It has been several weeks since the first High Level Meeting (HLM) of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) and while the dust may have settled, it is hard to say definitively whether the meeting, which convened some 1500 representatives from different walks of life in the development cooperation universe, actually accomplished anything significant. The Partnership was created in Busan in 2011. It is fair and noteworthy to state that the HLM at the very least managed to breathe some life into a process that had lost nearly all momentum since Busan. And did so in spite of China and India’s calculated absence, Brazil and Argentina’s palatable displeasure with the “ways of working”, and little discernible progress in action on commitments, old and new. Credit in large part goes to the government of Mexico who convened the meeting, admirably brokered an outcome communique which effectively salvaged the partnership and assumed a leadership role as co-chair for the coming years of the GPEDC.
On a positive note, the GPEDC, including the HLM, has established a truly unique space in the composition of representatives it brings together—and the terms of engagement it supports. Few other international fora offer a similar space to non-executive actors, albeit not entirely on equal footing (though this is simply the nature of power relations), to engage with governments in decision-making, agenda setting and planning as does the GPEDC. In no uncertain terms, the GPEDC makes tangible efforts to deliver on the principle of inclusiveness, at least part of the time.
Also on a positive note, at the Mexico meeting, the trade union movement was finally able to officially secure a place in the governance of the GPEDC—its Steering Committee—though asa “non-traditional” civil society stakeholder and not as one of the social partners alongside the private sector as had been the request. In this new role, the ITUC was able to have at least some identifiable impact in the outcome of the Mexico meeting, notably on the question of private sector accountability in this process. However, this did not manage to resolve the issue that trade unions were deliberately, or so it seemed, denied a panel role in the headline session on the private sector. They were only given a limited time to speak from the audience.
The failure to recognize the social partners in the private sector debate and across the partnership is an area for future action.
On the official agenda of the HLM, there seemed to be little focus on the earlier commitments on aid and development effectiveness. There were efforts to cover progress through a pre-workshop and a handful of focus sessions but these hardly received the profile that for example the role of the private sector received throughout the meeting. Given the latest findings of the monitoring report, where, in reality, the main progress is that we have not regressed, it is no surprise that donors were less inclined to profile these issues at a high level event. Instead, in both the agenda of the meeting and in its outcome, many of the core effectiveness issues were overshadowed by the latest “hot topics”. This may have been an unintended consequence of “broadening” the debate and the actors involved which admittedly was looked upon favourably by civil society in Busan, and has since created a distraction from the commitments that the partnership is founded upon.
There is also the issue that despite commendable efforts to create inclusive spaces and meaningful participation across stakeholders, the process remains undeniably driven by aid donors. Efforts to shed this process’ association with the OECD have proven more difficult than anticipated as evidenced by China’s and India’s boycott, but also by the lack of strong leadership from partner countries. Countries which usually receive aid are more vocal in UN circles. In the GPEDC, partner countries tend to be less assertive, as opposed to similar debates in the UN where outcomes are heavily influenced by the positions of the “G77”, the group of more than 77 developing countries.
The Mexico meeting also offered an opportunity for the trade union movement to convene events on the Human Rights Based Approach and the Private Sector. What made the HLM unique in this respect, however, was the high level of representation across different stakeholder groups that participated in the events. As a result, these two topical priorities for the trade union movement were able to garner high level support. Unfortunately, it was a bit more difficult to link these discussions to the overall outcome of the HLM.
The new leaders: Mexico, Netherlands, and a ‘to be determined’ African government as co-chairs of the process, offer some anticipation and hope for the process, however. A serious shortcoming and detriment to the process over the previous two plus years was the way it had been driven over this period by the co-chairs (and even among co-chairs there was a skewed balance of influence). This undermined the purpose of the Steering Committee and left it as something of a glorified planning committee.
If the process is to remain credible, the new co-chairs will have to restore ownership of the partnership, create a stronger role for the steering committee, get back to the Paris, Accra and Busan basics and resist the urge to drive and/or showcase pet agenda’s or hot topics.