Reading European Development Policy

One of the great perks of being a communications intern is reading. Each morning I enter the office in a trance, drawn in by the thought of a cup of poorly brewed filter coffee and tepid pain au chocolat, before slumping in front of the mornings headlines. For somebody whose body clock still hasn’t adapted much from the ‘sleep-till-noon’ university one, this job can often be pure bliss.

Of course, ‘media monitoring’ isn’t purely designed to satisfy the occasional hangover. For an office which, in theory, focuses on coverage in twenty-eight different countries on issues as broad as climate change to tax evasion, it is a role which serves to keep policy-makers informed with opinion, trends and media moments.

The job offers an interesting lesson in how different Member States view the European project, ranging from the thoroughly miffed British tabloids to the delightfully Europhilic French Liberation paper. One thing that might not come as much of a surprise, however, is – regardless of political stance – the relatively sparse coverage of development issues from a European perspective.

Nationally, international aid continues to be a small, yet consistent topic. Countries are either, in the case of the UK, standing their ground on the budget despite hefty media pressure or, in the case of Spain, cutting their budgets considerably. In France, the complete restructuring of foreign aid led by the devilishly handsome Pascal Canfin has been lauded by some as a revolutionary approach to aid.

The way the European Union approaches aid is, however, largely ignored; a peculiar fact considering the €53 billion at EuropeAid’s disposal.

Since the Lisbon Treaty, a basic tenet of Europe’s aid policy has been Policy Coherence for Development. It is, in theory, a fantastic idea. No policies in agriculture, tax or climate should disregard the fundamental goals of the EU’s development agenda. Taxation should not encourage evasion from the global south; agricultural subsidies should not drive down prices in Africa – and so on.

In adhering to these goals, PSD can save billions and promote everyone’s favourite buzzword: synergy. Yet, for anyone who has even glanced at other aspects of EU policy, they will realise international development is far from ingrained in the mentality of EU policy-makers; a concluding remark in the damning 2013 report on EU aid by CONCORD Europe.

The fact is, for many international development issues the Europe Union decision-making structure defines many of the key policies we have as a regional bloc. It is of course vital that national governments stick to their 0.7% of GDP targets, but member states’ foreign aid budgets are only the tip of the iceberg in what the EU can achieve if it pushed harder on ensuring better coherence in trade and agricultural policy.

So why, when I sit bleary eyed behind my computer each morning, does it appear national media ignore many EU-based development stories? The truth is they don’t. A lot of the time, it is simply failing to fill in the gaps or, when they do, only paying lip-service to its importance. More likely however is, particularly in the British press, a general underplaying of the important role Brussels plays in our lives and the lives of others.

Ensuring all policies have a broader, holistic approach to the world is an important step in accepting the no-borders, globalised world we live in. With Europe expected to be pushed towards the isolationist right come the May elections, it is unlikely the more populist aspects of the European media will begin to endorse such an important idea. That isn’t going to make my cheap morning coffee any easier to swallow.


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