Image: 101 - 87 Shuffle. Daniel Hoherd, Flickr

Image: 101 – 87 Shuffle. Daniel Hoherd, Flickr

Simon Maxwell, November 2015

Some people think policy coherence for development (PCD) is only important to policy wonks. They’re wrong. In a world with fewer low-income countries in which official aid is declining in importance relative to other sources of finance, policy engagement is the future, and PCD its standard-bearer.

The UK parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC) emphasised the point in its Report on Beyond Aid in 2015. Two recent landmark reports reinforced the message: the European Commission’s 2015 EU Report on PCD (August 2015), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Better policies for development 2015: policy coherence and green growth (September 2015).

I should declare; I was Specialist Adviser to the IDC enquiry, spoke at the launch of the EU report, and have an essay in the OECD Report. I expect that makes me a wonk. I am not alone, though. Owen Barder, the Europe Director of the Center for Global Development (CGD), submitted no fewer than three memoranda to the IDC. The 2015 edition of the CGD’s own Commitment to Development Index was launched in June.

In my opinion, firstly, the various reports demonstrate that PCD is a valuable concept, which opens new conversations. Seen in this light, PCD offers a new paradigm of development.

Secondly, the new paradigm is what development will increasingly be about in the future, with important implications for the orientation and staffing of development agencies.

Thirdly, in a world in which global public goods and global deals become central to the development project, the term ‘policy coherence for development’ may imply a one-way relationship, when what we need is a two-way, shared commitment to collective action.

Fourthly, procedures and processes matter, but substance matters more.

Finally, when it comes to substance, we should choose a few priorities and really promote these.

More on this below.

Beyond Aid: the report of the UK International Development Select Committee

The IDC Report covered a range of topics, from taxation to drugs, migration, trade, human rights and corruption (Figure 1). It made a series of recommendations, including for new legislation, a new results framework for the Department for International Development (DFID), new procedures and powers for cross-Government work, and new or expanded skills in DFID (see my earlier review). The Government response, published just before the election in May 2015, was only modestly supportive of these ideas. In particular, it rejected the need for new legislation and did not want to be drawn into a comprehensive competence review of staffing needs. Importantly, however, the then administration accepted the need for a new results framework with greater focus on the outcome of policy work – and in general, was supportive of the IDC’s enthusiasm for action ‘beyond aid’.

Figure 1: Topics covered in the IDC enquiry

Policy coherence for development: the EU report

The biennial EU Report on PCD provides useful information on how the Commission and Member States approach the issue of PCD.

On the question of how countries deal with PCD, it turns out (UK take note!) that 13 Member States have a legal basis for PCD, and that most have inter-ministerial coordination mechanisms, reporting requirements, and parliamentary involvement. The EU itself has a legal basis, a formal ‘inter-service consultation’ procedure and a requirement for impact assessments and sustainability impact assessments. There is also a Standing Rapporteur on PCD in the European Parliament.

More interestingly, this legal and procedural foundation underpins some valuable thematic initiatives. For example, and following the Rana Plaza disaster, the Netherlands has prioritised work on the textile supply chain. As far as the EU is concerned, there are six main areas of focus: trade and finance, food security, climate change, migration and security. The report reviews each of these, and concludes with a summary of the key challenges ahead. There are recommendations on topics such as trade facilitation, unreported and unregulated fishing, the cost of remittance transfers, and conflict prevention. Overall, it is upbeat about the progress made.

The Council of Ministers considered the report and issued supportive ‘Conclusions’ on 26 October. It said, inter alia, that

The Council confirms its political engagement to PCD and recalls the Treaty obligation to take into account the objectives of development cooperation in the policies which are likely to affect developing countries, as well as to pursue these objectives in the overall framework of the Union’s external action. The recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also emphasises the importance of policy coherence for sustainable development. PCD is a crucial contribution to increasing the effectiveness of the EU’s development cooperation and its contribution to global sustainable development.

It is interesting, by the way, that the new EU trade strategy, announced by Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on 14 October, is deliberately framed in an inclusive way, with an emphasis on a more responsible trade and investment policy, inside and outside the EU. In her foreword, Ms Malström says

The new approach also involves using trade agreements and trade preference programmes as levers to promote, around the world, values like sustainable development human rights, fair and ethical trade and the fight against corruption. We will use future EU agreements to improve the responsibility of supply chains.

Better Policies for Development: the OECD Report

The annual OECD Report on Better Policies for Development is a different kind of product to the EU report. It is longer, more detailed, with chapters written by named authors, and a large number of independent contributions (including mine) in the form of essays. There is a special focus on green growth, but the report covers many other topics, including illicit financial flows. It takes the new Sustainable Development Goals as an overall context.

The OECD has quite a comprehensive approach to different kinds of national and international PCD (summarised in Figure 2). It has a summary of lessons learned from PCD efforts (as in Figure 3). Note the stricture to focus on issues, which I will come back to.

Figure 2: Five complementary levels of coherence for implementing the post-2015 agenda

Figure 3: Lessons learned on PCD from the OECD Strategy on Development

PCD and the future of development cooperation
Now, I do not want to be misty-eyed about either of these reports, and to pretend that they have all the answers. Nor, on this occasion, do I want to review the substantive content, theme by theme. Instead, it seems to me there are some over-arching points to make about PCD:

  1. The various reports demonstrate that PCD is a valuable concept, which opens new conversations. There has been useful learning, especially on strategies, instruments and reporting. These can, in fact, be reframed as being about ideology, power and accountability. Thus, PCD illustrates what development really is about (ideology), how governments can manage joined-up thinking and ensure consistency (power), and accountability to all stakeholders, including in developing countries. Seen in this light, PCD offers a new paradigm of development.
  2. This new paradigm is what development will increasingly be about in the future. The number of low income countries is falling and those that remain are mostly fragile states that require multiple aid and non-aid interventions. Further, the provision of global public goods, such as a sustainable environment, call for policy measures at least as much as cash. This, of course (as the IDC report emphasises), has huge implications for the orientation and staffing of development agencies. Aid management could likely become the rustbelt of the development industry, with PCD as its silicon valley, located in a sunshine state.
  3. In a world in which global public goods and global deals become central to the development project, ‘policy coherence for development’ is a misnomer, implying a one-way relationship, when what we need is a two-way, shared commitment to collective action. ‘Policy consensus for development’ might be a better term. The OECD Report makes a similar point and suggests renaming the concept ‘Policy coherence for sustainable development’. The OECD also emphasises engaging emerging powers and other stakeholders in the developing world.
  4. Procedures and processes matter, but substance matters more. The OECD makes this point, as did Development Commissioner Neven Mimica and Martine Schommer, the Head of Luxembourg development cooperation (currently holding the EU Presidency), at the launch of the EU report. We should celebrate work on conceptual frameworks and checklists, declare victory on process, and ask for a moratorium on method.
  5. When it comes to substance, we should choose a few priorities to really push forward. My view is that the priority is to move away from high-level statements (‘PCD is important’) and methodologies (‘we need a framework’), to action on specifics (‘what are we going to do about refugees?’). I often ask people what they are angry about. My own list includes the refugee crisis, of course, but also the need for additional action on climate change, environmentally sustainable and fair trade, joint technology and innovation work, and macro-economic coordination. At the launch of the EU report in Brussels, others added illicit financial flows (Martine Schommer), tax and investment rules (Seamus Jeffreson, Director of CONCORD), and problems with economic partnership agreements. CONCORD has published on these topics.

The EU should take advantage of the forthcoming review of the European Consensus on Development to make PCD more visible. It should also revise the EU Results Framework to include PCD-related items and lock together the Global Strategy, the Consensus and the Humanitarian Consensus, with a specific focus on shocks. Of course, there remains the need to act on the refugee crisis, climate change, and the many other issues people are angry about.