Development Cooperation in New EU Member States

For the post-socialist countries which have been integrated into the EU, development cooperation including civil society participation became obligatory. In these countries, which have undergone radical changes of their societies, political change implied an abrupt end to politically motivated internationalism. Yet for many years the old concepts were not replaced by alternative ones – the transformation process absorbed capacities. The countries themselves became aid recipients and were considered competitors to developing countries. The situation only started to change by the end of the 1990s.

So far the quantity and quality of government activities are not very impressive. The efforts of civil society actors also leave much to be desired. There is not only insufficient funding and a lack of experience but also underlying conceptual problems regarding development cooperation. “Development” is predominantly perceived by governments as assistance to poor countries to enable them to catch up with “modern” industrialized nations, and this is combined with advancement for domestic industries. This means there is a mixing together of development assistance and export promotion.

Public opinion is driven mainly by a mentality of compassion. People are prepared to donate to concrete projects to benefit clearly perceived victims of catastrophes. In this light, civil society initiatives in the field of disaster relief and development aid were started. This happened even before the creation of the new political development programs, which were mainly initiated due to external pressure. Development education activities evolved only slowly. Awareness is increasing and undoubtedly there are good intentions and genuine efforts being made, but up to now the accent is more on “development aid” than on “development cooperation”.

Another tendency is to export relatively fresh transformation experiences to countries with different cultural settings and different socio-economic problems. The role of political vehicle adopted by some NGOs in this context appears to be rather doubtful. On the other hand many organizations do miracles with a minimum of financial means. Lacking means is often compensated by lots of commitment and creativity. There are well conceived projects that function well, building on the participation of Southern partner organizations, and their number will surely increase. The problem of lacking financial capacities might be reduced over time given the access to EU funding – though this holds true primarily for bigger NGOs. For all organisations the integration into national development NGO platforms and through them into the European umbrella organisation CONCORD constitutes a positive and important learning process.

There is still insufficient awareness that global problems call for global solutions, and above all for structural changes in rich countries. Even within civil society the structural causes of poverty such as indebtedness, unfair trade relations, militarism and other means to defend the present hegemony are rarely made subjects of development education or political action. This indicates the presence of ideological reservations which can be traced back both to the experiences with authoritarian regimes before 1989 and to the neo-liberal ideological fog that followed. NGOs in the old EU member states address structural issues much more. This difference in perception often complicates communication and cooperation between “East” and “West”, which are additionally aggravated by a general insecurity shared on both sides about the effectiveness of development cooperation.

TRIALOG has contributed a lot to enhance the NGO capacities in the new EU member states and has facilitated and strengthened contacts between new and old member states. Following a recommendation from the project evaluation, TRIALOG will now – in cooperation with CONCORD and the Ecumenical Academy in Prague – create space for a Europe-wide debate on sustainable, effective development concepts and the role of civil society actors in their implementation. Two conferences will be organized in Prague, the first to take place on 14- 16 May 2008, the second a year after. The first conference will invite NGO representatives from developing countries to describe their situation, expectations and dreams. This will be the basis for a debate in which NGOs from Europe and the European neighbourhood will critically assess and discuss their own and their governments’ policies. The second conference will present the outcome in terms of emerging new ways, approaches and instruments to development.

Jirˇí Silny´ Director Ecumenical Academy Prague

Nasi Partnerzy Amani Kibera Instytut Globalnej Odpowiedzialności Counter Balance Polska Akcja Humanitarna Grupa Zagranica Bankwatch Network Polska Zielona Sieć