A new portfolio for “global issues”?

Should there be a new political portfolio for “global issues”? The emergence of a new mandate within the traditional family of Foreign Affairs.


I attended recently a two day event organised by the Overseas Development Institute in the UK called “EU Change Makers.”

When we started, Mikaela Gavas (ODI) asked us to think “big”, and then Simon Maxwell (ODI) who facilitated our debates encouraged us to move from the “big picture” to the “core development business”. After two days of interesting and inspiring deliberations we could ask ourselves: are they two different questions, or is the “big picture” becoming the core business of the development portfolio?

We agreed that we need to think big and “politics”, because we are mainly talking about the reality of the post-2015 agenda.

The next two years are criticial for the EU and at international level

– The next EU elections & the new European Commission (EC)
– The post MDG/SDG agendas
– The European Year for development cooperation in 2015
– The climate negotiations COP21 in December 2015

What was vision emerging from our “EU change makers” discussions from the event?

I captured three main elements of this vision – one explicit and two other issues which were less discussed.

A new portfolio for “global issues”

I/ The new reality we discussed during the first morning advocates for the emergence of a new “Mandate” or portfolio within the traditional family of Foreign Affairs.
This trend has started to happen in various ways in several countries: Imme Scholz (DIE) talked about “Global issues”, Dirk Messner (DIE) mentioned the need for a “Global governance” platform, Uta Böllhoff (German MECD) mentioned that Germany is envisaging to create a new “Sustainable development” Ministry, the French government created a Directorate General on “globalization” within the MFA, Michael Anderson (DFID) told us that DFID is working on mainstreaming climate change within all development policies, in Finland and Denmark, trade and development use to be part of the same ministerial portfolio.

The EU’s role

The European Union (EU) has created a new “climate change” portfolio within the college of Commissioners. Actually many actors – including CSO – are proposing “climate change” as the new overarching agenda (especially at Rio+20). I tend to disagree with this approach.

Concerning the Post-2015 agenda, another expression of this evolution is that the EU is moving with one single voice between development and environment portfolios (CONCORD had recently a unique opportunity to discuss this agenda during 2 hours with both commissioners). Actually, the EC has developed a joint communication on the post-2015 between both portfolios (development & environment).

I also understand from our discussions that the European External Action Services (EEAS) were set in part to play a new role in the 21st century for the EU diplomacy… the seed seems to be there. But it is not yet fully operational and more importantly, the mandate and the scope of the new portfolio of the EU High Representative is not yet fully clear, and let outside its responsibilities regarding important policies like Trade.

Finally, we know that based on the Lisbon treaty provision on Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) development actors are trying to settle new mechanisms to manage the conflicts of interest between several policies and portfolios like trade, migration, security, against internationally agreed development objectives.

The need for a new portfolio

However, despite those numerous initiatives, it seems that the essential is still missing at government and EU levels: the Big Picture!

In the 21st century, with the many global challenges the international community must face (most of them are not new), a political portfolio seems to miss at government, at EU or at international levels: an ambitious portfolio (a kind of vice Prime Minister or Vice President of the EC/EU) in charge of looking at the ‘global issues’ and at their relations with the domestic policies (and vice-versa).

This new portfolio implies a clear mandate which should incorporate:

1- A long term and strategic thinking
2- Leadership on bilateral and multilateral political talks and negotiations with third parts: country or group of countries
3- Building comprehensive and sharp partnerships (with few priority countries and/or regions)
4- Ensuring the coherence between several portfolios: diplomacy (traditional), development, trade, energy, climate change, food/agriculture, environment/ecology/biodiversity, defense, anti-terrorism, fight against trafficking and illicit financial flows…
Unfortunately it seems that EU is currently building coherence around an overarching agenda which is mainly Trade (where the EC exercises an exclusive competence).
5- Addressing and deciding upon “conflicts of interest” between several policies.
6- And finally, controlling adequate and predictable resources (ODA+++)

What mandate for the new portfolio?

Should this mandate fit under the traditional Foreign Affairs Ministry/portfolio? Not so sure: Traditional self-interest driven, short term and inter-governmental national diplomacy might not be adapted anymore to the new challenges the world and the international community is facing!

Should it be the opportunity for the Development family to take the lead?

The way to move the agenda from A to B over the next five years could rely on:

– Setting a clear vision (shared within the development family)
– Linking this debate to the ongoing negotiations and deliberations on the post-2015 agenda
– Using the opportunity of the next EU elections and new Commission to make the case with decisions makers for a reform or/and redistribution of portfolios.

The impact on the EU

Finally, over the two days we discussed more specifically what this would mean for our European institutions.

It seems that the EEAS has the potential to be the right structure at the conditions that its mandate is extended (to other policies like Trade for example), that PCD becomes at the core of EEAS responsibilities, and that its leadership is renewed and fully supported by the highest political authorities of the EU (Parliament, EC and Council).

James Mackie (ECDPM) pointed out the question of institutional skills. Indeed, new skills need to be built or reinforced. 21st century diplomats need to think out of “boxes”, to develop capacity to build solid alliances among countries, regions but also among different actors, to be more political (and therefore accountable), and to be able to facilitate complex processes.

Andrew Rogerson (ODI) mentioned the option for the ‘development family’ to develop a kind of “inter-institutional hub” while providing vision and leadership.

These evolutions seem to be absolutely essential to address the inter-dependence, the need for coherence, the multi-polar nature of modern and peaceful international relations, based on mutual interests and looking after global public goods and commons.

New diplomacy

However I missed in our discussions the acknowledgement of another “changing nature” of diplomacy and international relations: the emergence of new ‘kinds’ of actors.

Of course the traditional diplomacy remains led by governments, but we also observe increasingly the emergence of the diplomacy of the big cities, the non-governmental diplomacy, the long-standing business’ influence on the international stage, the academy and universities with long experience of international work (climate change experts and scientists did even influenced the political agenda of the climate negotiations).

There are increasing collaborations among Economic and Social Committees across the globe (and mainly between G20 countries), Members of Parliaments developed their own experiences of networking and collaborations (like the Joint Parliamentary Assembly in the framework of the Cotonou agreement), and finally the International and Finance Institutions which develop increasingly their own independent agendas.

All these emerging actors are active in the spheres of the international relations, development field and diplomacy and must be considered as stake-holders in their own rights. They should be formally associated (and not just consulted) to the future international debates and negotiations.
This is the condition for a shared responsibility in between actors, for ownership within society on global issues, and for accountability and democratic scrutiny.

The need for “global citizenship”

III/ Finally and based on the comments from Glennys Kinnock and Louka Katseli, I would like to emphasise the urgent need to reconnect “international affairs” with citizens : building global citizenship and educating the wide public on the reality of the world is a democratic imperative while offering real opportunity of democratic debates on these international issues. Rooting diplomacy and global issues in societies is the best “fence” against radical nationalism, and against the excessive power of few international elites.
– See more at: http://www.concordeurope.org/blogs/olivier-consolo/140-a-new-political-portfolio-for-global-issues#sthash.pblqCRui.dpuf

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