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

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 ]]>

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7 Responses to “What is the point of the European Report on Development 2013?”
  1. Yurendra

    Dear Duncan,
    I read your blog on the ERD 2013 with great interest, and I remain a regular follower of your blogs.
    I had a quick comment, not just as an author of one of the chapters, but from a broader interest in development issues. Why the fetish on ‘new’? Coming (or rather looking up) from a developing country (Nepal) the urge to say something ‘new’ has led to what we in Nepal regularly refer to as the ‘changing development fad’. As far as I see, much of the development challenges, at least for countries like Nepal, are the same. And much of the solutions are also the same. What is perhaps required most is, what Alison Evans said in her Guardian interview, patiently and diligently chipping away at the problem. But because the ‘development industry’ pays for ‘newness’ there is little incentive for the development actors (national, international) to stay the course…
    There is a real danger that the urge to be novel in post 2015 agenda may result in overlooking/missing the real development problems and challenges. It might sound boring, but the focus should be on addressing problems and delivering results. And the global community need to hold policy makers accountable on this, and not on whether they were able to set the next fashion.
    In chapter 8 on trade and investment, we have tried to be honest and say that much of the development problems (particularly for LDCs and LICs) are the same, we only need to look at them from the new, emergent realities so that instruments we deploy are the right ones.
    I wonder when the global development industry will incentivise taking the long view of history?

    • Duncan

      Excellent point Yurendra, and no question that the debate is always horribly skewed towards novelty (not much funding for academics trying to prove something we already know). But what is true is that part of the purpose of these reports is to generate media coverage, and media want ‘news’ (which includes the word ‘new’!). The point of my post is that what is new is actually that this is an EC parastatal saying it – but the report denies that by pretending to be independent, so loses its best media angle!

  2. Extrospecteur

    Well said Yurendra!, and whilst Duncan is far from being the worst offender, the development world is deeply afflicted by neophiliac tendencies, where scaling up what works is far to dull when compared to proliferating endless pilots, preferably involving social media, smartphones and things beginning with “e…”
    a more intelligent analysis is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2012/jul/25/innovation-development-funding-capability

  3. Priya Deshingkar

    I cant quite believe that a report focusing on development with an entire chapter focused on labour migration makes hardly any mention of internal mobility. we know that this involves poorer people and is therefore more relevant to a discussion on development. Not only that internal migration is at least four times larger than international migration. I thought the debate had moved on and even though I agree with the point made above to some extent I feel that there really is a need to change the discourse in this case. Disappointed.

  4. Dear Duncan
    Yurendra has already made a good point about the pressure to innovate meaning that we don’t always stay the course with ideas that take time to be implemented.
    The other point I’d make is the novelty can also be in the way you use an existing idea. Thus the conclusion the ERD2013 reaches on the importance of a transformative agenda being vital in the new post-2015 framework would, if implemented, be a radical change from the current MDG framework that simply proposes to reduce poverty and largely through social provisions. Getting the need for a transformational agenda agreed in the post-2015 framework would be a major innovation. It is likely to meet resistance from many quarters, yet we argue this is what is needed if the international community is going to progress to the next level with the new post-2015 global development framework.
    Agreeing a transformative agenda also underpins the approach that would be required to respond to the call for bringing the MDG and the SDG agendas together. Integrating these agendas is not possible without structural transformation on economic, social and environmental levels. It is also the only approach possible if the international community really seeks to move towards the Millennium Declaration’s vision of inclusive and sustainable development.
    Many developing countries and different stakeholders, including civil society organisations, regularly call for a transformative agenda on social, economic and environmental issues, but so far the movement to get this agreed in the new global development framework post-2015 has not gained serious momentum. The ERD seeks to provide the evidence for why this should indeed be the approach and points to various areas where global collective action, for instance on trade, financial regulation or migration, where international agreements would help to bring about such a change. As researchers we would hope that actors supporting this change would be able to use the content of the ERD to advocate the case for this radical shift.
    On your headline question about the point of the ERD itself, commentators would do well to resist dismissing it too quickly. The report is different from flagship reports from single-issue multilateral agencies, essentially because the European Union is a very different body from them. Unlike, say the UNDP or the World Bank, which work on relatively narrow remits, the EU has a policy and implementation role in a wide variety of policy areas of international significance including the ones covered in the ERD 2013: trade, financial regulation or migration. Moreover, as is well known, its internal policies such as agriculture or fisheries often have a major impact internationally. As the ERD2013 argues, the EU is in a position to promote policy coherence for development (PCD) in many fields, in a way that most intergovernmental agencies are not. The significance of the EU and seven of its member states, (including some of the larger players in international development) commissioning such a report that can challenge the policy positions the EU takes on a wide variety of subjects should therefore not be underestimated. The report is independent, yet not surprisingly given these stakes, the commissioning bodies do watch it closely and maintain a dialogue on its content with the research team. It is the responsibility of the research team to push the limits of this framework to the maximum, and up to our readers to judge whether we have taken that responsibility seriously, but we would invite everyone to read the report carefully before making that judgment.
    ERD2013 Team leader

    • Duncan

      Thanks James, absolutely agree on the unique institutional positioning of ERD – that was the main point of my post. It must be a fine balancing act for the authors (independent, but not really), but if you start from this institutional position, then surely you should try and see the world more overtly through European eyes, eg on the impact and implications of the eurozone crisis, the relative decline of Europe (will it take aid, and welfare state thinking down with it?) On transformational change, for my money we have more than enough ‘ evidence for why this should indeed be the approach’ – what is missing is a) an understanding of what is blocking a shift to such an approach and b) a plausible political and economic narrative about how such opposition might be overcome.

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