Experiences, Learning

Last Day

On my last day at work, I was handed a box. It was understood that by five fifteen the contents of my cluttered desk would be in it and my ten months working for Oxfam International would have come to an end.

I started with the paper tray which since the first day had slowly piled up giving visual evidence of the poor organisation the placement was supposed to cure. The stack was helpful, therefore, in giving a chronological journey through my time at Oxfam and an opportunity to reflect.

I found CONCORD Europe’s paper on policy coherence for development from my first week underneath posters I had designed for the European Development Days, where I saw celebrities from the development world debate the post-2015 agenda. I came across my press pass from the EU-Africa summit and mountains of media reactions, erratically scribbled on by my boss. It was only ten months, but everything seemed so long ago.

I remember in September I had been anxious. Unpaid internships, I had often been told, could range from the tortuous expectations of coffee runs and anti-social hours to the twiddling of thumbs waiting for the boss to pass down even the smallest menial task. I had been misguided.

At the age of twenty-two and new to the office environment, it would’ve been unreasonable for me to expect a large amount of trust from day one. It is because of this that, at times, I did feel underused. As my placement went on, however, it emerged that rather than being unappreciated, I was simply being lazy.

At the half-way point in February, I was effectively told that; if you can’t do the menial very well, you probably won’t be asked to do the more creative jobs. First lesson learned.

Around that point, my work load started changing. No long was I solely scribbling synonyms for press reactions or watching over the office’s social media. I was given more freedom on more traditional media work, penning a number of opinion pieces and blogposts. Policy advisors started asking for help with research on issues including tax justice and climate change. Work started to feel diverse and I actually started, well, learning something.

And the back drop to this was the ever-changing Brussels life. The bureaucracy which often bores the British started making sense and actually become quite exciting. Brussels, which presents itself as a mundane, very European political centre, started to seem like the centre of the world: Obama visited, as did the heads of state of almost every African nation. The world’s second largest elections were announced there and European diplomacy seemed to be based around its institutions. The work I was doing was directly entwined with this.

The pile of reports and papers was eventually placed in the box, which in turn is now stored, out of sight in my attic. Although hidden, they represent the most notable change that has occurred since September: knowledge. Corny, yes, but true.

I do not believe that Media & Communications is the best fit for me, but I believe work in development or the European Union (or both) is. Internships offer that opportunity.

The development world is intriguing, particularly large non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam. At times you may find yourself confused with internal politics; even I – the young, inexperienced intern – felt disenchanted with some of the issues they followed. But I have been lucky to work with passionate professionals who were always willing to debate my concerns. And now, I return to university to finish my degree with the a heightened feeling of good karma and a brain filled with opinions on Europe’s role in the developing world.

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Commentary

What The European Parliamentary Elections Mean For International Development

UKIP is right about something: whether you agree with it or not, the European Union has a lot of power. Whilst some of it can be narrowed down to regulating the shape of bananas or allowing immigrants to wander in and out of countries as they please, much of the discussion over this week’s European Parliament election has avoided the more intricate, far-reaching policies and ideas the institutions have moulded in the past five years.

Seldom have we heard about the comparatively progressive EU 2030 Energy & Climate package or ongoing negotiations on the EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP) which, if realised, will be the most expansive of its type in history. Not once has the EU’s investment in humanitarian assistance or international aid been called to question despite it being the largest, most far-reaching budget of its kind in the world. Instead, voters have been left with a more black-and-white choice: Europe is either good, or bad.

This is an idea some NGOs have been keen to brush aside. The implication of a stagnant European Union is tough to swallow when success is measured by the scope of the Institution’s ambitions. If polls are correct in predicting a Parliament split down the middle in their approach to Europe, it is likely the Commission will adapt to this seismic shift. Issues such as controlling tax avoidance and funding for refugees, already politically sensitive, will come under greater scrutiny, particularly if Europe finds itself jolted to the right and newly isolationist.

In a similar vein, a Europe which is unaccountable and constructed on pessimism is less likely to be bold in its mission of creating a confident, global Europe. It has been five years since the European External Action Service was born which, despite a greatly criticised start, has recently become more confident in itself with the institution become a more recognisable face of joint EU foreign policy. Europe is shaping itself into a rational actor in diplomacy, alongside a series of peacekeeping and training missions in unstable countries; all of which are a product of newly found confidence, something which can only deteriorate in this political climate.

Generally speaking, NGOs avoid taking a position on Europe but rather stick to the mantra that if the tools are in place, they should be used productively . This is why CONCORD, a confederation of over 1,800 NGOs from across Europe, has launched the #EuropeWeWant campaign. By highlighting that the European Institutions can be key in unlocking pan-European and global issues including inequality, poverty and environmental degradation, it hopes to influence not just the way voters look at the ballot but also how perspective Members of the European Parliament choose to use their tenure.

The next five years are decisive in formulating Europe’s international development policy. A shift in private-sector based aid is a clear example of this; whilst NGOs are cautiously accepting the idea, doubts remain in whether this kind of growth can ever be entirely ‘pro-poor’. This fits into the overarching concern which plagues the Brussels-based third sector: the European Union might be exemplary in some aspects, but often falls short in ensuring it’s broader, free-trade based foundations are truly coherent with international development.

If Europe finds itself taking a step back on such development issues, it is unlikely that it will do on the policies which directly affect these. A more right-wing Europe could continue to push trade deals, support the private-sector, including oil and gas, and give preference to European industry, but – if the worst fears are realised – with a less global, ambitious rhetoric to match

 

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Experiences

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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