World´s Leading Aid Donor Under Challenge: The EU and the New Global Order, by Luís Mah

The European Union (EU) is one of the world´s leading donors in official development assistance (ODA) to give it a strong weight in the relationship with recipient partner countries. The EU has retained historical ties and influence in diplomatic, political and economic terms in many of its ODA recipient partner countries (particular in Sub-Saharan Africa). But the bloc´s development policy is now undergoing major structural changes due to a new global order.

In the article Reshaping European Union development policy: collective choices and the new global order published in Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (Vol. 58 – No. 2 – 2015), researchers at the Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão, in Portugal, has analyzed the  process of redesigning the European Union’s policy of international cooperation for development, and how it was done considering the international contemporary challenges and the impasses and institutional constraints.

The EU has constructed its development policy largely around the discourse of moral responsibility and solidarity. This development policy is supported by strong financial resources and an implementing bureaucracy based in Brussels and EU delegations spread around the world. But the (re)emergence of new global economic powers like China, Brasil, India, Turkey or Russia (that are themselves increasingly becoming important donors) and a changing multilateral aid architecture under pressure to offer more space and voice to developing countries are strongly challenging the EU´s leading donor role. The new development discourse is now one that “places more emphasis on mutual interest, global risks, global commons, and ‘beyond aid’ approaches”.

It is possible to identify three major features in the way emerging donors design and implement their development policies. First, they like to state that they do not attach policy conditions to their development programs. They repeatedly claim not to interfere in the domestic affairs of partner countries and that they respect the principles of ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘solidarity’. By presenting themselves in this way they differ from the EU that tend to impose conditions in terms of macro-economic reforms and good governance. Secondly, emerging donors prefer to provide technical cooperation in the form of the direct implementation of the projects agreed with partner countries. Traditional donors like the EU, on the other hand, seek to influence the beneficiary’s micro-management of development affairs and interfere in the policy process. Finally, emerging donors tend to provide financial support (concessional loans rather than grants) and trade access. In contrast, the EU continues to offer long negotiations to allow access to their markets. This brings to the fore the difficulties that exist in the relationship between the EU and its development partners, difficulties that are closely related to the widely criticised imposition of development models and policy conditionality based on such imperatives as a good governance agenda.

The 2011 Busan Forum on Aid Effectiveness was a negotiation arena where these differences between traditional donors and emerging donors were confronted. The declaration that came out from Busan, embodies a change in the logic behind the aid effectiveness agenda on several points. First, it moves from a focus on aid to one of cooperation and effective development. Second, it recognises the status of developing countries as de facto partners, as a way of acknowledging the mutual benefits of the partnership. And finally, it accepts flexibility to allow emerging donors to pursue their own aid policies if they do not agree with the norms developed in the context of the OECD-DAC. Busan may be seen as a turning point in the global aid arena by recognising the growing and important role of the new donors vis-à-vis the traditional donors like the EU.

Furthermore, as this new international aid landscape is taking place, the EU development policy is undergoing structural changes in its policy orientations and operationalization. It is too early to assess the impact of the changes but the EU seems to be now far from its instrumental role in shaping international development as it did in the early 2000s when it pushed for key global policy issues on financing for development, aid effectiveness and coordination and policy coherence for development.  The new institutional framework set by the Treaty of Lisbon s in 2009 seems to have generated mixed feelings. For the OECD-DAC, it represents an important step forward for the EU development policy as it seeks to build more coherence, complementarity and unity between the development work pursed by the EC and Member States. But others like the EU NGO Platform, CONCORD, have warned that while development policy has been strengthened in the Treaty, the interpretation and implementation of the new provisions might lead it to be instrumentalised to pursue EU foreign policy goals.

The way this new institutional framework will be operationalized is crucial if the EU wants to manage strategic relationships in an increasingly crowded development aid landscape with a myriad of public and private actors to tackle global development challenges. The EU likes to be perceived as a normative and ethical power, but the need to accommodate the different views and goals of its three main bodies (European Commission, European Parliament and Member States), far from being monolithic, ultimately undermines its leadership in attempting to shape international development policies. This is particularly clear in the bloc´s leading countries that run their own foreign policy, with still significant differences in their approaches to the new and challenging global order and a dominant tendency to return to the principle of “national interest” rather than that of convergence in the EU foreign policy.

Since the end of the 2000s, the ongoing structural changes in the EU institutional framework and the emergence of a new international aid scenario reveals a volatile EU development policy that is failing to match discourse with practice. In consequence, the EU seems to be now losing credibility and capability to engage with partner countries that are increasingly turning to new emerging donors.

Read the article:

MAH, LUIS. (2015). Reshaping European Union development policy: collective choices and the new global order. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 58(2), 44-64. 

LUIS MAHUniversidade de Lisboa, Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão, Lisboa, Portugal (


Como citar este artigo:

Mundorama. "World´s Leading Aid Donor Under Challenge: The EU and the New Global Order, by Luís Mah". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais, [acessado em 16/01/2016]. Disponível em: <>.

Seja o primeiro a comentar