What does Europe offer for peace, security and development?

Collective action at the EU level is essential to improve the correlation between peace, security and development.

By Kerrie Doogan-Turner

This was the key theme highlighted by Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) event on Europe in the world which took place this week. In his call for greater multilateral cooperation to tackle the global challenges of climate change, human trafficking and mass migration, he said there can be “no peace and security without development and no development without peace and security”.

Actors from the international development community gathered at the ODI event on Tuesday to discuss what Europe’s role in the world means for the peace and security. 2015 saw a culmination of global crises that are set to boil over at the European level as 2016 begins. Mass refugee migration on top of conflicts in Ukraine and Syria are putting strain on an already tense European community.

The gap between public opinion, national sentiment and foreign policy in Europe is stark – and growing. You only have to look to the rhetoric being used when discussing UK membership of the EU at the moment to see this. But the majority of problems and challenges the EU face at the moment are cross-border issues that will not be defeated unilaterally. And now more than ever, it was suggested, is the time to focus on what the European Union has to offer collectively in terms of achieving increased peace, security and development.

(Above: Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development)

If the EU can harness collective momentum to gather around the values that connect them, simultaneous improvements in development and national security can occur, the panel agreed. This applied particularly to the importance of sustainable development goal 16, which calls for “the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”

The importance of goal 16 has been repeatedly underlined by Anthony Smith, WFD CEO. Although welcoming its inclusion in the SDGs,  and its reference to the accountability of institutions, at the ODI he expressed his disappointment that the word ‘democracy’ was not actually used. He outlined a specific tension between the wider development community and the democracy and governance sphere. This develops when considering whether democracy directly correlates with improvements in key development indicators like health, education and climate change. He argued that – in spite of the evidence – democracy, especially in Europe, is about values. Respect for human rights, the rule of law, access to justice and strong institutions, which hold the executive to account, are all prominent features of the most successful democracies.

The European Union, he said, “can make a distinctive contribution in these areas”. When it comes to managing internal conflict, authoritarianism and abuses of power, Europe has a lot to offer. The experience the EU can share with states encountering such issues now is a vital tool that should not be overestimated. Europe’s promotion of democratic values comes as a result of the collective challenges we have faced and overcome together. And in spite of the challenges we do face in Europe at the moment, he argued, the systems are “pretty much as good as it gets, in terms of forms of governance that reflect the will of the people and protect from abuses of power”.

The development sphere “can and should address politics more directly” as development tends to deal exclusively with the executive, and therefore ignores the ability of parliaments and political parties to hold the government to account. If health, education, women’s rights and climate change are not on the agenda of the executive, then how can progress be made without parliaments, parties and civil society trying to change that agenda? It’s all these skills which need to be drawn together from the wealth of diplomatic and political experience that exists within Europe to help tackle the current global challenges.

This is why at WFD we share the experience of the UK parliament and its devolved bodies in the countries we work in. As WFD’s Anthony Smith highlighted, this “allows others to learn from our experience and decide their own way”. We encourage small, practical changes that can be made in fragile and transitioning states to build institutional change. We work with parliaments and parties to ensure they have the right tools to hold the government to account, improve participation and representation of individuals and therefore create policy that is addressing the needs of citizens.

It is this collective approach and understanding of shared experience that should be reflected in the EU global strategy it was agreed. But ultimately, it is the wealth of experience in establishing developed, democratic societies and maintaining relative peace and security that Europe can and should bring to the table.

Featured image: Flickr – bibliotecabne

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