Challenges and oppοrtunities: a long-lasting Odyssey for the European Union

by Eliza Pervanidi, member of the Interviews Team

Throughout my journey in the SAFIA Blog, I was very honored to have had the opportunity to interview Mr Philip Pierros. Mr Pierros used to work as the Development Counsellor of the EU delegation to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). More particularly, the Development Counsellor has the duty to follow the OECD work related to development. That means primarily to follow the meetings of the Development Assistance Committee. The Committee has 30 members and the EU is a full member, while not a member of the OECD. Mr Pierros at this point emphasized that we need to realize the importance of the Development Assistance Committee as the only international body that groups together all the major donors/advanced countries, including emerging donors (non-OECD members) like Brazil and China. In addition to that, the Counsellor follows the work and the meetings of the Development Center, which includes some developing countries that are non-OECD members. This is a particularity of the Development Center. Lastly, the Development Counsellor in the EU delegation to the OECD follows the work of other OECD bodies that relate to development, as for example the OECD Council, which is the supreme organ of the OECD, composed by the ambassadors of member-states to the Organization. 

Our discussion began with the current policy of the European Union on achieving the so wanted Sustainable Development. As we are aware, EU institutions and member-states are the world’s leading donors of development assistance and cooperation. The EU has generally taken several steps towards fulfilling the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. Mr. Pierros mentioned that the promotion of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an essential strategic element of the EU’s foreign policy. This decade is crucial, because we have to do everything in our power to make sure that by the end of 2030 the SDGs are fulfilled. It is absolutely essential not to turn this decade into a lost decade. 

There are several steps, which the EU institutions and member-states need to take to promote the fulfillment of the SDGs. First of all, we have to make sure that the financial resources dedicated to the SDGs increase, following the huge and urgent needs, especially under the COVID-19 crisis. So, the first issue is increasing or in the worst case scenario, not reducing the level of the official development assistance. This is the key for low-income developing and least developed countries, but, also, for countries, known as “fragile countries”. These countries depend very much on the financial flows that are part of the official development assistance, in order to build key infrastructure and to address social needs. Thus, it is important to maintain the level, if not to increase the amount of assistance we give to developing countries.

The second step is a goal shared by all the members of the Assistance Committee. We need to increase the effectiveness of the official development assistance. It is of major importance for the EU to increase the impact of our interventions in developing countries. Especially in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU institutions promoted the concept of “team Europe”. This is an initiative that aims to leverage the development assistance provided by EU institutions and EU member-states individually, so that we can collectively enhance the impact of our interventions in developing countries. In other words, financial flows are important, but effectiveness is a highly valuable ingredient as well, in order to assist as effectively as possible developing countries to address their development needs. 

The third area, on which we need to concentrate our attention, says Mr. Pierros, is to channel resources towards certain key SDGs, which will prove crucial, as to whether we will be able to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Firstly, Climate Change is a strategic goal. It has been labeled as “a crisis in slow motion”. We need to address Climate Change and to turn towards more climate-friendly development paths. The second area of interest is gender issues. There is a lot to be done to ensure that all discriminatory -either legal or de facto- practices in developing countries, are addressed and eliminated. Addressing effectively and efficiently gender equality is not only a moral imperative, but it is also an economic imperative. 

The fourth issue is to mobilize not only official development assistance resources, but, also, private resources and financial flows. The official development assistance flows cannot be sufficient to address the huge needs of developing countries, especially in the area of infrastructure. We need to mobilize private investments. At the same time, we need to create the necessary and appropriate incentives as to ensure that these private investments have a clear SDGs footprint in the developing countries. 

Following the conversation on the steps that the EU needs to take, we discussed the way the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the EU’s Strategy on Sustainable Development. The COVID-19 crisis has pushed the EU institutions and the member-states to adopt a more cooperative and coordinated approach, through “team Europe”. In terms of substantive priorities, the COVID-19 crisis has obviously emphasized a number of areas, where gaps need to be addressed urgently, like the sector of Health, especially in the developing countries, where the EU has tried to channel resources. At the same time, this crisis has identified serious problems in terms of Gender Equality. Women are the vast majority of health workers. So, it is essential to do anything we can to empower and help them overcome the emerging challenges, says Mr. Pierros. Another area that requires our attention is Education. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, several educational establishments have closed and especially students need urgently our attention. Obviously, there are other areas like Climate Change. Ideally, we should not see this crisis being followed by a serious climate crisis that will affect considerably developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia. 

On another note, we discussed the incident, where some European lawmakers and EU institutions were targeted with sanctions by China. This was a response to the sanctions imposed by the EU on four Chinese officials for committing human rights abuses against minorities in Xinjiang. This is an ongoing situation with sanctions going back and forth and many people are afraid the Beijing-Brussels trade deal is at risk. Mr. Pierros highlighted that the investment deal with China is a good step in the right direction, as it enhances opportunities of access of the European companies to the Chinese market. However, the main question here is how you reconcile the two parties. The EU has made its position quite clear to the Chinese authorities, commented Mr. Pierros, and that position says that we cannot neglect fundamental human rights just for the sake of strengthening our economic trade and investment funds. For us, the protection of human rights is an important element of the EU’s foreign and security policy. This is an ongoing dialogue and obviously we cannot expect immediate answers. Thus, we need to set this issue high on the European agenda and continue the pressure on China.

We concluded our interview, with some comments on the Foreign Direct Investments within the European Union. Mr. Pierros highlighted that the EU is an open market, where we welcome foreign investments, since they have a lot to offer in terms of development, sources of employment, technology transfer and integration with global and regional value change. The EU has never put in doubt the value of foreign investments destined for the member-states, but it has stressed the need to screen foreign investments in order to identify any potential security risks and to make sure that they do not jeopardize the interests of the member-states. On the other hand, Mr. Pierros emphasized that this screening should not lead to blockings that are not proportionate and that do not address serious risks. The measures that we must take, need to be proportionate, legitimate and they should not lead to excessive reactions that will undermine the investment climate in the EU.

To conclude our very insightful session, I asked Mr. Pierros to give us a wish for the future of the European Union. He underlined how crucial the role of the EU will be in the years ahead, especially in promoting the Sustainable Development Goals. “I think the EU is a very serious and value-oriented factor in the world stage and it has to remain so. I would like to see the EU be more decisive and forceful in addressing in a coherent and cooperative manner serious crises, like risks emanating from authoritarian states. We need to be able to defend our ideas forcefully and effectively in cases of possible future international clashes with other states.”


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