EU and development: New approaches – or just a whole new bunch of paper?

According to the European Commission, 2017 will be a year for profound refreshment of EU development policy. First of all, the relationship with Africa and the ACP countries (Africa/Carribean and the Pacific) is at stake – with the Cotonou agreement, agreed upon in 2000, to be negotiated this year. In which way future EU-ACP relationships should be reformed and organised more on a regional rather than a collective level, is one of the major questions that are currently debated. This would also affect the highly disputed Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA’s) with countries in the region. Some of the discussions about Post-Cotonou already started under the Dutch EU presidency in 2016.

In addition, there are two other papers supposed to update EU development policy: the „Next steps for a sustainable European future” and the New European Consensus on Development. Delivered by the European Commission to the EU Parliament end of last November, the proposal for a new consensus shall give “a development response to current global challenges and promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in partnership with developing countries” – thereby replacing the existing European Consensus on Development, agreed upon in 2005. It is therefore seen as an important document which will have a wide-spread effect on future EU development policies and those of its Member States.

But a closer look to all these new papers, communiqués and documents needs to be taken. Do they really provide new approaches or just pile up to a new bunch of paperwork without legal and practical implication? What do the four foci of the European Consensus – People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace – mean? Will the new consensus really be a paradigm-shift in development policy, as the Commission claims, or is it still lacking concrete strategies and policy changes, as some NGOs and development experts criticise? These are questions to be raised – and parliamentarians as well as civil society should profoundly scrutinize all these statements and policy papers in the upcoming months. This is not an easy task – given the fact that even international experts are still having difficulties to turn the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs into something concrete – or even to explain to average citizens in the EU and elsewhere what they mean for their daily life. Still, turning the SDGs from nice words on paper into reality is indispensable for their success – and for any successful EU development policy reform.