Ladies and gentlemen, dear Global Governance students,
Europe as soft power
Is Europe a Fortress that does not care about poor people who desperately flee their countries? Is Europe responsible for the misery in Africa? Is the situation still so bad, despite sixty years of European development aid? How effective was this cooperation after all? Should the EU contribute more to stimulate the eradication of poverty, sustainable economic growth and good governance? The assertion that the EU has no compassion with the poverty- stricken parts of the world is highly disputable. Europe is by far the world largest donor of development aid and humanitarian emergency support. The EU activities in these fields are complementary to the development policies of the individual Member States. The EU and the Member States together provide 50% of all global aid. The EU itself is globally the third largest donor.
It allocates about 15 billion euro a year, or 9% of the total budget. The EU maintains development relations with 150 countries all over the world.
In general terms development aid, preferential trade arrangements and a relatively low military profile creates globally an image of a soft power in contradiction with the US, which is in many developing countries perceived as a superpower that tries to impose its will with all the means at its disposal. When visiting African or Asian countries as a member of the European Parliament it has always struck me how differently Europe was perceived by the politicians I met in comparison with the US or the Asian great powers. As a politician and political scientist I know, however, that good intentions are not sufficient to be powerful or influential, indispensable to bring about fundamental reforms. International relations are more complicated than that.
European development policy is an integral part of the global framework of institutions as the UN Organizations, the World Bank and IMF and is compatible with the globally agreed policies and strategies. The EU and the Member States have formally declared that they shall comply with all the commitments in the context of the United Nations, such as the well known Millennium Development Goals.
Aims of European development policy
Within these overall frameworks the EU still has ample room for the EU to manoeuvre in conceiving policies, setting priorities and formulating conditions for cooperation. European development cooperation has its own specific character, due to its historical origins, and its values and interests as a broad regional organisation.
The official objectives of the European development policy reflect high ambitions converted into comprehensive and detailed programs. The (original) Treaty (art. 177) states: Community policy in the sphere of development cooperation, which shall be complementary to the policies pursued by the Member States, shall foster: Firstly *) the sustainable economic and social development of the developing countries, and more in particular the most disadvantaged among them*) the smooth and gradual integration of the developing countries into the world economy, *) the campaign against poverty in the developing countries. And secondly, Community policy in this area shall contribute to the general objective of developing and consolidating democracy and the rule of law, and respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
These objectives of the European Development policy are a combination of compassion with the fate of the poor and Europe’s interest in a peaceful, stable and secure international surrounding. Promotion of European values as democracy and human rights have always been an integral part of EU’s international relations. This had to a certain extent a mutually reinforcing consequence. After all poverty reduction enhances welfare and stability and contributes to the integration of the developing countries in the international system. In other words European development cooperation has always been mixed with foreign and economic policy goals. It is a combination of compassion and self-interest. In the so called European Security Strategy of the EC is was bluntly stated that ‘trade and development policies can be powerful tools for promoting reform. A world seen as offering justice and opportunities for everyone will be more secure for the European Union and its citizens’. But the never officially acknowledged truth is also that many European countries have been eager to exploit the special development relationships to promote their own business interests. In others words all the good doing with public money serves at the same time the interests of the European taxpayers themselves.
The mixture of development and foreign policy goals have in practice given rise to all kind of problems and political tensions. Many of the poorest countries who need the aid desperately are also badly governed by a corrupt and repressive elite. Should the EU continue to cooperate with rulers who violate human rights and persist in discarding the rule of law? If aid is stopped or suspended poverty eradication is also put to a halt and the poorest people will ultimately pay the price. So what is wisdom? The EU has never found the right answer.
The question of Policy Coherence has always been a great bone of contention among the European decision makers. In my time in the European Parliament there was no single subject more frequently debated than the incompatibility of objectives and policies and vested bureaucratic interests. First of all there is a coordination problem between the EU and the Member States, which pursue also their own policies and set their own priorities in accordance with the wishes of their own Parliament. Some national governments do not like their freedom of choice be restricted by Brussels. Development aid serves of course also national foreign policy aims, in particular enhancing national visibility and business opportunities.
But also at the European level problems of policy incoherence seem unavoidable and persistent. The EU aims to integrate the poor countries into the world economy but at the same time is supposed to promote and protect its own economic interests. The EU accepts privileged market access for agricultural products from Africa and elsewhere, but nevertheless subsidizes its own agricultural products at the world market. In the long standing and unsuccessful Doha negotiations on trade liberalisation the EU refused to sacrifice its own economic interests to structural reforms of the world market, outraging the still uncompetitive countries. As I have observed personally, the incompatibilities of the different policies on development, agriculture, trade, environment and immigration, are subject of a continuous power struggle between the EU institutions in Brussels. The development sector is not the most powerful and not always prevailing, to the detriment of the disadvantaged countries. The different bureaucracies under the European Commission fight their own civil wars, but also within the European Parliament the sectorial committees have long standing points of difference, because of their propensity to favour the interests of their own sector. Development is not the most powerful committee, as found out. Behind this institutional power struggle and the political fight over policy priorities one can discern a broad spectrum of strong sectorial lobby organisations, among which agriculture, industry and trade seem prevailing.
The European development policy making is divided in two parts. It deals with a group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, called the ACP and also with the rest of the world. This division is reflected in separate internal organisations, different procedures and different policies.
In order to understand the particular way European development policies are pursued – until today – we have to elaborate a bit on the historical origins of the European Community.
In the sixties, just after the foundation of the EEC, most African countries acquired their independence. The former colonising powers, in particular France and the UK, were very eager to maintain special ties with their former colonies. The foundation of Europe’s structural development cooperation was laid in the Yaoundé Agreement of 1963 between the then European Community and 18 ex- African colonies. Great Britain joined the Community only in 1973 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. So in practice it was France that to great extent determined the institutional bases of the Europe-ACP relationship.
In the Lomé Agreement of 1975, the former British colonies were also included. Asia remained excluded as too big for Europe, as was Latin America.
Under the Lomé Agreement the ACP countries could benefited from non-reciprocal preferential market access to Europe and guaranteed import prizes for a range of locally produced commodities such as sugar, rice and, and cacao. Conform French wishes a Joint Council of ministers, a Joint Parliamentary Assembly and a Committee of Ambassadors were established. The structure was conceived to propagate European or French styles and values amongst the African political elites, who had often already been engaged in colonial politics. These institutions are still in existence and have always worked very formally conform the French political culture. I have experienced the very diplomatic style of conducting politics myself when I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly. Development cooperation with ACP countries is financed through the European Development Fund, which is separated from the EU budget. It is funded directly by the Member States and the budget is established in the Council of Ministers, formally, but not practically, bypassing the European Parliament. The Fund has a budget of 31,5 billion for the period 2013 until 2020. The European Investment Bank has played a supplementary role by providing loans and offering an investment faculty. The ACP budget equals the budget for all the other recipient countries in the world. The Lomé system turned out to be a failure in terms of additional trade and economic diversification.
In the Cotonou Agreement of 2000, much to the dissatisfaction of the ACP partners, the privileged market access and price protection had to be faced out and made WTO compatible. The ACP countries had also to swallow a deepening and widening of the so called political dialogue. Respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law became ‘essential elements’ of the agreement. Violations of these elements could lead to suspension of the aid relation.
The last decade the EU has put much greater emphasis on conflict prevention, arguing that security is a precondition for development. The treaty entered into force in 2003 and will run until 2023. Finally in 2005 the EU launched the so called All Africa Strategy which provided for a comprehensive, integrated, long term framework for EU-African relations.
Europe’s special relations with Africa and small islands elsewhere are remarkable from a development perspective: two third of the poorest people in the world live in fact in Asia. In India you will find more poor people than in entire Africa. Although the non-ACP countries have some preferential access to European markets, it has not been comparable to the generous trade terms granted to the ACP countries. At the other hand these countries had to accept a much stronger political conditionality than the European partners in Asia, Latin America, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Evaluation of ACP-EU relations
How successful has the EU ACP special relationship been? The close cooperation has undoubtedly contributed to poverty alleviation and some improvement of the living conditions of millions. Evaluation studies show some substantial results in terms of social and economic infrastructure, like roads, schools, hospitals, water and sanitary facilities. The question remains however how sustainable these improvements are in the long run. Maintenance is not always the first priority. Institution building and strengthening the administrative capacity and the rule of law leave a lot to be desired.
Despite the pretension of equal footing in the negotiations the relationship has always been asymmetrical. The ACP could accept the European offer or remain empty handed. From the beginning the developing countries have been frustrated by what they considered a paternalistic or neo-colonial attitude. The EU was time and again disappointed by the lack of progress made by the partners in terms of structural economic adjustments and the continuation of human rights violations, corruption, violence, repression and even civil wars. The winner takes all mentality in all African countries meant in practice that ruling elite favoured its own family, ethnic group or tribe, to the detriment of others. The endeavours of the EU to engage the civil society in the cooperation had been doomed to failure from the outset. Many African countries do not have a civil society used to participate in the political process. The condionality, euphemistically called political dialogue, has led to bitter arguments with the EU and a limited number of suspensions. In some cases it led to a certain restauration of democratic institutions, but they always remained fragile. African rulers considered the interference in internal affairs as a form of neo-colonialism.
We must take into account that about 93% of the financial resources is attributed to the least developed and lowest income countries. They have the longest way ahead in development.
The privileged market access to the EU for specific products reinforced in practice the reliance on primary commodities and thereby reinforced their monocultures. It did not contribute to an increase of the production of higher value manufactured goods. The arrangements failed to establish a strong basis for long time economic development and competitiveness. The agricultural development in the ACP countries is so far legging behind that they have become a net importer and the EU is now a net exporter! The EU- ACP cooperation has been a process of trial and error. The overall conclusion must be that the results are limited, and certainly did not fulfil the high ambitions and expectations of both parties.
Latin America and Asia
After their accession, Spain and Portugal pushed for extending the development cooperation and trade with Latin America. In particular these two countries had maintained long standing political, economic and cultural ties with this part of the world. This need matched with the EU’s foreign policy ambition for a stronger global presence as an equal partner to the US. The Latin American countries considered stronger ties with Europe as a counter balance to the dominant economic and political presence of Uncle Sam. The main framework is the cooperation agreement between the EU and its member states and the Mercosur, the regional cooperation structure and its member states. The agreement provides for a sophisticated institutional framework that deals with political dialogue, cooperation (aid) and trade.
The EU has also concluded bilateral treaties with a range of Asian countries, all with a comprehensive nature of aid, trade and democratic values.
In the years 1990 The EU spent billions to prepare the Central European countries for membership. In order to rebalance the neighbourhood policy at the EU embarked upon a comprehensive cooperation process conference in 1995 in Barcelona with countries in the ‘extended’ Mediterranean region, including Algeria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, The Palestinian Authorities, Syria and Tunisia, with Kaddafi’s Libya as an observer. The governments concerned concluded in Barcelona a very ambitious Euro Mediterranean Partnership Agreement, which covered a wide range of cooperation areas, from economy and finance, to democratic politics, security and even social, cultural and human affairs. The agreement provided for a broad institutional framework, including ministers, parliamentarians and civil society. The EU allocated huge financial recourses: a new MEDA fund was set up and cheap loans were to be provided by the European Investment Bank. In this so called Barcelona Process the EU concluded bilateral Association Agreements with the partner countries. Despite the high expectations and the huge sums that were and are still being spent, over a billion euro’s annually, the Partnership turned out to be no less than a disaster.
The Economic and financial partnership was meant to create a region of prosperity through the establishment of a free trade area. This ambitious aim proved to be unattainable. The division among Arab states does not allow fruitful inter- regional cooperation. The overall economic situation in most countries has deteriorated since the start of the Barcelona process! The liberalization had a damaging impact on the still vulnerable economies, in particular for the poor mass. The political consequence is disastrous: the increased poverty and unemployment gave rise to the popularity of nationalistic and Islamic fundamental movements.
The Political and Security arrangement aimed at settling disputes by peaceful means, respecting territorial integrity and confidence building measurers. And last but not least the signatory states promised to develop the rule of law, respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and pluralism. The Arab Spring has shortly raised hope for new forms of democracy, but now, with the exception of Tunisia, repressive regimes, authoritarian rule, and ethnic and religious conflicts and civil wars are again the order of the day.
The goal of the Partnership in social, cultural and human affairs was to promote understanding between the people by bringing them together at all levels of society. Apart from some successful individual projects, this part of the agreement did not meet the high ambitions
All in all, the EU has shown an astonishing degree of naivety in underestimating the unwillingness of the authoritarian rulers to endanger their power position through democratic reforms. The EU lacked the political leverage it had towards the central European states: the prospects of accession. But more importantly poverty and unemployment, lack of perspectives for young people, authoritarian and corrupt leadership, civil wars and the unsettled Israeli-Palestinian conflict are insurmountable obstacles for the EU. The huge cultural gap cannot be bridged by exchange programs or conferences. The Arab countries accused Brussels of imposing European values on their own cultures. The refusal of the EU to condemn Israel firmly for its atrocities in the Palestinian area’s and its nuclear capacity have been a permanent blockade to more friendly relations between the Arab World and Europe. The Southern neighbouring countries refuse to cooperate, economically, politically and culturally, with each other. Relaunching the process, as was tried in 2008, does not make much sense anymore. The political, social, economic, ethical and religious problems in the region are simply too big to be solved by well-intentioned but naive partnerships.
The EU has substantially contributed to poverty alleviation, despite all the set-backs and shortcomings. Without the European sustainment of development the situation in many poor countries would be much worse. The EU proudly claims that thanks to its funding 14 million children go a primary school and nearly 8 million babies were attended by skilful health workers.
But the reality is also that 1, 2 billion people in the world are still extremely poor. 1 in 8 person has not enough to eat every day. European development aid has not become superfluous. A overwhelming majority of European citizens- 85% – are in favour of sustaining developing countries.
Nevertheless, it is high time to reassess European development cooperation in the light of the new multipolar world in this century. First of all the economic relations in the world are in speedy process of change. The emerging economies of the BRICS states are becoming strong competitors at the world market and Europe is in some respects legging behind. China, India and even Brazil are becoming competitive players in Africa. Their motivation is not poverty eradication but economic self-interest, in particular to secure their own energy supply.
According to some widely published reports the economy in Africa is booming with about 4 % growth. But the average population growth or fertility rate of 4,7 % is much higher than in other continents. According to the recent forecasts Africa will have to feed more than 4 billion people in the future.
In addition the main part of this growth is due to the export of natural resources – and in particular fossil fuels, ores and minerals – to the rising economies, in particular China, India and Brazil. The overall economic development is very unbalanced. 85% of all the exports from African countries relate to natural resources. The increasing Chinese and Indian investments concern the same sector as the trade relations, namely natural resources, in particular fuels.
This concentration on a particular profitable sector hampers the much needed diversification of the African economy. For the leading elite the easy money is no stimulus for structural economic and democratic reforms.
The BRICS countries do not confine themselves to trade and investments. They have substantially increased their aid endeavours, be it in countries with huge natural resources. China has subsidised projects in many sectors such as: health care, education, agriculture and infrastructure. The difference with ACP relations is that the Chinese aid is politically unconditional. No difficult negotiations on corruption, human rights and good governance. ‘We do not interfere in internal affairs.’
Moreover the EU has been confronted in the last decades with the so called alternative developing actors, who jump into the space left by weak states and provide financial support, food, education, health care and even security at grassroots level. In particular Islamic foundations fulfill this role at a large scale, funded by rich oil states in the Middle East. These organisations are serving the Islamic religious case by acquiring legitimacy and power, but create also tensions and evoke violent resistance. After Asian countries, like Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Islamic message is now being spread over Africa, not only violently like in Nigeria, but also in the disguise of the humanitarian angel. Not only the schools and food are free of charge but so is the brainwashing.
The simple North-South divide has lost much of its relevance. The most pressing challenges of today have a global character. The environment and the climate change, shortage of natural resources, energy, water and food, migration streams, transnational crime and terror, a vulnerable global financial system and a growing distribution problem: the income inequality between countries and within countries has increased. The world is in a process of rapid transformation, but nobody knows the direction, let alone where it will end.
The economic growth and the growth of the world’s population will lead to increasing demand for the scarce resources and thereby to changing power relations and conflicts. So the US, the BRICS, Europe and others, all give strategic priority to securing energy, natural resources, food and so on. There is a fundamental risk that the rich countries will succeed and the poor will fail in their efforts. At the same time the position of countries with huge natural resources will be strengthened.
The visions on developing problems in the Western world are being redefined. Partly to catch up with the global changes, partly as a result of the limited results of the old style development aid. There is unmistakably a shift in attention from contributing to social welfare to stimulating economic development. From focussing on projects to encouraging economic self sufficiency and a bigger role for the local and foreign business sector.
In my vision it will be unavoidable that the European development strategy in the near future will keep pace with profound global changes and modern visions on eradicating poverty.
It is essential from a humanitarian perspective that Europe continues its development policies. The EU is already phasing out aid to large countries as India and many states in Latin America. The gap between the rich and the poor in the world is getting deeper and deeper. The EU should continue its concentration on the poorest countries and the poorest population in countries. Since the poorest countries in Africa have also the highest fertility rate birth control should become an essential part of the development strategy.
The EU should reassess the character of the ACP-cooperation. From an objective point of view the entire framework seems to be outdated. The ACP-countries have become to divers in degree of development and potential to be treated as a coherent group. The abolishment of the privileged relationship, or replacement by a modern concept will meet, however, strong resistance from ACP- side but also from countries like France and others.
In a liberalised world economy there is no place for a never ending preferential trade treatment in favour of a specific group of former colonies. The priority of EU development cooperation should be to prepare the partners to become competitive in the regional and world economy. Using the relationship to exert pressure to bring about necessary economic and democratic reforms should remain a European priority, how disappointing the result may have been so far.
European aid and trade policies can also substantially contribute to a stable and peaceful world order. The development policy should therefore be more instrumental in attaining foreign policy objectives. Europe is of course a strong economic player, but it is also vulnerable from a strategic perspective. It is the highest net importer per capita of natural resources in the world. We are to a great extent dependent on imports from the instable Middle East, China, Russia and some insecure African countries.
The development of Africa and other poor parts of the world will take decades. For the foreseeable future people will continue to flee to our stable and prosperous continent. We, and in particular you, as the new generation, should not take our hands of the problem, but reinforce our efforts to eradicate poverty and promote the rule of lwa. It is of the greatest significance to do everything in our power to make the world better in other places than just our own backyard.