Is the Global Partnership Ready to Broaden Its Mandate?

Partnership, especially global, has to be a good thing. But many saw the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation as a flawed last-minute compromise agreed at the 2011 Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea.

The question remains whether the Global Partnership (GP) might evolve into a key element in the new global architecture on sustainable development or remain just an under-empowered, slightly enlarged, donor talk-shop?

The GP was designed to be a bridge between North and South. For it to function, Western donors must find common cause with new development actors such as China and Brazil. They must also respect country leadership from increasingly diverse recipient-partners ranging from lower-middle-income Vietnam to highly vulnerable Haiti.

A Global Partnership linked ministerially to the G20, but also well co-ordinated with the UN, could be a win-win solution for development effectiveness.

While the GP continues to struggle to find its feet, North and South are moving ahead on the Post-2015 Agenda, the stage beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Building upon his High-Level Panel and extensive consultations, the UN Secretary-General has just proposed to build a consensus around two main objectives: the global elimination of extreme poverty and a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) linking economic growth, social justice and environmental protection.

An enhanced Global Partnership could play a more effective role in facilitating that consensus. The first step is already happening. It is informally extending beyond monitoring post-Busan performance to a role in helping frame the Post-2015 Agenda.  But its tripartite leadership of ministers from the UK, Indonesia and Nigeria is still wary, focusing more on their first high-level conference in spring 2014.

Today’s GP works through a committee of 15 international ‘worthies’, selected, with somewhat limited legitimacy, to reflect views from different country groupings, international organizations, the private sector and civil society. It is supported by a modest secretariat drawn from the UNDP and DAC.

This is all far too ad hoc, and no basis for playing a global leadership role. Is that the hidden intent? To leave the Partnership as a weak voice which must defer on strategic issues to traditional governance fora such as the DAC itself and the tired Bretton Woods’ Committees?

Why not start, even if incrementally, to move towards a stronger role? To do this the GP needs a broader mandate, not just aid but development. For example, it could be reformatted to include a representative ministerial body that might discreetly merge with the current very low-key development working group of the G20, focusing initially on trouble-shooting politically sensitive aspects of the Post-2015 Agenda. Conveniently, its co-chairs already sit as nations around the G20 table.

None of this will be easy. For reasons of its own flawed legitimacy and inclusiveness, the G20 would need to quickly add a so-called fragile state. More problematically, many leaders of the G77 (the UN’s caucus of developing countries) are convinced that Busan, then the GP, and probably also the G20 itself, are all ‘Western’ plots challenging the primacy of the UN. The G77 might prefer an enhanced version of another body, the so-called High Level Political Forum, which was born at Rio+20 to help work on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of Post-2015; however, it is stunted in terms of legitimacy or real power.

The occasion for a first step could be the spring 2014 Global Partnership Ministerial. Could leaders of the Global Partnership extend its Enhancing Development Effectiveness mandate to encompass the related challenges of merging Post-2015 MDGs and new SDGs? For now, the Ministerial meeting’s agenda is largely technical, notably post-Busan monitoring, with a focus on country-level implementation.

This is not the stuff that grabs the attention of busy ministers. Moreover there are bigger issues that, although raised in Busan, require a high-level political forum such as the G20 for resolution. Many G77 and Busan participants agree that progress is overdue on topics such as trade, the environment, migration and the governance of international financial institutions.

They also need to agree that no one ‘right’ global forum exists for decision-making or dialogue. Many ideas have their roots in the UN system; others emerge in fora such as the G20 or the Bretton Woods Institutions. None should an exclusive right to power and leadership. Indeed, in our multi-polar world enhanced inclusivity is the challenge.

With all this ambiguity, should the Partnership at least add a session in 2014 on its own mandate and place in global governance? After all this will be first time the Global Partnership comes together as 100+ ministers at a meeting of old and new donors and recipients. The session might be difficult, but still invaluable. Even to deal with its original Busan mandate, the GP needs greater legitimacy and empowerment. In a G20 context, North and South have learned to work as partners countering the global financial crisis. Extending that spirit to break the institutional traditionalism within DAC and G77 circles might be a big boost towards the mindset needed for an effective GP.

An important caveat is that low-income, still aid-dependent developing countries find an enhanced GP role a worrying concept.  They fear it could distract donors from keeping up the essential transfusion of traditional aid.

A Global Partnership linked ministerially to the G20, but also well co-ordinated with the UN, could be a win-win solution for development effectiveness and finding a sustainable consensus around merging Post-2015 and the SDGs. It could even push the G20 itself, still overly focused on the global financial crisis, into the broader geo-political agenda needed to finally displace the G7.

Where is Canada in all of this? Of course we are a participant, but rather an ‘also ran’ and certainly not a voice pressing institutional innovation. This is a complex world and we increasingly lack the credibility to contribute. We seem to favour approaches that protect the status quo or move the burden to private actors and self-help. However, we need to regain that credibility to better advance our own longer-term interests as just another middle power in a world of shifting power dynamics.

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