The institutional logic of the European Union demolishes the relevance of actions
01 / 1999
Le Monde Selon les Femmes (The world according to women)is a Belgian NGO that is particularly interested in establishing connections between North and South on gender issues. It is therefore an organisation working in favour of greater recognition of women’s’ rights, within a sociological analysisof the structuring of social relationships between men and women. Hence, our work involves a great deal of consciousness raising concerning the condition of women, based on their experiences.
Within the framework of this orientation, a project was developed to bring together women involved in collective development action in both the North and the South to work on some very specific topics. The medium for building this network has taken concrete form in the publication of a journal, Palabras, which comes out 3 or 4 times a year.
Monde Selon les Femmes went to the European Commission, and more specifically to the"Education and training in the field of development"budget heading to obtain funding support for this programme. An initial application had already been filed prior to the conference on women in Beijing, China.
This assembly had given us an opportunity to test the interest of other groups in the project. We were able to organise a workshop with interested people to launch the idea of the journal and lay the foundations for our network.
We sent the application to the Directorate General VIII in conjunction with two other organisations, both of them from the South - one from Senegal, and the other from Chile. This combination of North-South joint responsibility was rejected from the start. Two arguments were used: first, southern NGOs do not have access to co-financing, as there are specific budget headings for them; secondly, a northern NGO must assume full financial responsibility for the project and be the Commission’s sole interlocutor.
Obviously, this severely hampered our efforts with respect to the relevance of our project. Indeed, it seemed to us that, in the dynamics of a network, the Northern organisation should not be the sole"project manager". In the end, we had to resign ourselves to the situation and file the project on our own.
The project also contained the idea of organising a seminar in the South. Once again, this approach was perfectly consistent with our objectives, but it was also refused, because this dynamic does not fit in with the concept of"education in the field of development"as defined by this budget heading.
Since the main idea is to generate awareness in the North, they could not see the point in carrying out actions in the South! We therefore had to find other partners in order to remain consistent with our aims.
Once the project was accepted, it was financed in stages. The first phase was supposed to be spread out over a year, but in fact, it required a longer period because it involved the whole task of making contacts and setting up the network, which cannot be done in a day.
Then we began the second phase, which was now reduced to 2 years.
According to the Commission, the requirement for this phase was that the journal had to be self-financing within two years. For us, this was truly aberrant, since the aim in itself was not to produce a journal but to use the journal to create a network of actors. The medium was not an end in itself, but simply a medium giving life to the network, and therefore a long-term project. For budgetary reasons, the European Union forced us to adopt a market logic of profitability, going against our own approach which is based rather on consolidating actors over time. Thus, we have to find a means of self-financing without any help from the European Union. Furthermore, it is going to take considerable energy to accomplish this, which will reduce the time we can devote to the essential part of our work.
As far as the content of the project is concerned, our interlocutor at DG VIII questioned us a great deal during the project appraisal phase. We had an interesting, qualitative debate which helped us refine certain aspects of the programme. On the other hand, once the project was accepted, it seemed that there was no more follow-up in terms of an exchange of ideas. We would like to have feedback and observations concerning our action, but it is impossible to have any directly.
We also regret the lack of opportunity to meet people involved in Development Education. The"Education in the field of Development"unit is a hub of activity that handles many projects and actors. It could put these people in contact with each other, but it does not. This is regrettable, because we could learn a great deal from each other.
One last point that concerns us is the slow pace of procedures. This does not have much of an impact on us personally, but for projects with direct implications in the field, it can truly jeopardise both the processes and the people involved.
1. Project-driven logic instead of people-oriented logic: what is important is the project itself, that it should meet certain criteria, but not the actors who are behind these programmes.
2. Institutional logic and not relevance: the relevance of the project itself, which belongs to the actors and constitutes a common ground, is often demolished altogether by the constraints linked to criteria, concepts and objectives set by financial backers.
3. The concept of Education in the field of Development has been unanimously defined by the Commission and it is difficult, or even impossible, to change their vision. Yet, the conceptions of Development Education are in fact quite varied and rich. Why should it be impossible to imagine processes in which this concept could be reviewed and enriched by the various actors from both the North and South, thereby setting the institution and the actors on the path to varied learning experiences?
That is not being done, no doubt for lack of time, since in this department there now only 2 people left to manage all the projects.
Thus, the institution is not putting itself into a research position and is not a learner, i.e. able to change and change its perceptions as well as to adapt to different realities.
Translated from French (see corresponding title).
[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]