detail of development negotiations with the EC. Negotiating a new DCI consists mostly of editing drafts to remove phrases that push development aims away from the core objective and guarantee the Commission the maximum freedom of action. “I spent so much time removing clauses like “such as,” “inter alia” and “This regulation does not restrict…” he explains. “If you can’t do it without such phrases, then you don’t know what you’re doing or probably what you are even supposed to be doing.”

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