This 5th Global Meeting of the PFD took place during a time of significant change in the development landscape generally, and the EU itself.
The EU is in the last stages of negotiating a new European Consensus on Development, which was the center of much of the discussions of this meeting. Giving an overarching view of the purpose of the Consensus, Stefano Manservisi stated, “The Consensus is an attempt to set an agenda to tackle global issues and put the EU as a main actor in the implementation of this Agenda which contains risks and opportunities.” The new European Consensus on Development will aim to achieve a structural change, operating in a way that avoids, as Mr. Manservisi noted, development aid “acting on behalf of systems that [are] not delivering.” He went on to say, “The Consensus provides a new structure in federating policies, with the development policy on the driving seat. The Consensus now brings about a change whereby long-term development policy can influence short-term external policy.” The Agenda 2030 and SDGs approach is a new approach for development policy, and with the Consensus the way development structures operate is changing the policy orientation.
The Consensus is now under negotiation, and reservations remain with regard to “innovative financing mechanisms”, including blending and bringing in the private sector and investors. While EU officials stressed that it is a necessity to partner with the private sector given that ODA alone will not be sufficient to implement the SDGs, representatives from CSOs equally stressed the necessity of private sector partners to be held to account to respect the rights of workers, human rights, and the environment. Even if, as the EC notes, blending with the guarantees schemes have already worked in many sectors, such as the environment and healthcare, it is still imperative that the EC hear the call for the private sector to engage in the development process in a way that prioritises business models centered around people and the planet, not around profit.
EU officials also stressed that people remain at the core of EU development policy, explaining that being closer to citizens and attempting to reconnect people with political action is the foundation of the new Consensus. Stefano Manservisi stated: “Bringing the people in is the spirit of the new Consensus.” However, EU representatives conceded that some development funding will need to be used for security as development cannot start to be implemented in situations of conflict. Also, inherent to security questions is the issue of migration. EU officials focused in on how to make migration an opportunity rather than a challenge much more heavily than how to ensure that the human rights and dignity of migrants are preserved. In the end, though, poverty eradication remains the first priority, and PFD members in attendance called on the EU to ensure that the development agenda not be derailed by a broad inclusion of non-development issues and solutions that serve purposes other than development.
In the new Consensus proposal, the EU commits to engaging inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve development goals. The panel on this topic sought to underscore how development partners can work together better. However, participants at the meeting noted, there must be equal treatment and trust between partners in order to achieve the intended outcomes. With this in view, the EU must respect CSOs and LAs as equal partners in development cooperation, working toward an enabling environment for them, if it is to reach the people who need help the most. Moreover, the new Consensus must uphold the cross-cutting development effectiveness principles of country ownership, results focus, transparency and mutual accountability. These values were acknowledged by EU officials and should be enshrined in the final Consensus, as this is the only way to do development right.
This PFD meeting, especially as EU development policy is being updated, was a pertinent moment for CSOs, LAs, governments, the private sector and other partners in development to come together to raise concerns and work together to build solutions. However, some questions remained. We are left to wonder: Will the new Consensus will address the underlying structural and systemic problems that contribute to poverty? Will it serve to truly propel the EU to be a leader in development cooperation, maintaining that poverty eradication is the goal of development and championing human rights?
While we await negotiations of the new Consensus to be completed and as we continue our work at home in our communities, CSOs urge the EU to take bold action to achieve the transformative change we all want to see for a better tomorrow for us and our planet.