Development Cooperation: Is Spain Going to Return to the Big Table?

Development Cooperation: Is Spain Going to Return to the Big Table?


In the midst of all the excitement generated by the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is sad to note that the results of the summit would not have been changed an iota had the Spanish delegation chosen to stay at home. What makes this situation even more depressing, if that were possible, is the memory of Spain’s leadership role in the Millennium Summit, which brings into focus the fact that the position we have chosen to turn our backs on was a good one—an excellent one in fact.  

Having become a middle-ranking donor by reducing its official development aid (ODA) to the lowest level since 1990, Spain has chosen to keep a very low profile in international development forums, thus undermining the credibility earned through years of work, which was, to a greater or lesser extent, encouraged by a series of governments of different political persuasions. While the treatment of ODA in the 2016 Budget promises to be somewhat less unsatisfactory (it is really difficult to use the adjective “better”), it appears that the government is still not engaging with a key question: What role should Spain play in international affairs?

ISGlobal has put together a document entitled Spanish cooperation beyond 2015: ethical and practical reasons for a change, which sets out a series of proposals that will be sent to all of Spain’s political parties While it is clear that a country’s position within the international community is determined by factors that go beyond aid, ODA commitment is definitely an indicator of the level of responsibility a state is prepared to shoulder and, as such, has a bearing on its place in world affairs. The following is a good example: in the course of the campaign to secure a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, Mariano Rajoy cited Spain’s commitment to increasing its development cooperation budget as a compelling argument in favour of our candidature. Now that the Council seat has been secured, we need to define a strategic approach that will return Spain to the position which, given its history and size, this country should never have abandoned. If this is not done, the Spanish government (this one or the next) will continue to demonstrate that it is possible to be present without actually being there, and that there is absolutely no virtue in such a position.

A team in the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has put together a document entitled “La Cooperación Española más allá de 2015: razones éticas y prácticas para el cambio” (Spanish cooperation beyond 2015: ethical and practical reasons for a change), which sets out a series of proposals that will be sent to all of Spain’s political parties, who are currently formulating electoral programmes in preparation for the general elections to be held at the end of this year. The overall aim of the measures proposed, which were drawn up in collaboration with other civil society organisations, is to reinstate development cooperation as a key component of Spain's foreign policy. (Why not? In addition to being an ethical imperative, cooperation is a worthy and effective way of establishing a position of influence in the world.)

If it is to become a modern tool of sufficient quality, ODA must be given a more strategic orientation, and mechanisms of assessment need to be put in place. Only then can ODA provide impact, transparency, and accountability, three elements essential to any public policy. The percentage of Spain’s GDP allocated to development should reach 0.4% by the end of the next legislature. If that target is not achieved, all our proposals will become mere declarations of intent. The document also proposes a roadmap for Spanish cooperation in the field of health because the health sector provides a perfect example of the risks of neglecting ODA (Do we have to labour the point yet again that diseases travel, and that they travel a lot?) and it offers enormous potential for Spain to support development in other countries while strengthening its own capacities and comparative advantages.  

Greater commitment to ODA is a win-win choice. Is our seat at the big table really going to remain empty?