Sweden and the challenges for EU development cooperation

Sweden's new government should work to get more Swedes in key positions in the EU Commission and to strengthen the EU's foreign administration's focus on dealing with both the global challenges and the effects that EU policy has on areas other than development cooperation. That is the opinion of Bertil Odén, a writer with long experience of development aid and development issues.

At an interesting seminar, organized by the Association for Development Issues and Concord last week, the challenges for EU development cooperation in a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape were discussed, how well the EU is equipped to conduct this work and Sweden's role in this context. Here are some comments from the audience about what came out during the seminar.

Geert Laporte from the think tank ECDPM gave an educational overview of the EU's challenges in a world where geopolitics is rapidly changing, the number of fragile and conflict - affected countries is increasing and the EU's economic, political and demographic influence is weakening. Perhaps Geert Laporte's most important comment was that although the EU is the world's largest trading bloc, the European Commission and its member states together account for 60 percent of all public aid, have value-driven development models (HR, good governance, including growth, gender equality, etc.) and consider itself as a model for regional integration, the EU is perceived by other actors as “a payer and not a player”. I interpret this as meaning that the gap between the EU's self-image and what the environment sees is large.

Laporte also pointed out that the EU's foreign service, the EEAS, has so far focused primarily on security and foreign policy issues. Its expertise is less in policy areas such as foreign trade, climate, energy, economics, agriculture and the environment. This creates problems when the high ambitions for EU coherence between development goals and goals in other policy areas are to be implemented. Expectations of the EU developing a common European policy are high, but in practice the interest of the Member States in relinquishing responsibility for the issues is small and the organization in Brussels is not yet ready to take such responsibility.

The oft-cited remark that the EU Commission and the EU member states together account for about 60% of the OECD countries' total aid, risks obscuring the fact that the Commission's aid itself is almost three times that of Sweden or slightly larger than Germany's. In individual countries, therefore, the Commission is seldom dominant in most areas, but often a large or medium-sized player. The idea that the Commission in the individual partner countries should automatically be some kind of coordinator of aid from all the Member States is therefore wrong and is the result of a typical capitalist mindset. It risks creating unnecessary bureaucracy between donors in the individual partner countries. The constellations of actors who collaborate in a certain area, e.g. education, health care, governance issues or infrastructure, are always different and who is best suited to coordinate depends on who in the individual case has the best skills and resources. There, the European Commission should be a player among all others. On the other hand, the Commission representative may, when circumstances allow, represent the entire EU collective in the so-called policy dialogue with the beneficiary. Here too, however, this may be hampered by disagreement between Member States on policy priorities.

For the European Commission, as well as for many of the Member States, the importance of cooperation (coherence) between the various policy areas will become even more important in the future. The reconsideration of Swedish PGU policy that needs to be implemented must, among other things, contribute to achieving such a strengthening of coherence thinking in all EU institutions. This requires a strengthening of the PGU machinery also in the Swedish Government Offices, something that has been pointed out by both the OECD and the State Treasury.

When the new Swedish government is now to work out the new development assistance platform announced in the government declaration, some of the path choice issues that must be considered will be linked to the EU and its entire development policy. Such a choice of path applies to the normative work in the EU, which Marina Berg at the seminar strongly emphasized the importance of. This is about how hard Sweden should push the three Swedish thematic priorities democracy and respect for human rights, gender equality and the environment and climate in relation to what energy should be put into further improving the efficiency of the Commission's institutions and mechanisms for action in areas such as infrastructure. , energy, agriculture, industry and service industries. All proposals of this kind are usually met with the argument that one can do both. The willingness to admit that prioritizing one or more activities also means downgrading others is often weak among decision-makers.

Some possible measures to strengthen Sweden's influence in the EU's development policy and to contribute to streamlining the implementation of this policy are:

  • Put more energy into supporting the recruitment of Swedes for key positions in the EU Commission.
  • Push to strengthen the EU Foreign Service's focus on tackling global challenges in areas such as climate, environment, energy supply, water supply, food supply and pandemic protection.
  • Further strengthen Swedish efforts to increase the positive and limit the negative effects of EU policy in areas other than development cooperation. Examples of such areas are agriculture, energy supply, parts of trade policy, taxation of environmental degradation and climate emissions and the regulations for capital transactions. Here, Swedish PGU policy must also involve Swedish action in the EU even more strongly.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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