Published in Development Today (No. 7/2008)

No consensus in Swedish development policy

The Policy for Global Development was meant to bring all parties and government ministries together to combat poverty and achieve the Millennium Goals. But the mood among Swedish political parties is anything but harmonious.

The opposition parties have already criticised the government’s new take on the Policy for Global Development. The opposition argues that the government is moving away from poverty reduction, which, it says, should be the main priority. The new focus is instead on democracy and human rights. (See DT 4-5/08).

Development minister Gunilla Carlsson has never tried to hide her discontent with both the former Policy for Global Development and what she views as the former government’s lack of commitment to the policy.

All Parties

The policy was approved by all parties in Parliament in 2003 under the then Social Democratic government. It was to be an attempt to have a more comprehensive approach to global development issues, involving all ministries in Sweden. The idea was that in order to achieve a fair and lasting global development, aid cannot be viewed in isolation from other issues like trade, environment and migration. The responsibility must therefore not fall on the Foreign Ministry alone , but in the government as a whole.

Now the opposition parties have allied with many of the Swedish NGOs. In an annual evaluation of the global development policy, 11 NGOs largely reject the policy’s ability to reduce poverty in developing countries. (The same NGOs criticised the former Social Democratic government for its development policy).

The rift between the government and the opposition, as well as many of the NGOs, did not become smaller when the government recently invited the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto to an official hearing about the global development policy. Since de Sotos focus is on the market economy and property rights for supporting economic growth and progress in poor countries – not aid – he is a controversial name among many advocates of big foreign aid budgets.

During the hearing, Carlsson once again stressed that "aid alone is not enough": "The new Policy for Global Development shows how to deal with these issues when the times have changed."

Kent Härstedt, Spokesperson on Aid and Development for the Social Democratic Party, says to Development Today that the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens plan to deliver a reservation on the government’s address on global development. "The responsibility for the disagreement does not fal on us," Härstedt says; the government has taken many positions that are full of contradictions.

"Thew government has already decided on the priority areas in recipient countries before even talking to them. That does not fit with the Paris Agenda," which was adopted by donor countries in 2005, and puts more responsibility for development on the governments of the recipient countries.

Domestic landscape

Härstedt is also critical of the government’s apparent move ti distance itself from its foreign aid obligations.

"The are hollowing out aid when we can see that the need for aid is increasing globally", he says.

The political clash on this issues means that the shape of the Policy for Global Development depends to a large extent on the constitution of the current government, and how they view the fight against poverty. The policy can therefore change according to the domestic landscape. That was not the original purpose of the policy. On the contrary, it was meant to be a long tern sustainable plan to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Te current Centre-Right coalition government had adopted the 1 per cent of GNI aid level target. But the Moderate Party – the party of Minister Carlsson – has a history of rejecting any specific target when it comes to level of foreign aid.