The new European Consensus on Development

By Lorenzo Angelini


With the recent adoption of the new European Consensus on Development (ECD), the EU and its member states (MS) have put forward what they have described as their new ‘collective vision for development policy.’[1] It will notably help to guide their implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Like the 2030 Agenda, the new ECD puts strong emphasis on the link between sustainable development and peace. In this blog article, I will offer my personal thoughts on the new ECD as it pertains to EU support to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

Recognition of the link between peace and sustainable development

As part of the EU’s response to the 2030 Agenda and to ‘current global challenges and opportunities’,[2] the new ECD is more encompassing than its 2005 predecessor and seeks to address some of its limitations. From a peacebuilding perspective, it includes several encouraging elements. The eleven-paragraph-long Section 2.4 is entitled ‘Peace – Peaceful and inclusive societies, democracy, effective and accountable institutions, rule of law and human rights for all’. References to peace and peaceful societies can also be found in other sections, as the document stresses the existence of interlinkages between poverty, conflict and fragility. It argues that the root causes of these issues need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, and that development co-operation should be used ‘as part of the full range of policies and instruments to prevent, manage and help resolve conflicts and crises, avert humanitarian needs and build lasting peace and good governance’ (although development co-operation’s primary focus remains ‘poverty eradication in all its dimensions’).

This renewed recognition of the connection between sustainable development and peace is indispensable, as violent conflicts are a foremost obstacle to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including its SDG 1 (‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere’). Beyond this link, the ECD mentions the need to embrace a ‘long-term vision’ in order to find sustainable solutions to vulnerability and crises, calling for more effective synergies between peace, humanitarian and development actions (while acknowledging the necessity to uphold humanitarian principles). In this light, countries in situations of conflict and fragility are included among the priority targets for development co-operation. The EU and EU MS also assert that they will ‘integrate conflict sensitivity in all their work’ and build ‘risk assessments and gap analysis into their development cooperation programmes’ – an essential requirement to help ensure development actions respect the ‘do no harm’ principle. In addition, explicit support for the national and local ownership of development and peacebuilding processes can be found throughout the ECD.

The empowerment of people and of civil society

Another crucial aspect of effective peacebuilding actions is the need to adopt people-centered approaches. Human security is evoked three times in the new ECD, and it is highlighted as a key focus of EU efforts in security sector reform (SSR) in partner countries. Although the role of youth in peace building is not addressed in Section 2.4, particular attention is given earlier in the document to young people as ‘agents of development and change’, the aim being to ‘strengthen the rights of young people and their empowerment in the conduct of public affairs.’ The necessity to achieve progress with regard to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is also repeatedly emphasised, as the EU and EU MS stress that women should be supported ‘as positive agents for conflict prevention, conflict resolution, relief and recovery, and building sustainable peace’. This is of particular importance given that women are still too often described solely as victims who require protection (in particular in conflict situations), rather than as agents of change who should be equal participants in political and peacebuilding processes. The new ECD also expresses support for the political inclusion of minorities and of persons in vulnerable and marginalised situations.

In the current context of shrinking space for civil society in a number of countries, the EU and EU MS declare that they will defend ‘an open and enabling space for civil society, inclusive approaches and transparency in decision-making at all levels.’ They commit to ‘engaging with all stakeholders in conflict-prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes’, and state their support for multi-stakeholder and multi-level approaches throughout the new ECD. Likewise, in its section on partnerships, it promotes capacity building initiatives aimed at enabling civil society and other non-governmental actors to play their part in ‘designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating sustainable development strategies.’ As the obstacles faced by civil society organisations (CSOs) in different countries can take many forms, it is also vital for the EU to help build their capacity to engage their governments at all levels and at all stages of the policy-making process.

Limitations and future challenges

Despite these positive elements, the new ECD has a number of shortfalls. Firstly, although it asserts that the EU and EU MS’ joint implementation of development co-operation will be an inclusive process, open to contributions from civil society and other non-governmental actors, one-off consultations are still too often the norm. The EU and its partner countries need to develop institutionalised participatory processes in order to allow civil society actors (in particular local CSOs) to play a more meaningful, systematic and ongoing role in the shaping and monitoring of development strategies and financing. In this context, structured mechanisms of coordination with CSOs should be an essential pillar, with direct funding, of EU support to civil society. Similarly, while engaging in ‘capacity building for nationally owned monitoring frameworks, quality data collection, disaggregation and analysis’ can be of significant help to partner countries in their implementation of the 2030 Agenda, such help should not only be directed at governments but also at civil society actors and citizens in order to create pluralistic data ecosystems and to enhance the capacity of CSOs to engage in monitoring and evaluation activities.

Secondly, as mentioned above, the new ECD stresses that the EU and EU MS will ‘integrate conflict sensitivity in all their work’, states that actions should be tailored to local contexts (and thus argues that European development efforts should be characterised by flexible decision-making and implementation), and supports the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Yet, the new ECD would have benefited from a more extensive commitment to the further institutionalisation, at the European level, of cross-cutting conflict-, context- and gender-sensitive analysis at all stages of the policy process. Indeed, an in-depth understanding of local realities, power dynamics and capacities is needed at each of the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation phases, to guarantee the validity of the analysis, the effectiveness of actions and their adherence to the ‘do no harm’ principle. Gender analysis, in particular, should be fully integrated into any conflict analysis, rather than treated as an occasional add-on.

Thirdly, and more fundamentally, the new ECD does not sufficiently address concerns regarding the potential lack of coherence of European actions as they relate to development efforts. The fact that it applies in its entirety to both the EU institutions and EU MS is a step forward which should not be underestimated, and the new ECD repeatedly reaffirms their joint commitment to policy coherence for development (PCD) and policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD). It also states that the EU and EU MS will ‘integrate the respect of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and gender equality into their political dialogue’ with third countries and implement ‘a rights-based approach to development cooperation’. However, as various observers have pointed out, the focus on migration which can be found in the new ECD is problematic. One obvious risk is that partnerships on migration control with repressive governments can reinforce such regimes internally and externally, and have terrible human costs. Morover, development co-operation and development resources should not be used to serve EU MS’ interests on migration control. References to ‘irregular migration’ do not belong in EU development vocabulary as the (contested) characterisation is irrelevant to development policy, and the emphasis should be on magnifying the positive contributions of migration to development and on reducing its potential negative side-effects. In addition, migration and forced displacement are separate issues, and while the document repeats several times that the EU and EU MS consider it essential to address the root causes of forced displacement, in practice this should be done as part of comprehensive efforts to tackle these situations of fragility on their own terms rather than as part of a narrow effort to avoid the movement of groups of people.

There are other threats to the coherence and effectiveness of development actions. One is the prioritisation of a short-term security agenda (notably on migration and terrorism/violent extremism) over long-term development and peacebuilding strategies. While the new ECD notes that any help provided to security sector actors in partner countries will aim to accomplish ‘sustainable development objectives, in particular the achievement of peaceful and inclusive societies’, the increasing use of development funds for “hard” security- and even military-focused co-operation risks seriously undermining development efforts (notably by blurring the line between the two and through the aforementioned shift in priorities and resources). Another threat pertains to the drive to associate the private sector more closely with development actions. Partnerships with the private sector can indeed have substantive positive effects, especially at the local level, if they lead to conflict-sensitive investments which spur inclusive economic growth and the development of a people- and environment-friendly local private sector. However, investments and business practices which are not conflict-sensitive can create and exacerbate tensions. This means that robust frameworks regulating any such partnerships with the private sector, in particular with EU companies, are required. In this regard, regulatory frameworks which ensure that the relevant actors engage in conflict-sensitive analysis and ‘do no harm’ assessments, and which establish transparency obligations as well as the legal accountability of EU firms for the actions of their sub-contractors throughout the production and distribution chains, are only a first step. More broadly, an in-depth analysis of the development benefits of any partnership with actors from the private sector should be conducted on a case-by-case basis, and development co-operation should not be instrumentalised to serve the commercial interests of EU MS or of other actors.

Concluding remarks

Overall, the new ECD includes encouraging commitments and language on several issues linked to peacebuilding and conflict sensitivity in development actions. At the same time, various shortfalls remain, and current trends relating to migration, security-focused actions and private sector involvement in development pose risks to development and peacebuilding efforts which need to be taken seriously and addressed. The new ECD is longer and more encompassing than its 2005 predecessor, but it does not go as far as offering concrete guidelines on how to operationalise the general principles and declarations of intent which it contains. As always, its implementation and translation into existing/new practices and policies will therefore merit further and continued analysis.

Lorenzo Angelini is the Policy Officer responsible for EPLO’s work in pursuit of its Policy Objective 3 (To integrate peacebuilding into EU development policy, programmes and approaches).


[1] Council of the EU, The new European Consensus on Development – EU and Member States sign joint strategy to eradicate poverty, Press release; 340/17, 7 June 2017,

[2] The New European Consensus on Development – ‘Our world, Our dignity, Our future’, June 2017, p. 5.

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