2010 Caritas conference

Opening address Cidse  = Caritas conference on collaboration civil society and European Commission

March 2010

Dear Mr Bouratsis,

Dear representatives from the European Institutions, dear friends, partners  and colleagues from all over the globe

As the president of Cidse and director of Cordaid it is a pleasure and an honour to welcome you at this conference on the relation between civil society organisations in Europe and developing countries and the European Union.

In January I was in the Central African Republic, one of the poorest African countries, landlocked, affected by conflicts at home and neighbouring with conflict states like Sudan, DRC and Uganda. Civil society and Caritas organisations had establishes relations with the delegation of the EU in implementing programs to contribute to development and poverty reduction. And Cordaid itself made an agreement with the EU in December to implement, together with partners in the RCA, a multi-annual program for the health care sector based on the performance based financing methodology. It shows the day to day reality of the relationship between the EU and civil society and it underlines the importance of this meeting to reflect on that relationship and to contribute to that relationship.

The relevance and need for development cooperation had increased over the last two years with the food and economic crisis. We are living in a world with more than one billion of people not knowing if there will be food on their table tonight. Our European countries are facing their own financial problems, The Greek crisis seems an exception, but all EU-countries are talking about steep budget cuts in order to reduce their budget-deficit. The promises to increase development aid and the benchmark that has been set for 2010 will not be met. The Development Assistance Committee of OECD has predicted that there will be a shortfall of 21 billion of ODA compared tot the 2005 promises. The process of reaching the MDG’s comes to a halt. The results that have been made so far, also in Sub Saharan Africa, in enhancing the enrolment of children in schools, in improving maternal health and reducing the child-morbidity, in providing life-saving drugs to people living with HIV/Aids will not see a further follow up by including ever more people.

This crisis has also showed how dependent developing countries are vis a vis the donor countries, how big the impact is of the economic and financial crisis on developing countries. That calls for two responses. The first response is to keep our promises, as simple as that. Cidse and Caritas as catholic networks that are promoting the integral human development based on the human dignity of each and every person, call and will continue to call for a unconditional commitment to development cooperation. The second respond is to make developing countries less dependent on foreign aid. There is an urgent need to put self-reliance again high on the priority list of development cooperation. And the increasing importance of developing countries because of their natural resources (energy, minerals, arable land) and their human resources (migration) makes a much higher level op self-reliance not longer a utopian perspective.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Development is never possible based on the intervention of a single actor. Multi stakeholder involvement is necessary. We as civil society are happy that the Accra Agenda  for Action acknowledges civil society as an ‘actor in its own right’ in the development domain. Compared to the Paris Agenda this is an important step further in the dialogue and cooperation between governments, multilateral institutions and civil society. The role of civil society is all the more important when we realise ourselves that development in many countries is a pressure cooker process. In a very limited period of time developing countries have to find a place in a globalized world with  certain rules of the game when it comes to the economy, security, energy and geopolitics. And there is no option to stay outside. There is a rapid and forced transformation of societies, where we in Western Europe had 500 years to develop institutions, economic mechanisms, checks and balances in power-relations, In that process of social transformation civil society in its different forms of trade unions, women’s groups, churches and mosques, farmers unions, youth and students movements are, as an expression of the self-organising capacity of societies, indispensable for that process. Neither state nor the market is capable of weaving a new social texture in a transforming society. But civil society as the self-expression of society is not only important in this social transformation process in which most of the developing countries are involved in. In a recent working paper for the World Bank Francis Fukuyama and Bernard Levy stressed the importance of bottom-up approaches  ‘which engages civil society as an entry point for seeking stronger state capacities, lower corruption, better public services, improvements in political institutions more broadly and a subsequent unlocking of constraints on growth’. Civil society is necessary to create the checks and balances that are needed in society and to keep governments on track , whether these are on local, regional or national level. There is a vital role for civil society as watchdog in the process of building state institutions.

And there is a role for civil society in delivering basic social services. That is not only so in fragile state where civil society is filling the gap of an absent state. Also in other developing countries there is a genuine and authentic role for civil society as provider of basic social services. And there  I see an increasing competition between state run services and ngo-run services as if it should be an either/or choice.  I can’t see why only state-run education, state run health care or state run HIV/Aids services should be available. Even the opposite. In a system where government is setting the rules and standards on quality, accessibility and financing, it is to prefer that others are responsible for implementation and are accountable to the government on whether or not they are living up to the rules and the standards. Catholic hospitals and catholic schools are playing that role as reliable service providers near to the people. We are calling for complementary between civil society and governments instead of competition.

The caritas organisations and other southern civil society organisations that are present at this conference are executing these three roles (organizing social transformation, being the watchdog of their government, implementing social services) and are the living experiences and witnesses of what civil society does and can do in the process of development.

Not to say that civil society has not its constraints and limitations.. We are sometimes too fragmented, sometimes too much focussed on our own projects and programs, not looking at the broader picture, we are sometimes too much entrenched in our own ideological positions, not open enough for collaboration with the not-so-usual suspects. We are sometimes not rigorous enough in applying scientific evidence, evidence based evaluation methodologies. We are not saints. As catholic organizations we know that for sure.

Ladies and gentlemen,
There is a long history in the relationship between the EU and civil society in development cooperation. We are now entering into a new dialogue to reflect on our experiences over the last couple of years. The report of the Court of Auditors on the cooperation with Non State Actors in development cooperation reflects to a large extent the experiences of civil society in both North and South. And there we need new steps for the future:

First, there is an urgent need to invest more in the downward accountability instead of the upward accountability. Logframes, budgets, performance indicators are functioning as a straight jacket for civil society. Donors are falling into the trap aof what I would call the ‘effectiveness paradox’: concerned about the effectiveness of their funding donors are attaching strings of requirements, conditionality, strict rules and reporting formats in order to assure the effectiveness of their programs. But this framework with all its inflexibility and given the fact that each government or multilateral donor has its own framework of conditions and requirements lead to less effectiveness and to less responsiveness to the needs of communities.  These frameworks create also such a high barrier that grass root organizations have no access to funding, as also the Euopean Council noticed in its report in the Court of Auditors report. That provokes the establishing of new intermediary management structures. We need to develop new accountability structures and procedures where upward accountability should be based on the downward accountability.

The relationship between the European Commission and its institutions should be based on the principle of subsidiarity which is at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching: hand over responsibility, based an capacity-assessment and trust instead of establishing a large control-system.

Second, we need to build a new relationship regarding the participation of civiol society in the programming and the in country policy dialogue. Civil society in developing countries is an expert in the development of their own people. They are not just subcontractors but have a lot to offer to shape the policies of the EU and the have  a lot to offer in the in country policy dialogue between all actors.

This conference offers the opportunity to contribute to that dialogue between the European Commission and civil society organisations. We can share experiences from north and south, showing that we have a common interest and that we, in our relation with the EU, are not competitors but colleagues and collaborators in our efforts to invest in human development. We have an opportunity to see where we can overcome the gaps between policies and practices, how we can create and strengthen an enabling environment for that dialogue.

Development cooperation is under pressure because of the economic crisis, the inward looking tendency in a number of European countries, not the least my own country, the Netherlands. But for me there a two things certain. First is that the crying reality of poverty will be there for the next couple of years as one of the main global challenges. The second certainty is that true human development is impossible without the contribution of civil society as the expression of people themselves. So we have work to do to improve our work, to sharpen our mind, to prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead of us. I hope that this conference will contribute to a better mutual understanding and a better collaboration.