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Is ‘less’ really ‘more’ in the new European Consensus on Development?

30 mai 2017

« European development policy must prioritise democracy, inclusiveness and sustainability. To do this, the bloc has to change the way it interacts with stakeholders and support local initiatives, which are the building blocks of societies, » writes Wouter Boesman, policy director at PLATFORMA, in an op-ed published last week on EurActiv.com.

« The new European Consensus on Development that was adopted by the Council of ministers on 19 May builds on the efficiency adage: ‘do less, do it differently and you will get more results’. It is an echo of the minimalists cry that ‘less is more’. But can an architectural principle be applied to policies – and still make sense? Well, it depends… The Consensus text captures the many ambitions of the European Union and its member states for external action, but with a subtext of internal stresses on the European states and the Union at large.

The framing of the consensus as a key moment for the EU to do more, with less, and do it better risks therefore having the outcome of “augmented reality” (it disappears when the power is off) rather than minimalism (constructs that continue to amaze across generations). Because, in fact, compared to the previous policies, the EU wants to do much more on the very specific fields of security, curbing illegal migration and private sector development, while it is much less explicit on how to interact with all the stakeholders involved (from grass-roots to subnational governments and the private sector to the UN).

It is quite unpredictable what that will mean for sustainable global development

Short-term security concerns or stresses on internal political balances should not be the guiding principles of development policy. It is a real concern that national governments have now constructed additional arguments to divert budgets earmarked for ODA to other purposes, such as border control, defence and internal migration management.

The private sector must be engaged for sustainable development, no doubt about it. But it should also be held to account on key development principles to guarantee that the economic development they are bringing is sustainable for the people, cities and environment. There should be no down-tuning of good governance, human and labour rights principles when the EU deals with the private sector. “Less is more” would, in such cases, result in more damage and less development.

All of this can never be successful if this would mean less support for the key values of the European Union in its development actions: democracy, respect for human and labour rights, subsidiarity, rule of law. Fortunately, the EU promises more on these fronts as well.

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Read the full op-ed on EurActiv website.