Skewed plan

Official development assistance is one of the hotbeds of geopolitical debate. Foreign aid, and its effectiveness in promoting growth and development in developing countries, has always been surrounded by controversies. From the times of the Great Depression and the implementation of the Marshall Plan after World War II, the concept has been deeply influenced by Western traditions, with a blend of both European and American worldviews. The definition of ODA may have remained the same since 1972, but it has been interpreted in various ways by factoring in burning issues like sustainable development and ecological assistance.

By Swati Prabhu
  • Published 4.06.18
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Official development assistance is one of the hotbeds of geopolitical debate. Foreign aid, and its effectiveness in promoting growth and development in developing countries, has always been surrounded by controversies. From the times of the Great Depression and the implementation of the Marshall Plan after World War II, the concept has been deeply influenced by Western traditions, with a blend of both European and American worldviews. The definition of ODA may have remained the same since 1972, but it has been interpreted in various ways by factoring in burning issues like sustainable development and ecological assistance.

The European Union's development policy, at the centre stage of global development activities, has come under the scanner for the wrong reasons. There appears to be a serious disparity in the EU's policymaking, both in theory and in practice. As observed by security experts, its policy has been marred by inconsistencies and misplaced priorities. The migration crisis in 2015, for example, brought to the fore a lack of unity and clarity among the member states where allocation of aid is concerned. According to reports of the European Commission, in 2016, the EU undertook some 29,000 budgetary commitments amounting to a huge 21,567,858,269 euros. However, these numbers are redundant if results are not delivered effectively.

Largely considered to be a paper tiger, the European Commission appeared determined to somehow change its image on the world stage and attain coherence among its defiant member states. In 2017, the EU declared a 'new consensus on development' which focused on tackling challenges regarding sustainable development and poverty eradication by highlighting the so-called 'securitization' agenda and 'migration control'. As part of this, the EU proposed plans for utilizing the aid money to lure private investors into the development game by giving them subsidies. Once these private players get involved, new jobs will be created and wealth will be generated which will ultimately trickle down to the countries in need.

Sticky wicket

However, these assumptions fail in the light of the growing evidence that economic benefits usually help the rich more than the poorer sections of society. In addition, combining private and public investments through the instrument of 'blending mechanism' sends out a clear signal that the EU's self-interests take precedence over global solidarity. Even though the European policymakers have announced larger-than-life initiatives to fight illiteracy and poverty - for example, by instituting the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa - a lot is left to be desired.

By manipulating the ODA to curb irregular migration from Africa, the EU seems more inclined towards putting its political objectives ahead of its development agenda. Attempting to tackle migration through development is a lopsided approach - there is no guarantee that development has an impact on migration. Improving the quality of education will certainly create a capable workforce, but with poor job opportunities they will be forced to migrate to neighbouring Europe or Asia. It appears that the priority of the EU is to protect the European landmass as a fortress against migration.

The key to the new consensus lies in transparent disbursement of development subsidies to private investors. Take, for instance, ensuring that enterprises causing direct harm to the environment (such as the fossil fuel industry) or indigenous communities are not encouraged. Development is not driven by mere capital generation. Development is an all-encompassing concept which involves human rights protection, ecological conservation, empowering local communities and environmental safety. The EU entities are on a sticky wicket and, in the long run, their development policy will have to touch upon the growing sustainable demands of the people most in need of it.