Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N° 152 - July - August 1995 - Dossier: NGO's - Country Reports: Belize, Malawi (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)
close this folderDossier
View the documentNGOs
View the documentWhy does the European Community work with NGOs ?
View the documentOn the diversity and role of NGOs
View the documentThe experience and limitations of NGOs in West Africa
View the documentInstitutional support for NGOs in the South
View the document'The NGOs refuse to be mere onlookers' - Interview with Agostinho Jardim Gonçalves, President of the NGDO-EU Liaison Committee
View the documentBetween autonomy and identity: the financing dilemma of NGOs
View the documentChanging perspectives in the Philippines
View the documentThe dreaming dromedaries of the desert meet the bothered bureaucrats of Brussels
View the documentThe ethics of collecting money
View the documentNGOs torn between subordination and independence
View the documentNGOs - subcontractors or innovators in unstable situations
View the documentEmergencies and development

The dreaming dromedaries of the desert meet the bothered bureaucrats of Brussels

by Brita Schioldann Nielsenth

Development cooperation is seen as having important political implications and lobbying is, therefore, undoubtedly one of the NGOs' major roles. Although, for the majority, it is secondary to their main task of carrying out development actions, there are some that focus almost exclusively on lobbying. NGO networks have also been established for this specific purpose. Eurostep, which coordinates the lobbying work of a number of European NGOs, is an example of one of these. It pursues two main objectives: to influence the policies of multilateral institutions while promoting alternative models based on the specific NGO perspective, and to improve the quality and effectivenees of the aid provided by these organisations We approached Eurostep for their views on the lobbying process, the motivations which lie behind it and the outcomes, if any. We asked them to focus on lobbying of EU bodies. Here is their frank and sometimes pointed contribution.

On a grey December morning in 1992, a group of people are protesting outside the Council of Ministers' building in Brussels. This is an almost daily occurrence, but what makes this event unique is the three dromedaries and turbaned Tuaregs who are among the protesters. This colourful protest against European beef dumping in the Sahel was organised by Eurostep, a relatively new face in the growing crowd of lobbying organisations in Brussels. The initiative to create a European network, with the overall aim of influencing EU development policies, was taken by experienced leaders of some of Europe's major NGOs. The founders from six EU countries had, through their work with the Commission, realised that it was no longer sufficient to have a relationship only with their national government. The EU was here to stay and decisions on development policies would increasingly be taken in Brussels. Another realisation was that, to be effective, the network should have members in all EU countries, and preferably also in European countries outside the Union. Members should be actively involved in the South and membership would be limited to two organisations per country.

When the Eurostep secretariat was set up in Brussels in 1991, it had 21 like-minded, non-denominational organisations as members. They come from 13 European countries and work in more than 90 developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Their combined annual contribution to development actions amounts to more than ECU 400 million. To have members actively involved in the South was seen as fundamental for the advocacy work of Eurostep. Policies have to be founded on the experience of the members together with their Southern partners. Another important feature is the economic independence of the network. Eurostep is funded through annual fees levied on its members and is not reliant on the EC or any other institution. Hence, it is free to pursue objectives which might not always be in line with official policy. Each year the General Assembly reviews Eurostep's programme and sets priorities for the following year. These are influenced largely by the official agenda for development cooperation at the European level, by the members' own concerns and by what is happening in the UN.

Eurostep concentrates on a limited number of issues. It operates a 'lead agency' principle whereby member organisations take a leading role in the development and implementation of programme activities. This ensures both that members are actively involved in the work of the network and that the activities reflect the concerns of the member organisations and their partners in developing countries. For each issue in the programme there is a working group. One example is the Gender Working Group, currently focusing its energy on issuing position papers in the nun up to the Beijing conference. This meets once a year but it has a Task Force which convenes approximately every two months to take the work forward and monitor EU and international conferences. The Gender Group has two lead agencies: Oxfam UK for the advocacy, and NCOS, Belgium to engender activity among the member agencies.

Three people are employed in the Brussels office. The members' insistence on having a small secretariat has several advantages, apart from the obvious financial one. For example, it means the members feel obliged to undertake work themselves. Also, the staff know each other well and are able to create an atmosphere characterised by good interrelationships and appreciation of the work of each member of the team. The latter is essential if success is to be achieved while working under constant pressure.

Measuring the concrete results of lobbying is always a tricky matter. The effects may depend on changes in mentality in how development should be seen and pursued-which may take years. We do believe, however, that some concrete results have been achieved due to our efforts, in cooperation with other networks and NGDOs. For example, an EU decision to launch a special initiative for recovery programmes backed by more than ECU 100 million, came after NGDO lobbying during the Danish Presidency. A permanent budget line for rehabilitation -another NGDO objective-has also been created with the help of the European Parliament. During the same Presidency, Eurostep pushed for extra personnel for the 'women in development' desks in the external relations and development departments of the Commission. Two extra people were employed. With the approach of the LomV mid-term review in 1994, which saw proposals that could radically alter the nature of the agreement, Eurostep helped set up a joint programme in collaboration with the three other major Brussels-based NGDO networks, (APRODEV, CIDSE and the NGO-EU Liaison Committee). The purpose was to monitor the review and contribute to the debate with comments and proposals. Two main reports and six smaller consecutive reports were produced.

The World Social Summit was also closely monitored by Eurostep. Position papers were drafted before each preparatory committee and reports on the progress of the official and NGO meetings were written after each session. These inputs were greatly appreciated by NGOs and official delegates. If one compares the NGOs' 'Quality Benchmark' paper for the Summit with the final official paper, it is clear that NGOs had a major impact on the outcome. A careful assessment has to made in each case however, in order to evaluate the time and money put into this kind of event in relation to the output.

The major 'success' to date has clearly been the beef dumping case. The impact of EU agricultural subsidies on developing countries is a serious cause for concern, and with this in mind, Eurostep produced a report in 1992 calling for further reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy. This was followed in 1993 by a campaign focusing on EU subsidies for beef to West Africa. Research undertaken by Novib, Eurostep's lead agency on trade, showed how frozen European beef, sold on Sahel markets at subsidised prices, prevented local farmers from selling their fresh meat. It also revealed a lack of coherence between agricultural and development policies. Development aid was being given to the farmers but, at the same time, they were being driven out of business by the dumping of European surpluses. During the research, suspected fraud involving EU subsidies was also discovered by chance. It appeared that some EU exporters were being funded to sell capes (a meat product) whose fat content was much too high to be eligible for export refunds. The dossier was passed to the fraud administration of the Commission. When the campaign began on that December morning in 1992, with Sahelian farmers handing over the report to the Council President, it attracted support from 250 organisations in Europe and West Africa. TV reporters and journalists from several EU countries covered the event. The European Parliament also became actively involved, supporting demands for abolition of subsidies and policy coherence. At the same time Eurostep members sent the report to their ministries of agriculture and development, and sought talks with the responsible ministers. Although all accusations were denied from the outset, EU export restitutions on capes destined for West Africa are now 28% lower than when we started the campaign. EU exports to the region have decreased and Sahelian farmers are regaining their market share. In combination, the reduction in export subsidies and the devaluation of the CFA franc are largely responsible for this encouraging result. Other positive news is that the Commission has accepted an internal guideline which is intended to bring about a coherent EU policy towards the livestock sector of West Africa. Though this is a 'success story', seen from the point of view of a lobbying network, the main question still remains: how to make the EU coherent in all its policies.

Having a small office, as underlined above, has positive aspects but it also has its negative side. There is a lack of time to pursue all the things that need to be done. An advocacy office needs to have a clear overview of who is who in the European institutions. Time is needed to develop connections. But elections mean that there are changes in the Parliament, Commissioners also change or move to new portfolios, and within the administration, new geopolitical visions mean changes to the structure and composition of the directorates-general just as one is beginning to understand the old set-up.

For a Brussels-based NGO, the European Parliament is without doubt its best ally. It is an open institution and most MEPs take the view that, as the only democratically elected EU body, they should listen to the 'people' and put forward their concerns if they find them reasonable.

The Council is more distant but this is not a particular problem for the Eurostep secretariat as Council lobbying is undertaken by the network's members at national level. The Council press-department is easily accessible and its personnel are very helpful in finding and forwarding press releases and reports of Council meetings. A problem which crops up now and then is it can take several weeks to get Council reports in English, which is Eurostep's working language. Another difficulty is access to the agendas of meetings. This is probably not the Council's fault but rather that of the rotating Presidencies. One somewhat surprising experience during the recent Danish Presidency was the discovery that openness (one of Denmark's main themes), certainly had its limits. In spite of some good results and the very positive working relations with the Danish Development Minister, it was very difficult for the Working Group on the Presidency to get information in either Brussels or Copenhagen.

The same difficulty of access is often experienced with the Commission. It is possible to develop relationships with single individuals but generally, Commission papers are heavily guarded until they become public. We experienced this problem when seeking information about the Commission's work on the Cairo Summit. The views of an American stagiaire at Eurostep, writing subsequently in an internal report are instructive. She had thought the US Congress was difficult, but went on to say had never experienced 'bureaucracy like this before'. As a result, and in order to understand better the Commission's working methods, Eurostep, together with WIDE (Women in Development in Europe), carried out research and published a report entitled 'Gender mapping of the European Union'. Our vision of a good relationship with the Commission, is where the official drafting a policy paper finds it natural to contact a relevant NGO to hear its views on the subject. We should also like to see NGO networks like Eurostep, which produce newsletters on EU development policies that are sent all over the world, allowed to attend relevant press conferences and receive press information from the Commission. The Commission President has spoken of the need for more openness and for the EU to get closer to its citizens. We have another and very simple proposal. Let us work together!