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Development cooperation: Evolution, New Actors and Democracy

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Development cooperation: Evolution, New Actors and Democracy

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Agora #92

European values such as democracy, human rights, good governance and environmental sustainability have historically been at the heart of the European Union's development cooperation

International development cooperation has evolved significantly over the last 30 years, marked by major geopolitical changes and the emergence of new players. In the face of these geopolitical and economic challenges, Europe has remained committed to promoting democracy in its international cooperation, seeking to reconcile political and economic imperatives to contribute to the stability and development of partner countries.

Over the last few decades, development cooperation has evolved to adapt to new global challenges. It has moved from a more traditional aid-based approach to a more holistic approach to development, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The emergence of new players such as China, India, Russia and other developing countries, as well as private-sector players, has profoundly altered the landscape of development cooperation. These new players often propose alternative models of cooperation, challenging the predominance of traditional Western approaches.

While civil society remains a key player in development cooperation, the private sector is playing a growing role in the financing and implementation of development projects. It contributes capital, technology and specific skills. However, this can raise questions about corporate social responsibility and the primacy of profit over social and environmental impact.

European values such as democracy, human rights, good governance and environmental sustainability have historically been at the heart of the European Union’s development cooperation. However, their relevance and effectiveness could be called into question in light of geopolitical changes and new global challenges.  This new competition could put a strain on the democratic values defended by Europe in its cooperation with partner countries.

Yet in this new context, where development cooperation has become a field of competition between global players to influence the policies and resources of developing countries needed to make a success of the dual transition -digital and green-, Europe continues to maintain its commitment to promoting democratic values while adapting to new realities.

The EU seeks to reconcile its economic objectives with its fundamental values, ensuring that its investments contribute to strengthening democratic institutions and promoting inclusive, participatory governance in partner countries.

This paradigm shift is still in its infancy, and will in future require further adaptation of development cooperation, whose name could be changed to better reflect this new global reality. In any case, Europe will have to strike a balance between the defense of its fundamental values and geopolitical and economic imperatives.

Antonio Crespo Moreno

About The Author

Member of the U.S.B. (Commission section)
European Commission official since 1990