What is the point of the European Report on Development 2013?

April 10, 2013

     By Duncan Green     

The 2013 European Report on Development was published yesterday, with the title Post 2015: Global Action for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future.ERD logoI’ve been rude about previous ERDs, and I’m afraid I’m going to be rude about this one, but a conversation at last week’s OECD gabfest (more on that tomorrow) at least made me think differently about the ERD’s purpose and value.

If you read the ERD as a thinktank document, it is pretty underwhelming. The 20 page exec sum (which is all they sent me in advance) contains no killer facts, no big new ideas and not much new reseach. When I asked one of the report’s authors for his 30 second elevator pitch on what was new, he couldn’t answer. So far, so bad (and they really need to get some media people involved on that elevator pitch).

Instead what you get is a decent overview of progressive thinking on inequality, migration, trade, domestic resource mobilization and the role of aid. And a lot of developmental platitudes: the ‘key conclusions’ include ‘a transformative agenda is vital’, ‘national ownership is key’, ‘the children are our future!’ (OK, I made that last one up).

But weirdly, no mention of the Eurozone crisis, and its likely impact on aid, trade and every other aspect of Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world.

There is one exception to the ‘nothing new’ critique – Chapter Two contains four case studies on Nepal, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda, exploring their experience with the MDGs. At first sight, these might go some of the way to filling the evidential vacuum on how international instruments do/don’t gain traction on national policy, so I may well come back to that chapter.

But when I raised these criticisms with the OECD’s Dirk Dijkerman, he told me I was looking at it all wrong. Although the report insists that it ‘does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union or of its Member States’, in fact it has the hands (and logos and funding) of the European Commission all over it. EC staff were involved in negotiating the final text (pretty intensively on some issues). So the ERD is somewhere between an EU White Paper and an arm’s length World Development Report. The positive content on migration, policy coherence etc has a status with the European Union that an independent report (however well-written) will never have . And sure enough, the discussion at the OECD meeting was all about what the ERD means for European policy.

erd-cover-2But if that is the case, I’m not sure the report really makes the most of its unique position. A while ago, I raised some issues where an ERD might have particular relevance, but this report largely ignores them in favour of a global development narrative. Might be better if the authors based the report more overtly on the EU’s sphere of influence, both geographically and thematically (and you’d think the Eurozone crisis would be pretty high on any Eurocrat’s agenda).

Anyway, the ERD authors should feel free to reply, and here’s an edited down version of the report’s main message:

Main message 1: A new global development framework is needed.

The MDGs have been instrumental in mobilising global support for development, while the vision behind the Millennium Declaration remains highly relevant. A new development framework should build on these efforts.

Main message 2: The framework should promote inclusive and sustainable development.

Poverty eradication remains a central objective, but its achievement and protection will require development strategies that are both inclusive and sustainable, as long-term poverty cannot be eradicated simply through social provisions. Economic growth is key but it needs to be socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

Main message 3: The framework must build on an updated understanding of poverty.

A post-2015 framework will have to tackle absolute poverty and deprivation both from an income and a non-income perspective, which incorporate aspects of social inclusion and inequality.

Main message 4: A transformational development agenda is essential for this vision.

A stronger emphasis on promoting structural transformation and particularly job creation will be crucial.

Main message 5: The global framework should support country policy choices and development paths

The policy space of governments should be respected both in determining national development priorities and in other areas such as development finance, trade and investment and migration.

Main message 6: The deployment of a broad range of policies ‘beyond aid’ is essential.

Policies in areas such as trade and investment, international finance and migration have significant effects on development outcomes and need to be designed accordingly and in a coherent manner. ODA will continue to be important, but more as leverage for other finance.

Main message 7: A range of development finance sources will be required.

Domestic resources are the main source of finance for development, not least because they provide the best policy space. Levels of ODA should be maintained and increased, and ODA should be allocated in ways that maximise its impact.

Main message 8: More extensive global collective action is urgently needed.

Achieving the vision of the Millennium Declaration will require considerably greater international collective action to tackle global issues that directly affect the ability of individual countries to achieve development outcomes (eg. development finance, trade, investment and migration).

Main message 9: Processes to address global challenges need to be mutually reinforcing.

Several international processes are probably required to respond to multiple global challenges and support inclusive and sustainable development. A post-2015 agreement may best be conceived as a framework that brings together a series of interlocking and mutually reinforcing agendas.

Main message 10: Over and above its ODA effort, the EU’s contribution post 2015 should also be assessed on its ability to promote PCD and promote conducive international regimes.

The EU’s most valuable contribution to a new global framework for development will be in a range of policies beyond development cooperation (e.g. in trade, migration, PCD, knowledge sharing, climate change, promoting global collective action, and contributing to the establishment of development friendly international regimes) while still maintaining and improving its development cooperation. In particular the EU will need to adopt internal policies that support inclusive and sustainable development at the global level.

And here’s a rather leaden 4m summary video

April 10, 2013
Duncan Green