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Commissioner for development

“We assess challenges together”

by Neven Mimica

In depth

Commissioner Neven Mimica visiting an EU funded recycling centre of plastic waste in Sonfonia, Guinea.

Commissioner Neven Mimica visiting an EU funded recycling centre of plastic waste in Sonfonia, Guinea.

International development is a core issue of the EU’s external action. In 2013, the EU and its members spent about $ 71 billion of the $ 134 billion in official development assistance (ODA) afforded by the established donor nations that are members of the OECD. Neven Mimica, Europe’s new commissioner for international cooperation and development, answered our questions concerning the Commission’s approach to development policy.

What is the EU’s role in global development?
The European Union has an outstanding track record in development policy. It is the world’s largest donor, providing more than half of all development aid. The Union is the most significant trading partner for developing countries, as well as a key source of technology, innovation, investment and entrepreneurship. Our international development policy is something that all EU citizens can be proud of. We have a very impressive story to tell EU citizens on how their support is making a difference all over the world. The figures speak for themselves – for instance, since 2004, we’ve immunised 18.3 million children against measles, got 13.7 million new pupils into primary education and ensured that 7.5 million births were attended by skilled health personnel.

Development policy is at the heart of EU’s external action. Its primary objective is to reduce and, in the long term, to eradicate poverty. It is a policy for the people, building on solidarity as one of the core European values. Solidarity with people living on less than a euro per day. Solidarity with women victims of sexual violence, with individuals persecuted because they are part of minorities, and with child soldiers. Solidarity with people who go to bed hungry or who don’t have access to education, just to name a few. But it is also based on common interests. We are all faced with the same challenges like food security, migration, climate change, violence and extremism. Many of these issues can be best tackled at the root, before they start, with international aid and support on the ground.

What are the EU’s priorities in global development?
In 2015, international development will be in the spotlight more than ever before. The current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have delivered encouraging progress in reducing poverty. They have stimulated action by the international community, and global poverty has been halved in 10 years. As the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals expires, one of my most immediate priorities is the ongoing discussion on the Post 2015 development framework. Overall the world has achieved good progress on many of them. But much work is still to be done and the new goals will need to be universal and go beyond the scope of the current MDGs.

The Commission has actually just published a Communication to present our vision for the new global partnership, outlining a set of principles and proposing policy measures to be pursued by all countries, according to their respective capabilities.

The next priority is to negotiate a post-Cotonou framework and to strengthen the EU’s strategic partnership with Africa. The current Cotonou agreement is the most comprehensive North-South agreement in the world. It has been a success on which we need to build. The African, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP) is already reflecting on the way forward. Europe has to do the same. We need an enhanced approach that builds on strong partnership with the ACP countries, incorporates overarching principles, such as the respect of fundamental values, and takes account of specific realities in countries and regions. I am also determined to make real progress in gender equality, since the empowerment of women and girls is crucial for sustainable development. This year, the Commission will come up with a new Action Plan on Gender to make sure that women’s rights and needs are particularly considered in our development programmes.

I would like to highlight that 2015 has been named the European Year for Development, the first ever European Year to look at what Europe does outside its borders and focus on external affairs. By encouraging debate and exchanges of views between citizens and policy makers on development policy we want to raise awareness on how our work is making a difference in some of the world’s poorest countries. More awareness will in turn mean more support for development policy. And this is what we need. ODA is only a tiny part of what is needed to eradicate poverty; we need more support from more partners (public and private). We also need to think about innovative ways of financing.

How does development relate to peace and security in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa?
Development cooperation is in many respects very much a conflict prevention and peace-building effort because no sustainable development is possible in a country threatened by internal insecurity, crises and conflicts – and development helps to reduce many of the factors that can exacerbate political instability and unrest. That is why we focus a lot on fragile and conflict affected contexts, knowing that that can have – in turn – a major impact on both migratory pressures and on security environments in developing countries. For example, in 2012 the EU disbursed 53 % of its development resources for fragile and crisis countries. In the coming years, the European Commission will maintain this focus, with an increased effort on conflict sensitive programmes, especially in the security and justice sectors. Development cooperation can also be vital in counter-radicalisation efforts and the prevention of violent extremism. For example, we are working with NGOs on important anti-radicalisation programmes, run by NGOs, in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Somalia.

How do you intend to make EU members act in a more harmonised way?
The EU is the largest donor in the world and we aim also to be the most efficient. We work hard to maximise the impact of aid and improve effectiveness of our aid by cooperating with our partners on the ground. In this regard, we are increasingly carrying out joint programming with EU member states. This means that we assess challenges in a developing country together and prepare a common framework for our work. Joint programming is currently at work in over 20 countries worldwide.

Civil-society organisations complain that the EU’s policies on trade and migration are undermining its development programmes. Do they have a point – and can you do something about it?
The European Commission is fully committed to ensuring full consistency of its policies with development objectives. We are promoting an open and fair global market and setting an example by being the most open one to developing countries. The EU has simplified its rules of origin and enhanced information to countries most in need on how to access its market. Trade policy has great potential, but it is not a magic wand. It requires accompanying measures and careful anticipation of what the transition from protected to open trade regimes implies for the most fragile economies. EU trade policy has positively impacted development, and we remain dedicated to our commitment to support our developing partners get the full advantages of these positive effects. An open trading system has enabled many countries, in particular emerging economies, to boost their exports and thus enjoy sustained rates of GDP growth. While this helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, not all developing countries have enjoyed such gains. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in particular remain marginalised in global trade. We want to make sure that the growth and development achieved are increasingly inclusive and sustainable.

The EU and its member states are also the world’s leading providers of Aid for Trade, accounting for a third of the global total. This includes building capacity to meet EU standards and enjoy the full benefit of trade agreements and unilateral EU trade preferences. The relationship between development and migration is highly complex. Although poorly managed migration can produce negative effects for both countries and for migrants themselves, the EU recognises that migration can also act as a significant driver of development. For example, migrant remittances amount to over three times of official development assistance to partner countries, and migrant workers make vital contributions to national economies in destination countries in both the Global North and South. Maximising the positive impact of migration on development and reducing possible negative impacts are important policy priorities for the EU, as demonstrated by the strong policy framework in this area. Migration and development is one of the four priority areas of the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM), which provides the overarching framework for the EU external migration policy. This ensures that development concerns are systematically addressed in policy dialogues on migration with non-EU countries. A large number of measures are under implementation as part of the GAMM, including measures to support development contributions of diaspora living in Europe, initiatives to reduce remittance transfer costs, and numerous projects to support non-EU countries in improving the governance of all aspects of migration. Migration is also one of five priority topics addressed under the EU’s Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) agenda, which is based on the Lisbon Treaty. The EU strives to ensure coherence between its policies in the areas of migration and development, including by monitoring the impact of policy instruments such as the Blue Card on migration from developing countries.

Is there such a thing as hidden EU leadership thanks to members’ influential roles in the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF, and if so, is Europe making full use of it?
There is no “hidden” EU leadership in international organisations. The EU and its member states are the world’s largest donor and a major development policy actor in the international arena. The views expressed by the EU are welcomed and well recognised, in spite of the different status it enjoys in different international organisations.
Questions by Hans Dembowski and Sabine Balk.


Neven Mimica is the European commissioner for international cooperation and development. He took office in November.

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