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‘Look forward, share best practice, debate new ideas’

Oct 18, 2012

Although I am fully aware that we are facing difficult times, cutting aid is not the right answer, says Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development.

Over the past six years, it has been a top destination for heads of state, civil society leaders and others with a stake in EU development cooperation. In 2012, the European Development Days goes back to where it was born: Brussels, home to the European Commission.

This year’s EDD coincides with World Food Day (Oct. 16), and one of its focus areas - sustainable agriculture, food security and resilience - befits the occasion. The two-day event will also tackle recurring themes: inclusive growth and private sector engagement in international development.

EDD12 takes place at a critical juncture for EU external funding. EU ministers are now debating the regional bloc’s next budget, and some have suggested a cut in aid spending given the eurozone crisis. The European Union and its 27 member states make for the world’s largest donor, providing more than half of all official development assistance.

“Although I am fully aware that we are facing difficult times, cutting aid is not the right answer,” European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs tells Devex.

Piebalgs took charge of the EU development cooperation portfolio in 2010. He has overseen some of the major reforms on EU development policy, including the merger that gave birth to the Development and Cooperation Directorate General – EuropeAid and the new EU development policy road map, Agenda for Change.

In this exclusive interview with Devex, Piebalgs reaffirms why the European Union should keep its promise to meet the internationally agreed-upon aid funding target of 0.7 percent of gross national income by 2015. He also previews what’s in store for delegates at this year’s European Development Days and shares some of the big names in attendance.

What can we expect at this year’s European Development Days?

The European Development Days are very specific each year, with a focus on one facet of the Agenda for Change, our blueprint for EU development policy. Last year in Poland, they were focused on how to support democracy and human rights, in the follow up of the Arab Spring. This year, the emphasis will rather be put on economic issues: food security, the private sector and the need for social protection.

Food security will be a particularly key topic, as the EDDs will be held on World Food Day. In the wake of recent food crises in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, donors’ work in this area is more crucial than ever, and we hope the EDDs will serve as a high-profile platform on which the development community can come together to look at solutions to hunger and food crises in the long term.

The event attracts many foreign ministers and other dignitaries, some of whom have been calling lately for foreign aid cuts to weather Europe’s debt crisis. How central will this discussion be at EDD this year?

Obviously Europe’s current financial situation is in most people’s minds at the moment so will no doubt be part of the discussions.

We’re more conscious than ever that getting good value for money for our taxpayers is vital. We need to ensure that we use our aid in the most efficient way possible in order to achieve the highest impact and visible results. However, we want the EDDs to look forward and be a platform to share best practice and debate new ideas, which is key in times of constrained resources.

In any case, although I am fully aware that we are facing difficult times, cutting aid is not the right answer. First, the EU must respect its commitments to reach the 0.7 percent gross national income target for aid by 2015, and this was reconfirmed by heads of states and governments last June. Second, we have a duty of solidarity toward countries which have also been affected by the global crisis and toward the most vulnerable people. And third, we should take a long-term perspective and realize that eradicating poverty is a common objective and in our mutual interest.

One way traditional donors have tried to increase value for money is to engage the private sector more closely in development cooperation — a theme at this year’s EDD. What concrete steps is the EU planning to take in the days ahead to foster public-private partnerships for sustainable growth?

Engaging with the private sector is an area which we’re exploring more and more.

Traditionally, the EU has helped to support private sector growth in the partner countries through improving the regulatory and institutional environment in which business and companies operate. But we are also increasingly recognizing that the private sector can play an important active role in helping to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth, notably through job creation.

You can already see this in action in our work — for example, at the EU’s high-level summit on access to sustainable energy for all (SE4All) in April; we launched the new Energizing Development initiative, which should help to mobilize billions of euros by working together with development banks and the private sector to create a leveraging effect; multiplying the amount already committed by donors many times over. It is thought that some 500 million people from developing countries will gain sustainable access to energy as a result of this partnership — a shining example of what can be achieved when we work with the private sector.

This will be amplified in the future as we are currently exploring new ways of making the private sector a partner in development. Such partnerships are possible at various levels, for instance, by involving the private sector in policy dialogue, by encouraging the private sector to implement more inclusive business models that can deliver development results for the poor, by promoting responsible and business practices, and, last but not least, by using innovative financial instruments to mobilize private sector funding for development.

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