Development in decline?

UN’s target of 0.7 % of rich countries gross national product (GNP) to Official Development Assistance (ODA) has rarely been a problem for the Netherlands. While the rest of the OECD has struggled to get above 0.3 % in general, the Netherlands have poured out 0.8 % of their GNP to development.

This is certainly about to change. The inescapable reality of the European debt-crisis will see to it.

Europe struggles with development

– The Netherlands have always been one of the few “virtuous EU countries”. If they start cutting down funds – while it should be the other way round, meaning others scaling up theirs – well, we are in trouble. I am very pessimistic, says Francesco Gobbi.

As a research analyst within the European Parliament Gobbi is clearly seeing the ominous signs.

– Already from the member states’ answers to the EU Questionnaire 2011 there were bad signals, such as scaling down funds and no multiannual frameworks for development. The situation was already bad a year ago – with the EU never going to meet its obligations to the Millennium Development Goals – now it is even worse, Gobbi concludes.

In the Netherlands the influence of Geert Wilders ‘Party for Freedom’ keep step with the increasing financial trouble. Wilders is famous for his rather pessimistic definition of development: ‘development aid appears in practice just to mean channelling money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries’. And as the only parliamentary guarantee of the conservative minority-government, Wilder’s party have their say in the current budget discussions.

The planned cuts in the development budget will slice it from almost 0.8 % of GNP to below 0.6 %. According to surveys this cut is supported by over 80 % of the Dutch people. The Minister for Development is downgraded to a state-secretary; the number of partner countries is down by over 50 %, other budget posts from climate to defence are re-defined as development and thus tapping into the already shrinking budget.

– It’s shocking to see how quickly the public opinion has changed in relatively few years. The tendency was there already before the financial crisis, but the current crisis has only reinforced the public opinion against development, says Corina van der Laan in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Bill Gates 

Last week she got support from one of the world’s richest men, Bill Gates. Gates has invited Wilders to Africa, to see how development actually works. Gates fears that the extended effects of the Netherlands new line will be that more rich countries feel less obliged to contribute.

Even though global development has seen great progress the last twenty years, Europe, who stands for over 50 % of all ODA, is seemingly backing out in times of financial trouble. Development has always been challenged by political realism and movements on the fringes of the conservative right: this is nothing new. However, the broad support this new line seemingly has among the people and the civil society in a country like the Netherlands is more worrying.

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