|The Courier N° 158 - July - August 1996 - Dossier: Communication and the Media - Country Report: Cape Verde (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)|
by Agostino Ambrogetti
The 22nd annual General Assembly of European Development Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and a thematic conference entitled 'A Europe open to the world', were held in Brussels from 18 - 20 April. Representatives of more than 800 NGOs attended, with the Assembly adopting 14 resolutions as well as issuing specific appeals on the European Union's Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) and on Lebanon. The Assembly renewed its approval of the development NGOs' 'Strategic Priorities', adopted the Work Plan for the 1996-98 period, and looked at the overall impact of the Lomonvention with an eye to likely future developments. The subsequent Conference focused, among other things, on the issue of coherence between the EU's development cooperation and its other policies (notably trade and agriculture).
A general impression that emerged from the two events was that the NGO movement was attaching increasing importance to its role as advocate for the developing countries. A fundamental aspect of this is the ongoing dialogue that NGOs have with the European institutions, and the lobbying they carry out on policy issues. Commission representatives who spoke at the Assembly indicated their understanding and appreciation of this. For example, Development Commissioner, Jao de Deus Pinheiro, referred warmly to 'the very active role played by the NGO community in the debate on the mid-term revision of the Lomonvention,' and acknowledged that the NGOs had mounted an 'important political lobby' in favour of increased funding for the next five-year period.
The Commissioner was keen to emphasise the complementarily that existed between the European Commission and the NGO movement in support of emerging societies in the South. He also urged his audience to continue in their task of challenging the general apathy towards development cooperation. This, he said, entailed appealing directly to public opinion in order to influence political leaders.
A similar tone was adopted by Bernard Ryelandt, who heads the unit responsible for cofinancing NGO projects in the Commission's development directorate-general (DG VIII) He spoke of the 'decisive' action of European NGOs in balancing other lobbies such as the agricultural one. This, he believed, had the effect of improving the coherence of EU policies.
Delegates from a number of countries set out their views on the advocacy issue, and what they saw as the growing NGO role in this area. Andy Rutherford from the United Kingdom said that he saw increased lobbying as necessary, complementing the work carried out in the field through development projects. He pointed out that Southern NGOs had themselves requested their Northern partners to pressurise European governments in the hope that the latter would adopt external policies more favourable to the developing world. Mr Rutherford also raised the thorny question of structural adjustment. The view that adjustment policies were not succeeding in eradicating poverty, had, he said, been acknowledged by the EU's Development Council in its resolution adopted in June 1995. With this in mind, the NGOs would be raising the issue with the World Bank and the IMF - where the EU Member States are among the most substantial contributors.
Guido Barbera, who headed the Italian delegation to the Assembly, took up this point, calling for more pressure to be exerted on the Bretton Woods institutions by European NGOs and indeed, by the European Commission itself. This was necessary, he believed, to promote coherent macroeconomic policies favouring the development of economic relationships with the less-developed countries. In more general terms, Mr Barbera applauded the growing NGO participation in the political arena, stating that this was both 'positive' and fundamental'.
Evaluation of the Liaison
A document was presented to the Conference by the NGDO-EU Liaison Committee containing an evaluation of its activities. The aim, in drawing up the document, was to 'review and critically assess the work and organization of the Committee, and evaluate whether it meets the expectations of its stake holders.' In order to do this, NGO members were consulted through questionnaires.
The evaluation revealed that support for the Liaison Committee as the representative umbrella organization of European NGOs remains strong, although there is widespread uncertainty about the future. This is reflected in the perception that the Committee has gradually been losing momentum. There were also some doubts expressed about its representativeness. Large NGOs, it was noted, were able to spread their efforts across different networks. The fact that small NGOs tended not to be involved in the Committee emerged as one of the critical issues for discussion.
Attention was also focused on the alleged weakness of many national platforms (the documents containing proposals drawn up by the various national NGO assemblies) in representing the aspirations of their member organizations. This issue, and the question of voting on resolutions without debating the documents in question gave rise to controversy. Some delegates boycotted the vote while others submitted a written protest and there is clearly some demand for reforms designed to make the Assembly's procedures more democratic.
General conditions of cm financing
Another highly topical subject on the Assembly's agenda was the proposed revision of the General Conditions for the Co-financing of NGO
Projects in Developing Countries. Commission speakers who touched on this subject included Professor Pinheiro and Jacob Houtman who is a Director in DG VIII Both referred to the revision process that was currently under way, and emphasised the higher priority that would be attached to capacity building for Southern NGOs. This involves providing support to strengthen the organisational structure of the bodies in question, and to improve the skills of their staff in managing and implementing projects. Such an approach is now recognised as essential for the long-term sustainability of NGO activities. As Mr Houtman was keen to stress, the principles underpinning the KU-NGO relationship (recognition of NGO independence and specificity, freedom of initiative for European NGOs in cooperation with their Southern partners) would be safeguarded in the revised conditions. Other priorities to be set out in the conditions would include the promotion
Notice at the site of a non governmental organisation
Zimbabwe devoted to improving agricultural productivity
'Crucial to provide more institutional support for Southem
NGOs' of democracy and human rights through reinforced structures of civil society, and a greater emphasis on the fight against poverty, income-generating activities and social development programmes. With these objectives in mind, it was all the more crucial to provide more institutional support for Southern NGOs. They, unlike their Northern partners, had a permanent presence in society in the developing countries.
The revised general conditions would also reflect the new orientation which favours a long-term programme approach over the traditional project by-project method. This should lead to a reduced administrative burden, and benefit long-standing NGO partners who have demonstrated viable approaches in working with their Southern counterparts, as well as good management and accountability.
'A Europe open to the world'
The Conference which took place following the NGO General Assembly focused on assessing the coherence of different EU policies and on ways of achieving coherence where it might be lacking. As the title of the Conference suggests, the question which was never far from participants' minds was 'what sort of Europe is being created.' Is it a Europe which stands in solidarity with the South (and East), or is it one which retreats into its fortress, concerned only with its own prosperity?
At the outset, EU policy - or rather its mode of implementation - came in for criticism. It was claimed, on the bask of the experience of both European and Southern NGOs, that the principles of development cooperation set out in the Maastricht Treaty (Title XVII) were not being applied universally and consistently. These principles include the sustainable economic and social development of developing countries, their integration into the world economy, the fight against poverty, and the development and consolidation of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
In this connection, three specific discussion topics were selected: the EU's common foreign and security policy (CFSP), its common commercial and agriculture policies (CCP and CAP) and its immigration and asylum policy.
Regarding the first of these, it was suggested that the EU's definition of 'security' tended to be viewed solely in terms of common defence, and that the concept of 'human security' drawn up by the UNDP had been neglected. The latter seeks to define the concept on a broader basis including aspects such as equitable and sustainable development, as well as human rights and democracy. The view was also expressed that a more firm and coordinated CFSP was needed.
On the second topic - trade and agriculture - there was a strong feeling that the policies of the EU (and the USA) were heavily weighted in favour of 'home' producers and that this had the effect of undermining local production and food security in the
Developing countries. The Union was urged to remove the policy 'contradictions' that allowed this situation to arise bearing in mind the specificity and sensitivity of the food trade.
Finally, several speakers were highly critical of what they viewed as negative trends in the approach to immigration and asylum adopted by the EU and its Member States, with increasingly strict rules being implemented. There were also calls for measures designed to integrate resident migrants into society.
Indeed, integration may well be seen as the key message to have emerged from the NGOs' gathering. The call was for the people and governments of the European Union, acting in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), to integrate the needs of the rest of the world's people into their actions and programmes. The talk was of common values of human rights and solidarity, in both internal and external polices. And it was clear from the commitment of those who attended that the NGOs are determined to maintain and strengthen their role - as active partners in the development of the South, as advocates for the developing countries and perhaps indeed as keepers of the European conscience.
As part of the proceedings of the NGO General Assembly, three workshops were organised dealing with specific themes.
Workshop 1 was entitled Beyond LomV. There was a general consensus among those taking part that the Convention's underlying philosophy helped to protect developing countries in today's global commercial environment. Without the Lomystem, it was felt that the ACP countries would have suffered even more from the deterioration in their terms of trade. With this in mind, the World Trade Organisation came in for criticism for its stance against regional preferential agreements (even if this does not apply to the least developed countries).
The major finding of Workshop 2, which dealt with Poverty in the North and the South, was that poverty is the result of interactions at a global level - and is not 'nation specific'. It was therefore important to adopt a global approach in seeking to tackle the causes of poverty, and to develop further North-South exchanges of experience for the benefit of both sides.
The third workshop was devoted to making the most of EU Presidencies. Here, the aim was to evaluate past experience of lobbying undertaken by the NGO community in those countries holding the EC Council Presidency, during the six-month period in question. The main recommendation to emerge was that more needed to be done in establishing contacts and exchanging information between the relevant national NGO communities. Such exchanges, it was felt, were needed before, during and after the six month Presidency period, in order to facilitate continuity of lobbying on key themes.
In the Resolutions adopted by the NGO General Assembly, considerable emphasis was placed on human rights
issues, with texts being agreed on Nigeria, the peoples of the Western
Sahara and the child sex 'industry'.
Trade (in the widest sense of the word) also featured prominently. In addition to a general resolution on world trade, representatives passed motions on the arms trade, traffic in landmines and the production of the drug coca.
Also adopted were resolutions on preventive diplomacy, cooperation with Cuba, the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and the 'deterioration' of the situation in the Great Lakes region of Africa.