Last year, we took part in European Development Days 2012 and posted a series of debates about Europe’s role in international development (as well as putting some of your comments to Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, in a video interview). During these debates, several commenters wondered why the EU “should be sending aid to countries outside Europe” whilst public services were suffering such severe cuts at home. Others felt that Europe had enough problems of its own before it tried to help others. Albert, for example, wrote simply: “Finland cannot solve the world’s problems. Sorry.”
In order to get a response to these arguments, we interviewed Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation, and put some of your comments to her for a reaction. How would she react to such comments from, for example, Catherine and Albert?
I would tell Catherine and Albert that, first of all, there is no doubt that the European Union has been experiencing a severe crisis due to the over-indebtedness of some of its member states, and there is therefore a need for reforms to bring about greater competitiveness. Simultaneously, there is also a need for growth and more jobs, particularly for young people. This is of great concern, and the EU already has a lot of support packages for those countries that are in trouble. So, indebted countries have to do their homework, with internal reforms (just as Sweden went through such reforms), whilst also having sufficient support and solidarity from us.
However, I think it’s also important for Europe and its citizens to understand that we cannot just isolate ourselves from problems happening in other parts of the world. Political oppression and resource scarcity, severe droughts, famine, war and conflict happen really in our own neighbourhood, in the Middle East and Africa, and this has an impact on Europe. Long-term support is needed to help these countries overcome poverty in all its dimensions, but it’s also in our own interests that these countries are growing in prosperity and stability.
What about the argument from Joerg, who thinks that, whilst Europe might have a “historic responsibility” to support the development of other countries, “we could discuss which countries really need our help (e. g. I think China does really not need aid anymore).“
I think the discussion that Joerg is calling for is already happening. The question is: where can European development assistance provide the most added value? I’ve been arguing from a Swedish point of view, very clearly, that we now need to target our development assistance much more clearly at conflict or post-conflict situations where there is no state to support people. So, I really welcome this debate and this kind of question.
For some commenters, the rise of the BRIC countries demonstrates that the most effective way to develop is to encourage more international trade. However, not all of our commenters were so enthusiastic about this prospect. Vicente, for example, asked: “Why should we be opening our markets to developing countries? When this policy is putting our young people out of a job? 50% youth unemployment in Spain, 38% in Portugal, and an average in Europe of 30% youth unemployment?“
It’s an important question because, as I mentioned in my earlier response to Catherine and Albert, it is a misunderstanding that we can somehow survive better in the world on our own. Recovery in the world economy, and growth and prosperity in Europe, can be achieved through people trading, interacting and working together and through greater mobility between and within regions. This interaction promotes competition, innovation and investment.
It is important, therefore, to encourage these kinds of essential exchanges between countries. That’s why I think global free trade is a really positive tool to help ourselves as well as others. The number of jobs in the world in not a contant, because there will be new jobs coming up as the world economy grows. This could help Europe come out of the crisis stronger than before.
What do YOU think? Should Europe try to isolate itself globally, both by trading less with developing countries but also by engaging less in overseas development aid? Should we focus first on our own problems before we try to help other people? Or is the world so interdependent now that it would be impossible to cut ourselves off? And is it in our own interests to ensure a stable and prosperous developing world? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.