European Development Policy. Between global leadership role and policy coherence gap

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2021

25 Pages, Grade: 1,3


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. Basic logic and structure of the EU Development Policy
2.1. Key objectives and fundamental principles
2.2 Legal and institutional framework
2.3 Main financial instruments of development cooperation

3. 27 Member states, one Development Policy: Path towards a united development approach
3.1. Accomplishments of the European Consensus on Development
3.2. Challenges of the power relations with third states
3.3. New perspectives for an EU Development Policy of long -term impact

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In light of the latest global developments, the search for all-embracing solutions based on multilateral cooperation, mutual trust and solidarity has underlined the need for global leadership, which the European Union (EU) is aiming to personify. After almost three decades since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, the EU continues to play a major role in the international sphere and serves as a role model for strengthened cooperation beyond territorial borders. Nevertheless, the 211 century has been heavily marked by enormous challenges around the globe that do not stop at a national state’s borderline. Recent crisis, no matter if of humanitarian, political, environmental or financial nature have widened the existing inequality gap between the Global North and South, exacerbated social upheaval and eroded the legitimacy of several governments worldwide, bringing the efficacy of international cooperation in question. The European Development Policy aims to foster sustainable development and stability in developing countries, with the ultimate goal of eradicating extreme poverty.1 The following paper attempts to examine the coherence of the EU Development Policy, analyzing to what extent has the EU accomplished to translate its broad framework of principles, objectives and instruments into action.

In order to determine the effectiveness and current challenges of the European Development Policy, it results essential to deepen into its basic logic and structure over time, emphasizing on the policy developments introduced within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 and the additional agreements met until the present day. On one side, it should be examined if the accomplishments of the European Development Policy through its multiple mechanisms of development cooperation and aid around the globe have indeed reinforced the EU’s leadership role and credibility worldwide. On the other hand, it should be explored which concrete challenges concerning the power relations with third states have undermined the EU Development Policy’s coherence and have hindered the achievement of its key objective: fostering sustainable development for eradicating poverty. For this purpose, a variety of agreements, treaties and reports carried out by EU and non-EU agencies is going to be examined closely, in order to understand the institutional and legal framework of development policy and frame it within an international context by assessing some of its failures and accomplishments during the last decades. After reviewing both attainments and deficits of the European Development Policy it should be concluded if the EU has managed to conduct a coherent policy by fulfilling the objectives set in its grounding framework.

The European Development Policy has been widely researched in the field of political science, nevertheless, there is significantly less research that directly links the basic logic of EU Development policy, including its institutional and legal framework to the current challenges on policy coherence. Furness (2010), on one side, explores the institutional reform carried out within the framework of the Treaty of Lisbon by deepening on the EU’s vision of strengthening its role as a development actor while guaranteeing an approach on development that adapts to the new global context. On the other hand, he addresses the increasing instrumentalization of development policy as a major challenge in his paper of 2020. Thereby, the rise of nationalism, Brexit, the changing relationship between donor and recipient countries as well as the changing nature of development cooperation itself stay on the focus of the argumentation. The instrumentality of external action will probably shape development aid in the near future, nonetheless, there is significantly less proof of the policy strategies that have heretofore impacted positively the aid infrastructure, policymaking and planning capacities of developing countries and consequently, a rather limited prospect of the potential reform possibilities of the current development policy in order to tackle major challenges such as policy coherence and aid fragmentation. Helly i.a. (2015) focus on the potential of Joint Programming on implementing development cooperation while reaffirming the EU’s leadership role worldwide. Both accomplishments and failures linked to insufficient ownership on the part of the third countries, policy coherence and aid fragmentation are thematized throughout the paper, nevertheless, there is no major focus on the structural reasons that have aggravated aid effectiveness. Focusing primarily on the perspectives of EU Development policy, Kugiel (2020) links the concept of instrumentalization of aid to the evolution of the European approach to the division of labor, pleading for a more strategic allocation of EU’s aid and regionalization of development cooperation programmes. A different approach is explained by Harendt i.a. (2018), which argues that centralizing financing and management of aid cooperation under the EU would lead to a more consistent, coordinated and unified development policy.

This paper aims to enable a linkage between the grounding framework and basic logic of EU Development policy and its current accomplishments and deficits. Thereby it should be possible to understand the possible structural challenges that have led to a coherence gap, while highlighting the importance of an institutional and normative framework in developing a strategic approach on development, and the potential EU Development Policy still has for addressing major global issues.

2. Basic logic and structure of the EU Development Policy

2.1 Key objectives and fundamental principles

In harmony with the objectives of the Maastricht Treaty (1992) - the foundation treaty of the EU – the European Union aims to assert its identity on the international scene through its development policy. As strong advocate and promoter of democracy, human rights, liberalism and the rule of law, the EU attempts to reaffirm its leadership role in the path towards a sustainable world (cf. Andrade Faia 2010: 2). The European commitment to multilateralism and cooperation has been strongly reinforced in the last decades, considering the augmenting patterns of global poverty, the climate change crisis and the power shifts that have led to political upheaval around the globe. Hence, development policy itself has been subject to adaptations, intending to satisfy the new world’s necessities.

In this same vein, the EU has set a common vision for development through the European Consensus on Development (2005), which reiterates the importance of poverty eradication and sustainable development in view of the challenges that the increasingly globalized and interdependent world of the 21st century is facing (cf. The European Consensus on Development 2006: Art. 1). The European Consensus on Development shall be defined as a joint compromise on European Development Policy, which acknowledges the willingness of the governments of the Member States and the distinct decision-making instances of the Union of delivering multilateral solutions to the recent global issues. This translates into a shared competence between the European Community and the Member States regarding development cooperation. Bering in mind that the EU symbolizes not only economic development and welfare, but also a set of values and principles – summarized in democracy and human rights – it is a prime responsibility of these developed countries to assist developing countries in the assumption of sustainable development measures by means of the European Development Policy (cf. The European Consensus on Development 2006: Art. 2).

The EU, both at its Member States and Community levels, is committed to meeting its responsibilities. Working together, the EU is an important force for positive change. The EU provides over half of the world's aid and has committed to increase this assistance, together with its quality and effectiveness. The EU is also the most important economic and trade partner for developing countries, offering specific trading benefits to developing countries, mainly to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries] among them (European Union 2006:1).

In this sense, this agreement sets out common objectives and principles for development cooperation. The eradication of poverty in the context of sustainable development constitutes the primary goal of the consensus.2 The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),3 which were formulated as part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and aimed to guide international development policy until then, built also a major focus of the European Consensus of Development at the time of meeting the compromise in 2005 (cf. The European Consensus on Development 2006: Art. 3-6).

The EU’s partnership and dialogue with third countries are based on values of respect for human rights fundamental freedoms, peace, democracy, good governance, gender equality, the rule of law, solidarity and justice. Multilateralism, together with a leading initiative also intends to enhance shared responsibility for development among other nations. The core principles of EU Development Policy are therefore to be defined as i) ownership and partnership, meaning that the developing countries have the primary responsibility for enabling the proper domestic environment for sustainable development, but at the same time they share responsibility and accountability with the EU for their joint efforts in partnership, which derive from an alignment with partner countries’ systems and procedures; ii) An in-depth political dialogue, which ensures the aforementioned values are upheld and addresses issues of transnational nature, such as corruption, illegal migration and human trafficking; iii) participation of civil society, considering their vital role as promoters of democracy, social justice and human rights; iv) Gender equality as basic requirement for attaining social justice and the proposed MDGs; v) Addressing state fragility, which in parallel intends to hinder the unfolding of domestic conflicts and disasters through the support of governance reforms, anti-corruption measures and crisis prevention (cf. ibid 2006: Art. 14-22).

Since 2015, global issues have expanded vastly, urging national governments, international organizations and supranational entities to act jointly. Thus, the global development agenda has expanded ever since from issues related to economic development and humanitarian aid into an arena of all-encompassing factors. Accordingly, the United Nations (UN) launched the 2030 Agenda, which envisages having a more peaceful and prosperous world by 2030. 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),4 also known as the Global Goals were formulated as a strategy of international cooperation in order to eradicate poverty and attain sustainable development worldwide and may be conceived as an expansion of the former MDGs (cf. The New European Consensus on Development 2017: Art. 1-2). These are framed within the key themes of the agenda: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. Being the children, youth and future generations of the world at the center of the aforementioned proposal, the 2030 Agenda strives for a just, equitable and inclusive world by enhancing economic growth and addressing a range of social issues related to mangling education, health, social protection, job opportunities and environmental protection (cf. The New European Consensus on Development 2017 2017: Art. 19).

The compliance of the global development agenda builds, therefore, a vital point of the European Development Policy, while reaffirming the EU as a global player. Thereby, the EU reaffirms its responsibility of promoting policy coherence for development and its priority of delivering support to the least- developed and low-income countries (LICs) to ensure a more balanced global development (cf. The European Consensus on Development 2006: Art. 10). The New European Consensus on Development (2017) updates the EU’s vision of development policy to respond to fundamental challenges in the new global context. At the same time, it seeks a coordinated implementation of other agreements met at international level, such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and The Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction protection (cf. The New European Consensus on Development 2017: Art. 70).

Like the first consensus, the New European Consensus on Development provides the framework for a common approach to development policy and aims to guide the action of EU institutions and Member States in their cooperation with all developing countries. This approach, based on sustainable development and human rights, coincides with the EU’s values and principles (cf. The New European Consensus on Development 2017: Art. 2).

The EU and its Member States will apply the principle of policy coherence for development (PCD) and will take into account the objectives of development cooperation in all external and internal policies which they implement and which are likely to affect developing countries. PCD is a fundamental part of the EU’s contribution to achieving the SDGs (The New European Consensus on Development 2017: Art. 10).

2.2 Legal and institutional framework

The European Development Policy constitutes a fundamental part of the EU’s foreign policy and external relations. Art. 21, Par. 1 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) states the leading principles of the Union’s action on the international scene (cf. TEU 2012: Art. 21, Par.1). Within this framework, the EU aims to build partnerships with third countries, stand by multilateral cooperation and pursue common policies and actions that contribute to the compliance of the European Development Policy’ goals. According to Art. 4, Par. 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) this common policy should be conducted jointly in areas of development cooperation and humanitarian aid, “however, the exercise of that competence shall not result in Member States being prevented from exercising theirs” (TFEU 2012: Art. 4, Par. 4). The primary objective of the EU’s development cooperation policy is, as stated in Art. 208 of the aforementioned treaty: “the reduction and, in long term, the eradication of poverty” (TFEU 2020: Art. 208). Art. 209, Par.1 of the same treaty defines the role of the European Parliament and Council in the development policy. Specifically, they shall adopt the measures necessary for the implementation of development cooperation policy, being these related to multiannual cooperation programmes with developing countries or programmes with a specific thematic approach (cf. TFEU 2012: Art. 209). Union policy in the field of development cooperation shall be conducted within the scope of the principles and objectives of the union's external action.

From the agreements cited above, it results crucial to deepen on the institutional reforms carried out within the framework of the Treaty on European Union (2007) and the Treaty of Lisbon (2009). By this point the EU had already carried out successive enlargements, bringing along a fundamental impulse for expanding the European cooperation relations and humanitarian aid around the globe (cf. Frisch 2008: 19). With the introduction of a so-called pillar system – originally created by the Maastricht Treaty (1996) – the competences of the EU were reorganized into three groups. The first pillar consisted of the European Communities (EC), the second pillar was the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and the third pillar was cooperation in the fields of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). “The second and third pillars operated on an intergovernmental cooperation basis, usually through consensus between the Member States, and with less involvement from the Commission” (Council of the European Union 2018:10). The CFSP was introduced to safeguard the common values, fundamental interests and independence of the Union through systematic cooperation between Member States on foreign and security policy issues (cf. ibid 2018: 14).

Thus, development policy – as part of the CFSP – is aligned with the key objectives of the second pillar, which set a series of functioning premises that should legally and institutionally coordinate the European Development Policy. A joint declaration on The European Union’s Development Policy resulted from the efforts of the European Commission hand in hand with the Council and the European Parliament and set out the common values, principles, objectives and resources design to tackle poverty. Following this, the Presidents of the Council, the Parliament and the Commission agreed on a common framework for the concerted and coherent implementation of practical cooperation, whose guidelines and motives translate into the European Consensus on Development (cf. Frisch 2008: 56-58). In this sense, the aforementioned coordination mandate constitutes a key element to gradually decentralize the instruments of development policy and “make Community policy as such and those of Member States into a coherent and effective whole, while safeguarding various levels of implementation and seeking a division of labour” (Frisch 2008: 22).

Perhaps the most crucial milestone accomplished towards a unified and coherent development policy is attained with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon. This carries a range of institutional adjustments that aim to reinforce a shared notion on the Union’s external action. Through the appearance of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy - appointed by the Council of Ministers, with the agreement of the President of the Commission – the EU embraces a new figure that conducts the CFSP as mandated by the Council, presides over the Foreign Affairs Council and assumes the Vice-Presidency of the Commission. Hence, the High Representative strives to ensure consistency and coherence of external action (cf. Frisch 2008: 62).

Vor Inkrafttreten des Vertrags waren drei Generaldirektionen mit der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit der EU befasst: Die Generaldirektion Entwicklung war für die Formulierung und Planung der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit in den AKP-Ländern zuständig, während die Generaldirektion Außenbeziehungen für die restlichen Länder verantwortlich war. Die Durchführung der Entwicklungsprogramme und -projekte war Aufgabe von EuropeAid. Der Vertrag von Lissabon ordnet Entwicklungspolitik nun als "gemeinsame Kompetenz" sowohl dem neu geschaffenen Amt des Hohen Vertreters der EU für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik als auch dem Entwicklungskommissar zu. So soll die Verknüpfung der europäischen Entwicklungs- und Außenpolitik verbessert werden (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung 2020: online).

Additionally, the Treaty of Lisbon created the European External Action Service (EEAS)5 as supporting mechanism of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. It is composed of officials of the European Parliament, the Commission and the national diplomatic services and its main function consists in coordinating the European Development Policy together with the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development – EuropeAid - (DG DEVCO). 6 DEVCO policy-making is to respond to field realities and should also simplify the communication with EU Delegations” (van Seters/Klavert 2011: 2).


1 TFEU 2012: Art. 208.

2 According to Art. 11 of the European Consensus on Development 2006, the EU defines poverty as a condition that deprives and incapacitates people of either gender in different societies and local contexts, framed within the economic, human, political and/or socio-cultural dimension.

3 The MDGs are the following: 1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; 2) achieve universal primary education; 3) promote gender equality and empower women; 4) reduce child mortality; 5) improve maternal health; 6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; 7) ensure environmental sustainability and 8) build global partnerships for development (UNDP 2020b: online).

4 The SDGs are the following: 1) no poverty; 2) zero hunger; 3) good health and well-being; 4) quality education; 5) gender equality; 6) clear water and sanitation; 7) affordable and clean energy; 8) decent work and economic growth; 9) industry, innovation and infrastructure; 10) reduced inequalities; 11) sustainable cities and communities; 12) responsible consumption and production; 13) climate action; 14) life on land; 16) peace, justice and strong institutions; 17) partnerships for the goals (United Nations 2020: online).

5 The EEAS key function is to ensure that EU policy with an external dimension is coherent with the general line of EU foreign policy in a specific region or country (cf. van Seters/Klavert 2011: 1).

6 DG DEVCO refers to the European Commission agency responsible for EU policy on development and international aid. It was formed in 2011 following the merger of the EuropeAid Cooperation Office (AIDCO) with the Directorate General for Development and Relations with ACP States (DEV) (cf. van Seters/Klavert 2011: 1).

Excerpt out of 25 pages


European Development Policy. Between global leadership role and policy coherence gap
University of Regensburg  (Lehrstuhl für Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft (Schwerpunkt Westeuropa))
Hauptseminar: Logik der Integration: Das politische System der Europäischen Union im Wandel
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ISBN (Book)
EU Development Policy, Consensus on Development
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Daniela Forero Nuñez (Author), 2021, European Development Policy. Between global leadership role and policy coherence gap, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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