Often linked to European colonial activity the Churches have extensive links with Africa and have a longstanding concern for the sustainable development of the continent and the well-being of its people. Two months prior to British accession to the Community, the Church of England’s parliament, the General Synod, debated a report, Britain in Europe. This report welcomed accession, and strongly emphasized the need for the European Community to ‘make a more effective contribution to the improvement of living standards in the developing countries’ and saw this as ‘one of the most important of the opportunities which membership of the Community will bring’ (CoE and Europe Report 2004, p.41).
In his 1983 Windows into God, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt Hon Robert Runcie, expressed concern for Europe’s relationship with the poor of the other continents. It was a very English expression of solidarity:
The nations of Europe have left their mark in the furthest corners of the world: we spread our ideas and profited from the trade which expansion brought us. The European influence has been seminal and we must now channel it into constructive compassion for poorer nations…
If you picture the world as a great ocean liner, then most of Europe is sitting in the First class dining rooms. Unfortunately, water is pouring into the steerage where the poorer passengers are huddled. The captain and crew must take some time from devising ever more sophisticated menus for the first-class passengers in order to deal with this threat to the whole ship. My hope for the Churches of Europe is that they will not be found saying grace in the first class compartment as the ship sinks, but will be trying to raise the alarm. If we fail with the problems of the steerage we shall not remain insulated from the effects of the incoming water for ever. (Runcie 1983, p.159)
In 2005, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in a speech to the European Parliament at the start of the British EU Presidency called for development to become one of the new political priorities. He was right to do so. The EU, together with its member states, is the world’s largest donor of Overseas Development Aid (ODA). It accounts for more than half of the world’s efforts to support poor countries. It gives three times as much to developing countries – as a proportion of GDP – as the US. Yet, the visibility and effectiveness of Europe’s aid remains limited when compared with other major donors. There is rarely a co-ordinated European voice to counter-balance the USA in the Bretton Woods institutions, while Europe’s influence on the intellectual and strategic debates on aid is limited.
The EU faces a wide array of challenges from beyond its borders. It needs to take a strategic approach to its external relations by joining up its aid, trade, judicial, diplomatic, and military and other policies. It rarely takes into consideration the external influence of internal EU policies such as the environment, justice and security. As a result, its institutions and member states often fail to co-ordinate their various policies and instruments in the pursuit of common and agreed objectives. In some instances, as with the issue of ‘small arms’, the lack of co-ordination and understanding between the institutions regarding the division of labour and competence can lead to judicial action. The EU must find ways of removing the contradictions that often exist between its agricultural, development and security policies; between the policies of member states and the European Union; between the views of the Commission and the Council of Ministers; and between the different departments of both the Commission and the Council.
Some steps have been taken to coordinate aid policies, not least at the country level. The aid industry and business is highly complex. A vast number of actors and programmes exist, which means that in practice there are often too many donors or agencies working on the same sectors and/or in the same countries. Such a multiplicity of aid is costly for poor countries whose limited staff and resources are overstretched by the requirements, conditions and administrative procedures imposed by the various donors. The costs involved in co-ordination mean that less aid flows to those who need it most.
With opinion polls consistently showing that EU citizens want a more visible and high profile EU development policy, the EU and its member states have a moral and political responsibility to ensure that increased public spending on aid is spent effectively. If the EU can improve its performance as a provider of aid, and improve the coherence of its various policies, it will gain a political voice that matches its economic weight on the international stage.
The current economic and financial crisis has had a disproportionate impact on Africa. Although the continent only has only limited linkages with the world’s financial systems, reduced demand for African products has led to lower commodity prices and lower earnings for African suppliers. African economies are likely to suffer about a $578 billion reduction in export earning between 2009 and 2011; representing 18.4% of GDP and five times the aid expected by the continent during these two years. Earnings from tourism and capital flows are also much reduced. Such a massive external shock has had a significant impact on growth and poverty and is starting to reverse hard won progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.
At the time when the EU’s budget is under such severe strain it will be important that the EU keeps faith with its African neighbours and keeps its existing promises of support and solidarity. Not only should the EU continue to maintain its development aid to Africa and to other parts of the globe, it will also need to ensure that internal EU policy responses to the economic and financial crisis do not have negative impacts on other more vulnerable communities in the world.