2010 EU & Civil society

The future of the relation between the EU and civil society

3 March 2010  Speech at meeting in European Parliament

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to this panel-discussion. First of all I would like to thank Thijs Berman and Ana Zaborska, who hosted this meeting. Welcome to Mr Richelle. To say that you are here representing commissioner Piebalgs would absolutely underestimate your role in the policy and implementation of the EU-development-cooperation. So I’m happy that you are with us. Welcome Mr Bouratsis who already participated in our conference yesterday. But he was not the only one to attend our conference. I was impressed by the number of representatives of  the commission present in our meeting and engaging themselves in the dialogue with Cidse and Caritas and their southern partners on the cooperation between the EU and civil society.

Three days we discussed past, present and future of the cooperation between the European Union and civil society organizations. We tried to take lessons from the past, to assess the actual state of affairs and to formulate recommendations for the future. I will not read out all the challenges, opportunities and recommendations of this conference. You will receive the full report within a couple of weeks.

I will reflect on some of the issues that we part of our discussions and put some of the key-recommendations on your agenda. Of course we prepared this conference in view of the dialogue between EU and CSO’s which will officially be launched by the end of march as the Palermo II process. But it is not the first time that Cidse and Caritas came together with our southern partners. In 2007 we already held a similar meeting in Arusha. It shows our commitment as catholic networks together with our southern partners to position ourselves as partners in that dialogue.

That brings me to the first issue to reflect on, the multiplication of the number of CSO’s that is approaching the EU and is establishing relations with the EU. That multiplication is leading to fragmentation and to increased competition as well as to increased frustration amongst CSO’s on the waste of time and energy in preparing concept-notes and applications eventually rejected. I believe that we are facing the limits of the individualistic, one-to-one approach in the cooperation between the EU and CSO’s. The multiplication of CSO’s is a reality and as the self-expression of society we should welcome the way that society is taking up every time new issues and new interests to organize itself. But it is unrealistic te expect multilateral organizations to establish a relationship with each and everyone. I believe that we, in the Palermo process should explore how the network approach within civil society could be a framework for a more meaningful and productive cooperation. The conference of these three days have shown that the Cidse and Caritas network with their partners, based on strong common values, in developing countries are ready to engage on a network-basis with the European Union.

That relationship within our networks between northern and southern is also a sign that competition between northern and southern cso’s is not a necessity.

In our discussions of these three days we frequently discussed the need for a more profound policy dialogue between EU and CSO’s. We, that means CSO’s and EU alike,  are very much aware that development work has to reflect on a much broader agenda for the future. Not only the traditional social issues like health, education, HIV/Aids en gender are on the agenda. We cannot longer think about development work without integrating migration, climate change, security into our framework. And we have to realize that the growing influence of the emerging countries like China and India is changing our development discourse. A meaningful dialogue between EU and CSO’s had to take into account this broader scope of our dialogue. But that means also that there has to be an investment in capacity building of civil society. There is a challenge for both the EU and northern civil society to invest in that process of strengthening of the capacities of cso’s. And that requires changes in the funding strategies. In a result based financing strategy most funding arrangements are an activity based costing methodlogy. That leaves no room for investing in the policy capacity and  the capacity for research, innovation and analysis of CSO’s. Our investment in this conference is one of the signs that Cidse and Caritas are already investing in the policy capacity of their partners and we will continue with that.

There is of course an issue that is high on the EU agenda also in its relation to civil society and that is the aid effectiveness agenda. There have been frequent calls upon civil society to join the aid effectiveness agenda that has been launched in Paris and confirmed in Accra. Is Aid effectiveness an issue for civil society? Of course, no doubt. As organizations that are living ad working close to people, civil society organizations are concerned about the effectiveness of development cooperation. But for us the Paris and Accra agenda doesn’t fit easily for civil society. The Paris and Accra is based on coordination and alignment between donors. On the level of Europe with twenty seven partners it is already a heavy task to realize a well coordinated agenda and division of tasks and labour.  I believe it is unrealistic to expect that a effectiveness agenda that is mainly focusing on coordination and alignment could work in the field of civil society where thousands of organizations are playing a role.  Effectiveness is on our agenda but than much more from the perspective of beneficiaries: is development work really making a difference in the life of people, are pledges on programs really reaching the targetgroups, the most vulnerable and most marginalized. I believe that we should work together on a shared effectiveness-agenda where impact is at the heart of the effectiveness discourse. The question of impact is increasingly important, given the critics on development work. More and more we are challenged to show not only first order results but also second order results. We cannot stay with only output measurement, we have to make a step further and reflect on impact. I realize that this will be a difficult task that requires joint investment in research.

In developing countries civil society is struggling tot be heard and to get a voice in the arena of public debate. Time and again during this conference southern cso’s raised the issue of transparency and accountability as crucial for development. But not only civil society feels often excluded from the policy and funding discussions. Often also parliaments and parliamentarians in developing countries are left out from these policy and funding discussions between donors and governments. That creates the feeling of upward-accountability being more import for donors than downward-accountability. Parliaments and civil society are not competitors in the call for democracy and representation. Together we are concerned about this and, in its own role and responsibilities, we call for action.  We can’t believe that the European Union and its delegations in the developing countries are satisfied with this democratic deficit. The consultation process has put this issue on its agenda as a joint concern for southern and northern civil society and for the EU. In some countries with Ethiopia being the most well known, but not the only case, new legislation on ngo’s is reducing the space for civil society to play a role in the democratic process of checks and balances.

We are discussing the cooperation between EU and civil society in a period of time where there is huge pressure on development cooperation. The financial crisis and the drop in GDP has eroded the development budgets of different countries. The targets of the different EU countries for 2010 will not be met and the European countries are facing the need for steep budget-cuts in order to balance their deficits in their national accounts. That requires to my opinion to al least three answers. The first is just put pressure to keep governments to their promises. In a globalized world the interests of Europe goes beyond its own boundaries. The second is emphasis on the quality and effectiveness (meant as impact) of the budget that is available. We have the obligation the make the best out of it. The third is a renewed emphasis on self-reliance of developing countries. This crisis shows again the unhealthy dependency of developing countries. Globalization, where the natural resources of developing countries will play an increasing important role offers new opportunities for self-reliance. Doesn’t give a poor man a fish, learn him to fish was a slogan of decades ago, which has not lost its value. Our discussions on cooperation should more than ever be put into that framework of a changing political environment.

The results of this conference will hopefully contribute to a fruitful and profound dialogue between EU and civil society.