At a meeting in Brussels today EU member states reached political agreement on the future shape of the EU's new diplomatic service, but within hours the European development NGO community have launched a scathing attack on the plans and threatened to take legal action.
They claim the latest blueprints will make development a “mere pawn of foreign and security policy
” and that this is illegal under the Lisbon Treaty.So what is the British Baroness Ashton putting on the table?
Well as it stands, the formation of the European External Action Service
as agreed by the political leaders will see what the NGOs describe as "unprecedented control over development cooperation and its budget
" fall within its purview.Concord
, the umbrella group of all European development groups together with CIDSE
, the alliance of European Catholic development charities, Aprodev
, Oxfam International
, the secular aid coalition, together sought legal advice from UK law firm White & Case LLP
whose analysis came back saying: "the EAS may be in breach of objectives and competencies laid down in the Lisbon Treaty.
In a joint statement they say that this will inevitably “mix intergovernmental and community policy
” and “make poverty reduction objectives subject to foreign policy interests
"The role of the EAS under the EU treaties is restricted to the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP),
” it continues, “which represents only part of the EU's external action.
To that end, the development groups are calling for a complete review of Baroness Ashton’s proposal which will involve taking the plans back to the drawing boards of all the stakeholders including the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament, and civil society.
Their goal is to ensure that “the spirit and letter of the Lisbon Treaty are fully respected
”, that the European Commission “takes full control over the development budget
” and that the “binding objective of ‘poverty eradication’ towards developing countries is fully respected.
As it stands the European Commission has been the sole agent responsible for development policy and implementation until now, with that responsibility falling into the job description of the Commissioner for Development who is currently the Latvian Andris Piebalgs
Generally speaking, the Development NGOs view the Commission as an organisation that in principle is supposed to stand above national interests and represent the interest of Europe as a whole. Because of this it is a better manager of development policy and the funding allocated to it.
Their worry now is that with the control over development being placed instead in the hands of the EAS, the member states will now have their proverbial fingers in the pie and will give less prominence to tackling poverty in the third-world in favour of other foreign policy objectives.
The director of Eurostep, Simon Stocker, has for instance warned of a "politicisation" of EU aid.
However, an EU official close to the High Representative has been quoted by the EUobserver
explaining that after having read the document, he was convinced the proposals are compliant with the Lisbon Treaty.
"The [NGOs'] legal advice overlooks one basic fact: development policy yesterday, today and tomorrow will be based on the [main] instrument adopted on development policy, the European Development Fund [EDF], which is based on rules that very much puts poverty reduction at the forefront of what we want to obtain,
” he said.
The same official however defended the need to place development within the framework of foreign policy: "we are unfortunately living in a world where development depends on political factors. You do not make development in the Sudan or Somalia and forget that there is a political context.
"That is what the EAS is about,
” he continued, “it is not a way of trying to divert development money to so-called political purposes. It's about how you best promote the interests of that particular country.
But it should be stressed the plans are far from the done deal. After all, formal agreement on this blueprint can only be given by the member states once the Commission gives its consent - seen as likely - and MEPs give their opinion on it.
Seen now as the biggest obstacle, the Parliament has already shown itself to be not particularly happy with what it sees as an intergovernmental approach to the EAS rather than EU ‘community' approach. One MEP, the Bulgarian Socialist Ivailo Kalfin
has come out stating that the decision to put the EAS in charge of strategic planning on development issues and the commission in charge of its implementation will blur the lines of responsibility which he says will lead to “great difficulties
The European Parliament has previously sent cases to European Court of Justice
to challenge the legality of EU decisions and the misspending of the EU development money, and it could do the same here if the NGOs message is received and understood. That said, if MEPs do not take legal action, the groups themselves may do so.