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Academic Breakfast: Development Cooperation Trends in the EU13

10 June 2015, Brussels

On Wednesday 10 June TRIALOG organised an Academic Breakfast Discussion in Brussels together with the University of Leeds at the time of CONCORD general assembly. Two academics, Dr Simon Lightfoot from University of Leeds and Dr. Fabienne Bossuyt from University of Ghent met with numerous CONCORD members to share their research findings and discuss development cooperation trends in the EU13 region.


Rebecca Steel-Jasińska from the TRIALOG project opened the discussion and reminded the audience about TRIALOG’s work for the past 15 years supporting the civil society in the “new” member states of the EU to engage in global development and how this experience has been systematised and shared in a publication "TRIALOG in the Enlarged EU". She expressed hopes that the exchange between the representatives from academia and CSOs would be useful to keep in mind in the following two days of the CONCORD general assembly when the CSO participants will discuss CONCORD's future ways of working.


Dr. Simon Lightfoot from Leeds University shared the main findings of his research on the topic of development cooperation of the “new” EU member states. He noted that the so called new EU member states (EU12/EU13) moved quickly from one group of new donors to a more nuanced picture. For example, four clear groups among the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries can be identified: those that are OECD DAC members (CZ, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia); those that are OECD non DAC members (Estonia, Hungary); EU members since 2004 (Latvia, Lithuania) and; EU members since 2007 (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia). Dr. Simon Lightfoot highlighted that the EU influence was important in re-starting development assistance in these countries, but only in general terms and only at specific points in the enlargement process. He noted the importance of CSOs in putting the development cooperation high on the agenda in a country when they manage to identify a “common cause” to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the question is then how far to take “critical friend” role by CSOs and to what extent financing impacts on the CSO-government relationship. Concerning the  added value of the CEE donors, their relatively recent ‘transition experience’ comes up – the question with this remains, however, how transferable and relevant for developing countries this experience is.


Dr. Fabienne Bossuyt from the University of Ghent in Belgium presented her research findings concerning the impact some EU13 donors (Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia) have had in Central Asia (specifically in Azerbaijan). Dr. Bossuyt’s research found that the CEE countries tend to have better understanding of domestic situation of Azerbaijan than other EU member states and they often play out their recent transition and EU accession experience in order to convince Azeri civil servants of need to reform in accordance with EU rules/practices. Her research also noted that CEE donors approach development cooperation in Central Asia differently than in the Eastern Partnership region which is the overall priority region for the CEE donors. In Central Asia the EU13 donors focus on poverty reduction and not on democratisation. This results, however, in the CEE donors perceiving their common ground with Central Asian states as limited as they see little fertile soil for western-style democratisation.


Inese Vaivare from the Latvian Development CSO platform LAPAS highlighted the diversity of development CSO actors in Europe and within the confederation CONCORD. In order to embrace this diversity, efforts have to be made to be able to work together, even when it comes to vocabulary and trying to avoid Brussels jargon. In her view some advantages for engagement in development cooperation that EU13 actors have, come from the fact that many people from the region have had the experience of living in a restrictive regime and being able to find non-financial ways to contribute to development. CONCORD and CSOs from the region have a lot to offer to one another – the CSOs have very good access to decision makers while CONCORD has a big role to play in positioning national platforms in the eyes of the national authorities and European institutions.


Éva Bördős from the Hungarian development CSO platform HAND and from DemNet presented the role Hungarian state and civil society have played in international development cooperation. The year 2014 was a milestone for Hungary as in March the government adopted Hungary’s strategy on development cooperation and later that year the law on development cooperation and humanitarian assistance was adopted. The public knowledge about Hungary as a donor was also discussed. While 73% of the respondents of a public survey in Hungary had heard that Hungary provides humanitarian aid to other countries, only 43% had heard that Hungary also engages in supporting sustainable progress in less developed countries.


At the end of the panel presentations and discussion the participants discussed what academic research focus in the future would be useful for development CSOs in the region. Several ideas and topics were identified: the management of NGO networks; how to influence public attitudes and behaviour; the impact of global education projects; PCD and how it is related to other policies; compare the impact and results of projects implemented in partnerships to projects implemented by one country.


Read the full report of the event here and find the presentations here.

Dr. Simon Lightfoot's recent books can be ordered online:

(-) New Europe's New Development Aid

(-) Development Cooperation of the "New" EU Member States


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