Development Policy and European Union Politics
‘Development cooperation’ is one of the traditional policy domains of the European Union (EU). Over the years it advanced from an instrument used in colonial times to one of modern partnership, although European self-interest remains a driving force. Jointly, the EU and its member states are the largest development donor in the world and also provide sizable market access and investment to developing countries. Their overall performance record has been assessed fairly positively by internal and external parties, although many possible improvements have been identified. The various enlargements of the EU traceably supported a widening of the geographic and substantive scope of EU development policies and practice. In addition, EU development cooperation was reinforced by the fact that it gradually received a firmer basis in the constituent EU treaties.
The ‘European Consensus on Development’ document, as revised in 2017, laid out the main direction of and emphases in EU development cooperation until the year 2030. The European Consensus prescribed a rights-based approach, and squarely placed the United Nations “Agenda 2030” and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contained in it, as the main framework and objectives for EU development cooperation.
A wide range of actors is involved in EU development cooperation, in part because this is an area of shared competence among the EU member states that pursue their own national policies as well as those specified by the EU. Thus, EU actors such as the European Commission, Council, and Parliament feature in this policy field along with EU member states and individual or collective developing country actors. The most prominent example of this is the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, which consists of 79 countries. Civil society organizations, including non-governmental development organizations, both from the North and the South, also seek to influence or otherwise engage with the policies and practices of EU development cooperation.
While EU development cooperation is an established policy field, it is also still very much a work in progress, and major challenges lay ahead for action in the period up to 2030, the year in which the SDGs are to be realized. These major challenges include funding, strengthening the EU’s political clout in the world by using development cooperation more strategically for forging and influencing global decision-making on relevant topics, renewing and innovating the relations between the EU and ACP countries, handling the consequences of Brexit, and improving on the delivery of EU development cooperation.