Theater of Cruelty

What would Erik do differently than Hilde?

The government platform negotiated at Soria Moria bids for a new course – also in development policy. It will be tough to follow.


SV's Erik Solheim has been given the job as the new Minister of Development – and is facing a demanding and formidable task. How will he solve it? Maybe the proposals for changes in the state budget that the Stoltenberg government will present next week will also give us some answers to what Erik wants that his predecessor, Hilde Frafjord Johnson, did not want?

In a large interview with the new minister in the latest issue of Norad's magazine Assistance News, however, he is more concerned with giving praise to Hilde than to stake out the new course in the future. He says, among other things:

"The goal is to do what she has done even better, plus we will start with some new things."

Hilde Frafjord Johnson has been a knowledgeable, committed and skilled Minister for Development Aid who has helped to put development policy on the agenda at home and abroad. In that sense, she has put the list high for her successor. It would be great if Solheim can match Hilde on that level, but in the first place that is not what should be his main focus? There will be no "new course" with more of the same, plus "something to go on". There will also be no new course of doing what Hilde did even better, if what she did was wrong (even if it was well done). The central challenge for Erik Solheim will therefore be to focus on what he should do differently than Hilde – without losing sight of what she did well.

What is a new course?

A "new course" is not about more or less the focus on women, children, indigenous peoples, education, the environment, corruption, poverty reduction, etc. Such issues are largely cross-political common ownership, as is "Norway as a peace nation". Cross-political joint ownership is probably also the "four fronts" in a global reform agenda that Hilde promoted in the Bondevik government development message last year and the slogan-driven demands raised in connection with the Live8 concerts and the G8 meeting earlier this year, with Hilda's enthusiastic support: more fair trade, deletion of foreign debt and more and better assistance. All this is important to follow up, but it does not represent any new course. If the red-green government wants to lead the way with a new course in development policy, it must also be able to steer clear of the obscure consensus language.

So where should we expect a new course in development policy?

In my opinion, a new course (based on Soria Moria's political platform) must focus on the following three points, which are closely related:

  • A stronger UN, at the expense of the World Bank
  • More power and influence for developing countries in multilateral forums
  • No demands for liberalization and privatization

In my view, these three points summarize the most important demands and the central criticisms that have been leveled – in the North and in the South – against today's alleged international "consensus" on development policy. This is where Erik and the Stoltenberg government can contribute to an important change of course in relation to Hilde and the Bondevik government. And when the Stoltenberg government, like the resigned Bondevik government, "gives full support to the ambitions of the UN's millennium goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015", it is at these points that Erik should not do what Hilde did, but something else – in words and action! Only in this way can the UN's Millennium Development Goals turn into something other than what they have been so far: a successful push from the rich countries to derail what was achieved at the many UN summits in the 1990s.

These three points and related challenges Solheim is facing are about democracy and "good governance" globally, but of course also about efforts for a more just world and the fight against poverty, as well as power, money and politics in international development cooperation.

A stronger UN, at the expense of the World Bank

The UN, our common global cooperation body – where each member state has one voice – has been economically starved and politically winged by the great powers, especially the United States. At the same time, the rich countries, including Norway, have for decades ensured that both money and power have increasingly been transferred from the UN to the multilateral financial institutions – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) – which degree is controlled / dominated by the rich countries.

If the UN is to gain power, the organization must also receive funds. The platform from Soria Moria states that the government will:

  • make a significant contribution to a UN-funded relief fund,
  • that multilateral assistance should increasingly be shifted from the World Bank to development programs and relief measures under the auspices of UN agencies and
  • Go ahead for international agreements on new global sources of finance that can help redistribute and strengthen UN institutions, airfare, carbon tax, arms trade tax or currency transaction fees.

For Solheim, the challenge is to put this into practice. The previous government has already tied up multilateral assistance through the World Bank with NOK 730 million a year for the 3-year period 2006-2008, and international efforts for new global funding sources have met with a lot of resistance. How will Solheim handle this? Will he be able to work for these cases with as much dedication and the same skill and expertise as Hilde did in working for his cases? If Solheim does not achieve results in these areas, the end of visas will easily be that the red-green government is contributing to increasing transfers to the UN humanitarian relief efforts, while the UN as an arena to combat poverty and promote the interests of the poor countries is further weakened. On the other hand, if the efforts to increase the resources of the UN were to succeed, one would still face the great challenge that would be to make the UN an effective development organization.

More power and influence in developing countries in multilateral forums

The Western powers (and multinational corporations) largely dominate and control multilateral fora (such as the World Bank, IMF and WTO), and provide guidance for international cooperation and development in the South that primarily promotes the rich countries (and the multinational corporations). interests, at the expense of poor countries and people.

The platform from Soria Moria states that the government will:

  • advocate for the democratization of the World Bank and the IMF. Developing countries must be given far greater influence, among other things, in that voting rights are not exclusively linked to contributed capital, as well as
  • act as supporters of countries that promote the interests of the poor part of the world's population. Norway must contribute practically to the poor countries being able to assert their interests and to ensure that the negotiations are conducted with the utmost transparency and transparency to the public.

Here we are talking about changing power relations in heavy international structures. How will Solheim handle this? Will he be able to put these issues on the agenda – in Norway and internationally? Or will the promises of Soria Moria be "forgotten" and dozed off in the face of the realpolitik realities?

No claims of neoliberalism

The international financial institutions have largely promoted policies that some have called "Washington consensus" and other neoliberalism. Critics have argued that this policy has led to more poverty and increased disparities in the world community, to the benefit of rich countries, companies and people. The key words have been (and are) liberalization og privatization, which has largely been placed as demands on poor countries that have sought debt relief, assistance or loans from the world community (the rich countries).

The platform from Soria Moria states that:

  • Norwegian aid should not go to programs that require liberalization and privatization.
  • No privatization requirements should be made as a condition for debt cancellation and the government will
  • review and reassess all demands Norway has made to developing countries on liberalization of the service sector in the GATS negotiations and
  • that Norway, in the WTO negotiations on agriculture and on market access for goods other than agricultural products, should work to give countries in the south sufficient room to choose development strategies that take into account their specific needs and level of development.

Here, too, Solheim therefore faces a formidable task. The situation today is that the vast majority of developing countries – to a greater or lesser degree – according to critics – are bound by agreements with the World Bank and the IMF which implicitly or explicitly oblige them to continue a policy of further liberalization and privatization, and that they The WTO is committed to working for ever freer world trade. Despite widespread criticism, neoliberal policies still characterize international development cooperation as an unassailable doxa (something that is taken for granted). Why? Because the rich and powerful actors still see themselves benefiting from it.

From charity politics to power politics?

"The thing that really sets me apart from Hilde is that we come from two different traditions," Solheim told Bistandsaktuelt. He believed that Hilde came from what he would call the charity tradition, while he himself came from the power tradition. It is possible to say that Hilde, as a missionary daughter born in Africa, comes from a charity tradition. My assessment, however, is that Hilde, to a greater extent than her predecessors from the Labor Party, both put development policy high on the political agenda and brought it over into the power political arena. For Erik Solheim, it should be an important task to ensure that development policy stays there and that not focusing on issues such as contributions to the UN Emergency Fund, increased assistance and continuation of the vaccine program GAVI brings development policy back to the charity tradition. For this very reason, it is also important that Erik quickly helps to focus on what he is going to do different than Hilde.

In this connection, there may be reason to recall the fears expressed by the former Foreign Affairs Committee member, Thorbjørn Jagland (Ap), in the election campaign (post in Dagsavisen 5 August) when it came to foreign policy, after the bourgeois parties spread fear so that a red-green government would rock Norway's basic foreign policy base. It did not fear Jagland, who instead pointed to another fear:

"I fear that it may be small and petty in the areas where a new one is really neededorientering and new give. I fear that foreign policy may be focused too one-sidedly on humanitarian efforts instead of Norway becoming a strong driving force for a fundamental upgrade of global policy with a view to doing something about the injustice in the world, not just alleviating it. "

An important first step in preventing such fears from becoming a reality may be to follow up on the Soria Moria Declaration's promise to "work for greater transparency about Norway's role in the World Bank and IMF, and to assess changes in relation to political governance and Norway's role ». Through thorough work here, there should be room to develop concrete measures and strategies that can contribute to making Norway a strong driving force for a new course in international development cooperation – at home and abroad. Good luck!

Arnfinn Nygaard works daily as a coordinator for organizations that conduct information work in Norway on international development issues (RORG coordinator), but this article is written in personal capacity.

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