Belgium: cutbacks or cooperation? ODA in times of crisis

Palace of the Nation, seat of the
Belgian Federal Parliament in
(Photo: Belgian government)

“International cooperation is in danger. In Europe, which is still the biggest donor in the world, official development assistance fell for the first time since 2007, and Belgium is not an exception. In times of crisis the tendency is for fiscal austerity”. This is the conclusion of the National Cooperation Centre for Development (CNCD-11.11.11) in its contribution to the Social Watch Report 2013.

CNCD-11.11.11, which is made up of more than ninety international solidarity organizations, reports that “the spectre of poverty which is also looming over Europe”, combined with the “business closures and a questioning of the welfare state” are used as “the arguments to justify describing these as difficult times.”

According to the study, “the slogan ‘let us help our own poor first’, which up to now has been so politically incorrect, is becoming acceptable, and there is increasing fear and insecurity” in what constitutes a bleak outlook for development cooperation, which “depends on a Belgian government besieged by calls for austerity.”

CNCD-11.11.11 argues that assistance “must be re-defined” in a new “international context of far-reaching changes” that includes more space for “emerging countries in global debate, since their economies have grown and also their participation in the cooperation area.”

Since “Belgium has an active participation in negotiations on sustainable development,” Belgian civil society organizations trust that the State will maintain its “firm defence of a strong social dimension for the framework of international cooperation after 2015.”

This contribution to the Social Watch Report recalls criticisms made by civil society organizations of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) shortly alter they were agreed in 2000. At that time various organizations warned that the goals were limited to developing countries, that each goal was formulated in isolation with no overall unifying vision, and that they were “purely quantitative”.

According to these organizations, the MDGs concentrate too much on “quantitative achievements to the detriment of qualitative targets, on the individual as well as the collective level.” For example, “how can the goal of reducing the proportion of people living in absolute poverty be established without taking into account the inequalities that maintain relative poverty?”

“The strategy to reach these goals does not respond to a vision shared by” both industrialized and developing countries, adds the report.

“International dialogue is difficult because from a political point of view. The participants at the most recent conferences and summits made efforts to reach agreements, but the study claims these agreements – whether they are about trade, climate or assistance – are problematic, and failure is almost systematic (…) Therefore the greatest challenge for the international community in the midst of many crises will be to demonstrate that it can continue with dialogue and cooperation and not succumb to the temptation to make cutbacks.”

“One of the basic challenges will be to reach a common vision that translates into agreements through operational measures inspired in a spirit of shared responsibility.” To this end, Belgium should “participate in the discussion” and “be disposed to cooperate to initiate a genuine socio-ecological transition that is fair and equitable.”

The CNCD-11.11.11 concludes that “this is the approach needed if each individual or collective actor is to take part and assume responsibility. The essential components of the future international development framework are to eradicate poverty and social and gender inequality, to reformulate the dominant patterns of production and consumption, and to preserve resources and services.”

Source Social Watch Belgium Report 2013 (in French):