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Addressing the deadly impacts of heatwaves in Europe – The European Union Must Do More

This year in June and July (and into this month of August), a global heatwave led to an increase in deaths and disasters. Several European countries were largely impacted, including the Netherlands, France, Portugal, and Spain. In this blog, we (Shellan Saling and Sylvia I. Bergh) review the European Union’s (EU) policy response to heatwaves, and argue for a more active role for the EU in coordinating national efforts to develop heat-health action plans (HHAPs).  

The death tolls of past and future heatwaves

The current heatwave is not the first one. In 2003, an extreme heatwave killed over 70,000 people across Europe. Certain population groups – such as the elderly, people with disabilities, youth, ethnic and racial minorities, and those experiencing homelessness – are especially vulnerable. These groups, as well as pregnant women, young children, and people with chronic conditions such as cardio-vascular diseases, are at higher risk of suffering from reduced physiological and behavioral capacity for thermoregulation, for example due to a limited capacity to sweat. Socio-economically disadvantaged people also have limited access to information sources where health warnings are shared and awareness is raised about how to protect oneself from the heat. More recently, the 2019 summer heatwaves affected Europe, more specifically France, Belgium, and the Netherlands with over 2500 deaths.

Unfortunately, future prospects are bleak. Researchers at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission predict that assuming present vulnerability and no additional adaptation, annual fatalities from extreme heat in 2100 could rise from 2,750 deaths now to 30,000 at 1.5°Celsius global warming, 52,000 at 2°C, and 96,000 at 3°C. The highest number of fatalities are expected to occur in France, Italy, and Spain. Given these dramatic figures, effective policy response from the European Union is urgent.


The EU’s policy response

The origins of the EU’s policy response can be traced back to the aftermath of the 2003 heatwaves, whose death toll sent shockwaves throughout Europe and prompted immediate action to develop national heat-health action plans (HHAPs). At the EU level, and the European Commission and European Environmental Agency (EEA) in particular, HHAPs fall under the health domain. Hence, the EU has worked closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on HHAPs beginning with the EuroHeat project, which identified eight core elements of HHAPs in 2008. They include an agreement on a lead body, accurate and timely alert systems, a heat-related health information plan, a reduction in indoor heat exposure, particular care for vulnerable population groups, preparedness of the health and social care system, long-term urban planning, and real-time surveillance and evaluation.

However, apart from issuing guidance, the EU has lacked a major role in mitigating the impacts of heatwaves. The question remains about why it does not play a more active role in mitigating the effects of heatwaves and in formulating heat-health policy.

We tried to answer this question as part of a wider study on HHAPs in France and The Netherlands, conducted as part of the first author’s Research Paper in the context of her International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) MA degree. The study was carried out in collaboration with an applied research project led by the second author. The findings are based on desk reviews and interviews with experts and policymakers.


Obstacles to a more effective EU response

We found that heatwaves and climate change in general fall under several different policy arenas including climate mitigation, adaptation, social policy, and health. This fragmentation limits the EU’s actions on heatwaves. In addition, categorising HHAPs as falling in the health domain makes it challenging for the EU to act because of their existing laws and regulations. According to the mandates specified in the Maastricht Treaty (European Union Treaty) and its Article 129(4), the European Union is allowed to spend money on European Union level health projects, but is not allowed to harmonise public health measures in member states.  The Amsterdam Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty (article 152(7)) provided further updates making it clear that health policy is the responsibility of EU member states.

Recent progress on climate change policy has been made within the European Union with the EU Green Deal. A key component, Regulation 2018/1999 of the European Parliament (known as the European Climate Law issued in 2021) established the framework for achieving climate neutrality. However, this regulation does not specifically discuss or call for national HHAPs.

Hence, there is currently no institution within the EU responsible for monitoring the heat-health action plans or heat health policy of member states more generally because under the EU’s limited mandate, it cannot enforce the HHAPs in the member states. Also, it is not in the EEA’s mandate to provide a framework for policy action in this area, and they cannot lobby or influence the EU member states much.


Sharing knowledge and funding research is good but not enough

Therefore, the main role the EU continues to have is to create and share knowledge with and between the member states. The EuroHEAT project mentioned earlier was co-funded by the European Commission (EC) Directorate-General for Health and Consumers. It quantified the health effects of heat in European cities and identified options for improving health systems’ preparedness for and response to the effects of heatwaves. By coordinating with the WHO European Region, the project led to the first framework for HHAPs. In addition, through the European Environmental Agency (EEA), in 2012 the EU has set up knowledge and research databases available on the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT), which contain a host of data on climate and health (among other topics), including case studies on the impact of heatwaves on vulnerable populations and policy measures taken. In early 2021, the EU climate law led to the establishment of the European Climate and Health Observatory. It is managed jointly by the European Commission and the EEA as part of Climate-ADAPT. However, the Observatory has yet to increase its staffing to be fully operational.

Two other recent research and policy development projects funded by the EU were HEAT-SHIELD (a Horizon 2020 research project addressing the negative impact of increased workplace heat stress on the health and productivity of five strategic European industries) and the SCORCH (the Supportive Risk Awareness and Communication to Reduce impact of Cross-Border Heatwaves) project, which have generated useful academic and policy outputs.

However, besides investing in research and policy development, we believe that going forward, the EU should take a more active role in coordinating national efforts to develop HHAPs. For example, in our interviews, we found that there is a lack of communication between the national policymakers who work on heatwaves across the EU, and a desire for more exchanges on best practices. This could be addressed by funding targeted projects under relevant EU programs such as Interreg Europe. We also believe that it would be desirable for the EU to have a stronger role in monitoring the quality of the various HHAPs (using the elements in the WHO framework) and ensuring that they are integrated with other relevant (national and EU) polices on disaster risk reduction or national environmental planning.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Shellan Saling is a recent graduate from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) where she received her MA in Development Studies majoring in Governance and Development Policy. Her research paper (thesis) was on climate adaptation policies, and specifically on national heat-health action plans and heat-health policy within the EU.



Sylvia I. Bergh, Associate Professor in Development Management and Governance, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), and Senior researcher, Centre of Expertise on Global Governance, The Hague University of Applied Sciences (THUAS).


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COVID-19: Should Europe embrace frugality?

The Covid-19 pandemic, emerging in the aftermath of the recent global financial crisis, could potentially further shake the confidence that Europeans have in their institutions. Rigid and slow decision-making processes and an excessive institutional reliance on super-specialisation and protocol-driven scientific evidence can at least partly explain why Europe finds it so difficult to predict disruptions and why it adapts its institutional machineries so slowly. Greater flexibility, including space for experimentation and improvisation, can help Europe to adapt more quickly to future contingencies, write Saradindu Bhaduri and Peter Knorringa.

Drawing of doctors wearing masks

Europe has offered a historically unprecedented degree of stability, prosperity, comfort and reliability to most of its citizens in recent decades. Many of its citizens have grown to take these benefits for granted, even when all this makes Europe a very high-cost economic system. Two recent disruptions, the earlier financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, are unprecedented in the history of Europe, at least since World War II. The pandemic has caused more than 150,000 deaths so far, with a mortality rate in Europe far exceeding that of countries outside the continent. Potentially, these two events could shake the faith of people in the institutional mechanisms of the continent developed brick by brick over the last half a century, especially if such disruptions are expected to recur more frequently in the future.

Understanding the European system

Few would disagree that the present European production and innovation system, inter-country variations notwithstanding, relies extensively on the super-specialisation of work and an overwhelming reliance on strongly protocolised ‘hard scientific evidence’. Together, they are supposed to uphold quality and transparency in economic decision making, even at the cost of being expensive and sticky, i.e. slow in its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. While specialisation and protocols are in themselves indispensable and desirable elements in a modern economy, too much of it creates its own challenges.

In this blog we argue that the excessive institutional reliance on super-specialisation and protocol-driven scientific evidence in all its decision-making processes can, at least partly, explain why Europe finds it so difficult to predict disruptions and is not able to quickly adapt its institutional machineries in the face of a crisis1. A remedy in our view lies in reducing over-formalisation in its decision-making processes and creating more space for experimentation and judicious improvisation. These steps can help Europe to adapt quicker to future contingencies2.

A discourse which has begun highlighting the importance of such experimentations and judicious improvisations is the one on frugality and frugal innovations. They suggest ways to re-introduce such experimentations and improvisations in innovation processes to reduce ‘over-engineering’ and costs while maintaining basic functionality and affordability3. A concurrently emerging discourse on frugality in policy making emphasises the need for improvised decision making based on seasoned, practical, context-specific experience and the importance of ‘experimenting while deciding’4.

Does Covid-19 challenge protocolised hard evidence-driven decision-making?

Indeed, the pandemic struck, and struck hard while the system often continued to wait for a ‘formal go-ahead’ informed by ‘hard evidence’ to be gathered by ‘super-specialised’ actors and processes, to take policy decisions on (i) whether to test ‘asymptomatic patients’, (ii) whether ‘to wear a mask’, (iii) whether it is okay ‘to use hydroxychloroquine’, or (iv) whether ‘to impose a lockdown’. Waiting for ‘hard evidence’ has often been given a priority over also making clever use of readily available ‘soft evidence’ by seasoned practitioners, presumably also not to disturb the comfort of its citizens 5,6,7,8. Moreover, this denial to act upon soft evidence is not specific to the context of the current pandemic; it is rather the routine. Incidentally, later more systematic studies seem to validate the soft evidence of wearing masks, and practising social distance9.

Is the system adapting?

Going beyond ‘super-specialised actors?’

While Europe initially responded slowly to the arrival of Covid-19, we do now observe quite a few deviations from the routine reliance on ‘super-specialisation’ and formal protocols surrounding innovation, production, and validation. Such improvisations are particularly visible in products and services related to public health deliveries, arguably to ensure their timely and affordable access at the time of the pandemic. Examples include the open-source development of a ventilator, where so-called lay persons can also contribute and participate. Similarly, many informal organisations have sprung up across the continent to produce open-source medical equipment and protection gear for patients and healthcare workers10. These organisations are not taking the routine protocolised path of regulatory approval. Instead, in order to ensure timely affordable access, they are relying on the viewpoints of physicians and clinical administrators on ‘whether it works’ in the ‘actual’ environment of their use11.

Going beyond ‘protocolised’ hard evidence?

A sizeable section of physicians and clinical researchers of repute have vouched for including hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in the treatment protocol of Covid-19 based, once again, only on soft evidence of clinical acumen, ‘prudent observations’, and targeted, non-randomised, small-sample clinical studies121314. While the opposition to rely on such soft evidence may be rational, the issue remains that we need fast decisions and therapies to deal with the pandemic, and ‘hard evidence’ of randomised controlled trials does not come fast, nor do they come cheap. Indeed, more than four months into the pandemic, we have conflicting evidence of its (non-) efficacy for advanced-stage treatment. While the WHO has stopped its randomised controlled clinical trial (RCT) citing ‘no benefit’[20], a recent ‘retrospective study’ by the Henry Ford Health System reports significant benefits.[21] For early-stage treatment or as a prophylactic, we are still guided by softer evidence of ‘clinical observations’ and ‘retrospective studies’15.

The evidence of low rates of mortality in places and countries using this therapy have triggered a diverse set of responses from scientists, politicians, and regulatory authorities16,17. Some of them have rejected it outright due to non-availability of ‘gold standard’ evidence from RCTs. Other responses have ranged from agreeing to conduct more elaborate studies (RCTs or otherwise), to continuing with the therapy based on ‘prudent clinical acumen’. Indeed, an emerging view in this context invites us to explore ‘doing while learning’ by integrating the urge of clinical practitioners to use untested therapies, while designing, if necessary, full-fledged protocolised clinical trials to evaluate efficacy of the therapy better18. These propositions challenge the sharp division of super-specialisations between clinical research and clinical practice: “clinical practice and clinical research are addressed by separate institutions, procedures, and funding”19. The crisis has underlined the necessity to adapt this structure.

So, is a new pattern emerging?

Many of the presently successful experiments can be defined as frugal innovations: they are affordable, retain basic functionalities, and are developed through extensive polycentric interactions, involving super-specialised experts as well as seasoned lay practitioners. Similarly, in line with the arguments of the frugality discourse in policy making, decisions are being made by localised, practical experiences of people in the field, focusing more on ‘what works’ rather than ‘what ought to work’, to ensure faster access to protective gear, medical equipment, as well as medicine therapies. Such a process of decision making arguably gives priority to arriving at ‘good-enough’, faster decisions, rather than waiting for a zero-error solution. Of course, we need to be careful here; most of these experiments show that results are contextual, local in their scope and feasibility, and difficult to scale up.

Still, an exclusive reliance on super-specialisation and protocols would hold fort only in an environment where lives and livelihoods are stable, prosperous, comfortable, and reliable. But now that the illusion of a zero-risk and fully controllable society is fading, we propose a more nuanced future orientation that creates space for experimentation and improvisation based on localised knowledges. Recent EU efforts to pay more attention to citizen science and frugal innovation, for example in a Horizon 2020 call, are promising stepping stones in this direction, i.e. to develop rigorous science that is also built on the bottom-up knowledge, practices, and the creativity of EU citizens. This will help make the society more resilient to future contingencies.

1. See for an elaborated account of Europe’s early response to COVID -19 ‘Coronavirus Europe failed the test’, Politico.Last accessed on 1 June 2020.
2. See ‘Better luck next time? How the EU can move faster when disaster strikes’,Sciencebusiness
Last accessed on 10 June 2020.
3. Knorringa, P., Peša, I., Leliveld, A. et al. Frugal Innovation and Development: Aides or Adversaries?. Eur J Dev Res 28, 143–153 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/ejdr.2016.3 . Last accessed on 1 June 2020.
4. Patil, K., Bhaduri, S. ‘Zero-error’ versus ‘good-enough’: towards a ‘frugality’ narrative for defence procurement policy. Mind Soc 19, 43–59 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11299-020-00223-7 Last accessed on 1 June 2020.
5. ‘Italy, Pandemic’s New Epicenter, Has Lessons for the World’, New York TImes, especially the section on local experiments. Last accessed on 1 June 2020.
6. ‘Report on face masks’ effectiveness for Covid-19 divides scientists’, The Guardian Last accessed on 6 June 2020.
7. ‘In one Italian town, we showed mass testing could eradicate the coronavirus’, The Guardian Last accessed on 6 June 2020.
8. ‘Up to 30% of coronavirus cases asymptomatic’, DW Last accessed on 6 June 2020.
9. ‘Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis’  Last accessed on 6 June 2020.
10. Digital Response to COVID-19Last accessed on 3 June 2020.
11. ‘Open-Source Medical Hardware: What You Should Know and What You Can Do’, Creative Commons
12. ‘Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19: What’s the Evidence?’, Medscape Last accessed on 1 June 2020.
13. ‘Hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis for high-risk COVID-19 contacts in India: a prudent approach, The Lancet’. Last accessed on 1 June 2020.
14. See ‘He Was a Science Star. Then He Promoted a Questionable Cure for Covid-19’, The New York TimesLast accessed on 1 June 2020.
15. ‘Preventive use of HCQ in frontline healthcare workers: ICMR study’, The Indian ExpressLast accessed on 10 June 2020.
16. ‘A Look at COVID Mortality in Paris, Marseille, New York and Montreal’, Covexit.com
Last accessed on 10 June 2020.
17. ‘Coronavirus: How Turkey took control of Covid-19 emergency,’ BBC. Last accessed on 10 June 2020.
18. ‘Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in covid-19′, the BMJ. Last accessed on 1 June 2020.
19. ‘Optimizing the Trade-off Between Learning and Doing in a Pandemic’, JAMA network. Last accessed on 1 June 2020.

20. https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/04-07-2020-who-discontinues-hydroxychloroquine-and-lopinavir-ritonavir-treatment-arms-for-covid-19

22. https://www.henryford.com/news/2020/07/hydro-treatment-study

This article was originally published by the Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA). This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Read all articles of this series here.

Saradindu BhaduriSaradindu Bhaduri held the Prince Claus Chair in Frugal Innovation for Development and Equity (2015-17) at ISS (EUR). He is Associate Professor at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, at JNU New Delhi, and the Coordinator of the proposed JNU-CFIA Transdisciplinary Research Cluster on Frugality Studies.Saradindu Bhaduri

Peter Knorringa is a Professor of Private Sector & Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Since 2013, Professor Knorringa is the academic director of the Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA).

EADI/ISS Series | Re-Politizing the European Aid Debate by Iliana Olivié and Aitor Pérez

Aid or, at least, its narrative, is increasingly politicised. This is happening in a period of emerging populist and/or nationalist movements in Europe. Maybe counter-intuitively, nationalism or populism does not necessarily lead to decreasing aid budgets or a lower profile for international assistance. The explanation lies in the fact that aid, when used politically, can be a useful tool for fulfilling donors’ interests.

The economic, social and political crises that have erupted in Europe in the last decade might be shifting the academic debate on the drivers of aid from the more traditional selfish vs. solidary divide to a―somehow related―new divide on Nationalism vs. Liberalism-Cosmopolitanism. Recent examples are the Brexit process, or the rise of populist movements in Europe.

Most analyses of the drivers of Northern donors published in the last two decades have pointedly explored the extent to which countries contribute aid according to ‘good’ or altruistic motives (based on recipient needs and/or merits and driven by solidarity), or ‘bad’ or selfish reasons (essentially the donors’ national interests). A great deal of these studies concludes that, indeed, Northern countries give aid out of selfish motives, often related to security or wealth, which is seen as something morally reprehensible. According to this literature, donors should shift to a more altruistic view of aid, that should be grounded in the principle of solidarity.

Currently, a new divide between Nationalism and Liberalism-Cosmopolitanism is emerging in the academic debate on aid. To counter the ‘cultural backlash’ of either lobbying against aid, or for using aid to shut ‘the other’ out in many European countries and sectors, some academics and activists point out the need for aid as a tool for the promotion of democracy, civil and human rights and a liberal ideal of world society. In this sense, aid can be used selfishly, but for the promotion of one’s values, not interests.

Aid to support political priorities

This new divide is one of the factors behind the current trend towards a ‘re-politization’ of aid, and signs of such trend manifest in the European aid narrative. For instance, the European Commission’s President-elect Ursula Von der Leyen’s mission letter to the new EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, states that it is necessary to ensure that “the European model of development evolves in line with new global realities […] and should contribute to our wider political priorities”. This is followed by more specific objectives, such as a comprehensive strategy for Africa, a post-Cotonou agreement, working towards the achievement of the SDGs, the promotion of gender equality and the support of civil society.

The ‘re-politization’ of aid, ‘politization’ or merely ‘politics’ is one of the driving ideas of our book “Aid power and politics”, recently published by Routledge. For instance, a sense of Liberalism and/or Cosmopolitanism lay behind the British former role as an aid super-power. In the late 90s and the beginning of this century, the UK played a strong leadership role in aid and development, building a strong capacity to influence the international aid community and, particularly, EU development cooperation policy. In a similar vein, the Scandinavian approach to aid―depicted as humane―responds to cosmopolitan and moral considerations. These values may be found among the policy drivers in this policy area, along with enlightened self-interest related to international common goods.

This perspective also applies in the case of Brazil. This country has been one of the most active countries in South-South cooperation over the past two decades. A significant feature of Brazilian cooperation policy has been its wide coverage, in geographical, sectorial as well as instrumental terms. Moreover, Brazil has channelled a large part of its cooperation policy through multilateral organisations and has established relevant alliances with other emerging countries. In this context, the purpose of reforming the major multilateral organisations and the search for greater international projection have led Brazil to establish South-South coalitions, in its search of regional and global leadership.

Aid as a tool for shaping global governance

In other cases, it would be difficult to argue that Liberalism and/or Cosmopolitanism is the vision behind the donor’s aid program. For instance, under the constitution adopted after the Second World War, Japan was prevented from sending its Defence Forces abroad, or from solving international conflicts by military means. This is what has made development assistance an important tool in its international relations. Economic diplomacy is a key concept for Japan when dealing with developing countries. At the domestic level, development assistance is also a tool to stimulate the Japanese economy, assisting small- and medium-sized companies, in particular to establish themselves in less developed parts of the world. Also, in Hungary, the aid system was reformed in the mid 2010s, when the government took stronger political ownership of the policy area with a view of using foreign aid to support Hungarian business interests.

From this perspective, it could be argued that, when used politically, aid can be a tool for donors’ aiming at shaping global governance. This explains the evolving nature of ‘donorship’ as a result of the increasing weight of non-Western donors. It is also the reason why health objectives have shifted due to the appearance of private stakeholders in the global health system.

….Or the other way round?

However, this could also go the other way around: specific agendas, set in the aid universe, can shape the behaviour of countries or other agents.

These mechanics can be better understood with the study of specific agendas such as gender equality or democracy and good governance. In this latter case, this agenda, which became central in the aid regime in the late 1980s and 1990s, also faced difficulties in its implementation due to the confrontation of the international liberal consensus with domestic politics in recipient countries. As for gender equality, donor organisations cannot avoid addressing it in their development cooperation, but they can do so in substantially different ways. In the end, organisational origins, priorities and pressures, as well as normative environments, tend to bias and dilute global norms on gender equality.

Aid or, at least, its narrative, is increasingly politicised. In addition, this is happening in a period of emerging populist and/or nationalist movements or political parties in Europe. Maybe counter-intuitively, nationalism or populism does not necessarily lead to decreasing aid budgets or a lower profile for international assistance. The explanation lies in the fact that aid – eventually, re-shaped – can be a useful tool for fulfilling donors’ interests.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

About the authors:

0 Iliana OliviéIliana Olivié is senior analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute and associate professor at the Complutense University of Madrid. At the upcoming EADI ISS Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”, Iliana Olivié will be hosting the roundtable session “What values and goals drive international assistance? Solidarity, self-interest, democracy and security in European aid”.

foto-perfilAitor Pérez is senior research fellow at the Elcano Royal Institute.


Image Credit: Defence Images, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0. The image was cropped.

EADI/ISS Series | Bridging EU- & Postdevelopment Studies: Four Avenues by Sarah Delputte and Jan Orbie

Postdevelopment debates are relatively new to scholars studying the EU’s Development Policy. However, bridging EU development and post-development can help us to think about (normative) alternatives to EU development, both generally and concretely, argue Sarah Delputte and Jan Orbie. The EU provides a relevant and practical setting within which concrete alternatives to development aid can be considered. In line with Julia Schöneberg’s plea for practical postdevelopment, the focus on the EU can contribute to making more concrete how policies and approaches should be changed. 

In February 2019, we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones to participate in a panel on “Re-thinking, Re-defining, Re-positioning: “Development” and the Question of “Alternatives”, convened by Julia Schöneberg at the Development Days Conference in Helsinki, in a first attempt to look at EU development policy from a postdevelopment perspective. As scholars studying the EU’s Development Policy we usually try to take a critical approach towards EU Development. However, and perhaps embarrassingly, postdevelopment debates were new to us.

Back home from this very interesting experience, discussions in our research center’s reading group on postdevelopment continued for some months until we found it was time to invite Julia Schöneberg to our university for a full-day workshop on bridging EU- & Postdevelopment. For this occasion, we structured our insights into four potential avenues for bridging EU- & Postdevelopment Studies, departing from our own EU Development perspective: 

1. Munition

EU development scholars know the EU’s development policies very well. We are aware of the EU’s development history and evolutions, its complex institutional setting, its ideational and internal divisions and debates, various programmes, different budgetary instruments, trends in aid flows etc. In sum: we know EU development inside-out. Moreover, we have already problematized various aspects of it, e.g. securitization, marketization, incoherencies, coordination fetish, bodybuilder image, from different empirical and theoretical perspectives. We also have access to experts and scholars working on EU development policy. Our expertise can enrich the perspectives of postdevelopment scholars for whom EU development policy could be considered a ‘goldmine’. Hence the idea of providing postdevelopment scholars with ‘extra munition’ for their critiques. It can strengthen and substantiate postdevelopment critiques. 

2. Infusion

Postdevelopment ideas have been floating around since at least the mid-1990s. However, they seem not to have reached the EU development studies community. Via EADI and other networks, postdevelopment thinking can get ‘infused’ within the EU development studies community. We can at least provoke a debate on whether development policy should be necessary. In doing so, we can make clear that radical arguments against development policy are not necessarily ‘reactionary populist’ but can also be skeptical and geared to ‘radical democracy’. We can clarify that the real challenge – underlying many more superficial challenges that are often noted in EU development studies – lays in the problematic conception of development (aid) itself. This opens up a new research agenda that should interest scholars currently working on EU development/aid, because it provides a novel way to analyze changes and challenges to EU development policy and to link this with current debates such as the rise of populism. It also allows to do more comparative and detailed research on different visions in development policy within Europe (PlEUriverse).


3. Another Europe is possible

Bridging EU development and post-development can help us to think about (normative) alternatives to EU development, both generally and concretely. In general, it can foster thinking about different imaginaries of ‘another Europe’ and about which role(s) the EU could/should play towards the so-called ‘developing countries’. This would be in line with a 2016 call by Ian Manners, Richard Whitman and others to allow for more dissident voices in theorising Europe.

There have been longstanding debates on the EU’s role in the world, not only from mainstream and policy- oriented corners (e.g. civilian power Europe) but also from critical Scholars (e.g. Galtung in 1973) which can (and should) be updated taking a postdevelopment context into account. Although there is a broad recognition within scholarship and policy circles that the EU is a ‘post-modern’ construct, this has not coincided with pleas for a ‘postdevelopment’ policy. More concretely, the interaction between EU and postdevelopment studies could involve a translation of ‘alternatives to development’ in the EU’s institutional context and policy making.

While postdevelopment has given much thought to such alternatives, Aram Ziai’s statement of 2004 still seems to hold true: “Admittedly, little thought is given to how development institutions could contribute to the flourishing of these alternatives, but to expect that from postdevelopment would certainly go too far.” In line with Julia Schöneberg’s plea for practical postdevelopment, the focus on the EU can thus contribute to making more concrete how policies and approaches should be changed. The EU provides a relevant and practical setting within which concrete alternatives to development aid can be considered. Because of the EU’s nature as a multi-level, fragmented and compartmentalized thing, policymaking in the EU arguably contains many access points for critical debates –– including discussions on general postdevelopment roles and on practical alternatives. The EU also provides a relevant platform to discuss solutions for injustices in the global governance framework such as the World Bank and the WTO.

4. PlEUriverse

Taking postdevelopment thinking seriously, we should also acknowledge the diversity of views on ‘development’ within Europe. Whereas the underlying Eurocentric, modernist and colonial paradigm may be the same, there are various ways in which member states and civil society actors have conceived development (policy). For instance, the ‘Nordics’ or ‘like-minded’ have always played an interesting role in development debates. The rejection of monolithical thinking on ‘EU development’ should allow for more detailed and complexity-sensitive research that delves into the different cultural, historical and political economy backgrounds of different EU views on development.

Beyond the diversity in view on ‘development policy’ narrowly speaking, this also connects to wider critiques of development within the EU which have gained more traction since the Euro-crisis and austerity policies, such as commons and degrowth. Whereas the postdevelopment literature has pointed to this ‘bridge’, many studies seem to generalise the ‘western’ and ‘European’ thinking to such an extent that 2nd order differences remain unnoticed. Paying more attention to the ‘PlEUriverse’ is not only academically interesting but also normatively important, as it will point to spaces and agents where change may be possible.


With sharing these reflections on bridging EU- and postdevelopment we also hope to inspire and encourage EU Development, Postdevelopment and all other interested scholars to join the seed panel on “Views on the EU as a development actor in conversation with postdevelopment” that the EADI Working Groups on “The European Union as a Development Actor” and “Post- and Decolonial Perspectives on Development” are organizing at the EADI General Conference in The Hague (29 June-2 July 2020).

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

About the authors:

Medewerkers Centrum voor EU StudiesSarah Delputte is Post-Doctoral Assistant at the Centre for EU Studies (CEUS), and a lecturer at the Department of Political Science at Ghent University. Her teaching and research interest concerns the EU’s development policies and its interlinkages with other external policy fields, as well as its interregional relations with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). She is a co-convener of the of the EADI working group on the EU as a development actor.janorbie_foto6

Jan Orbie is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Director of the Centre for EU Studies (CEUS) at Ghent University (Belgium). His research focuses on EU external relations, in particular the external trade, social, development, humanitarian aid and democracy promotion policies of the EU.


Image Credit: Nicolas Raymond

Right-Wing Populism and Counter-Movements in Rural Europe by Natalia Mamonova

Right-wing populism has gained high levels of support among rural population in Europe. How could this happen and what are the solutions? Natalia Mamonova, of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative, explains the causes of populism in the European countryside and shares some ideas on potential resistance and the building of alternatives to the regressive nationalist politics.

Right-wing populism can be found right across Europe. Today, every third European government consists of or depends on a populist party. Not for the first time, populist movements have been spreading across this continent, but the current wave is, perhaps, the most significant one since the end of World War II. The contemporary right-wing populists have a strong rural constituency, as was evident by recent elections and referenda, where 53% of British farmers voted in favour of Brexit, for example. The ‘Law and Justice’ party enjoys substantial support from Polish countrymen for its aggressive nationalism and strict Catholicism. French far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen gained the support of many French food producers with her ‘buy French act’ campaign, in which she called for more food to be produced and consumed in the country.

Does this imply that contemporary European populism is a rural phenomenon? Certainly not, but Europe’s populists are rising by tapping into discontent in the countryside and exploiting rural resentments against elites, migrants and ethnic minorities. Despite the significant rural support for populist parties, the European countryside has remained largely overlooked in the contemporary debates on the political crisis and the ways out of it. Meanwhile, it was in the countryside that both Mussolini and Hitler won their first mass following, and it was angry farmers who provided their first mass constituency. The countryside, however, provides not only a breeding ground for populist parties, it also may for other progressive solutions in form of emancipatory rural politics. The latter is the focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), a scholar-activist community that aims at understanding the rise of right-wing populism in rural Europe, as well as the forms of resistance occurring and the alternatives being built.

In the contemporary political and academic debates, the right-wing populism is commonly portrayed as a result of economic and cultural crises that hit Europe during the last decade. Indeed, the economic distress, created by the Global Financial Crisis, followed up by the Eurozone Crisis, has exacerbated economic inequality and social deprivation in rural Europe, which influenced the villagers’ support for populist parties. Likewise, the fears of losing the cultural identity due to globalisation, multiculturalism and the refugee crisis are especially profound in the countryside and make rural dwellers more receptive to the populist message that they are the true protectors of their nation’s culture and heritage.

However, these arguments do not explain why in Spain and Portugal, two of the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis, the far right remains only marginal. Meanwhile, Poland – which has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe – has become paralysed by right-wing populism. Likewise, if we consider the migrant crisis as the reason for right-wing populism, we would not be able to explain why the vote for the Front National in France was particularly high in certain rural areas that have never seen a single immigrant, or why the strongest support for banning minarets in Switzerland was expressed in rural cantons where the number of Muslims and immigrants in general was low.

We argue that the true cause of right-wing populism in Europe (and the world) is the fundamental crisis in globalised neoliberal capitalism. This crisis is the most pronounced in rural areas, where the neoliberal agricultural model of development has failed to provide benefits to the majority, instead facilitating accumulation by the ‘one percent’. For example, according to the European Commission report on the EU Farm Structures, during the last ten years, 100 000 small-scale farms have disappeared in Germany, 300 000 in Bulgaria, 600 000 in Poland and 900 000 in Romania. In total, the number of full-time farmers across the EU fell by over a third during the past decade, representing almost five million jobs. The European Common Agricultural Policy primarily supports larger companies that are oriented to boosting yields and industrial production, while small-scale farmers have become marginalized and forced to close.

The crisis of neoliberal capitalism is directly related to the crisis of advanced representative democracies, which is especially profound in the European context, where the EU is responsible for Eurozone decision-making. In the countryside, the peoples’ feeling of being politically ‘overlooked’ and ‘forgotten’ is not completely groundless. Europe’s political mainstream used to ignore the interests of the rural population because of the following reasons. First, rural votes are not decisive as villagers constitute just 28% of the EU-28 population. Second, the division between the urban and the rural is usually less pronounced in Europe and, therefore, politicians appeal to the working class, not to rural dwellers. And finally, villagers are commonly perceived as apolitical and, thus, not a reliable electoral group. These factors may explain why at the recent UN Human Rights Assembly in Geneva, nearly all European countries voted against or abstained the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.

The political underrepresentation of rural Europeans is also their own responsibility. Although the last years bear witness to what Michael Woods calls the ‘rural reawakening’ – an increase in rural mobilisation and activism in Europe – rural protest groups remain mostly fragmented and only informally linked. Moreover, rural activists are unable to build coalitions with consumer movements and urban-based food activists who are often more advanced in sustainable food politics. Despite the tremendous efforts of the European Coordination Via Campesina and other EU-focused rural movements, European farmers groups lack an ideological and organisational coherence and, until now, failed to develop strong transnational networks of solidarity and coordinated action. The lack of powerful social movements and political parties that could represent the interests of rural dwellers has contributed to an electoral success of right-wing populist parties in rural Europe.

We believe that top-down initiatives are unable to defeat the right-wing populism in Europe and elsewhere, the resistance should come from below. The first step towards this is to generate a common identity among various groups of food producers and consumers connecting them across class, gender, racial, generational, ideological, and urban-rural divides. Food sovereignty can be the tool to enhance solidarity, collective identity and political participation in rural Europe. It advocates for people’s rights for healthy and culturally appropriate food and offers a sustainable alternative to the neoliberal agricultural model and the way of life.

Furthermore, since the cause of right-wing populism is the failure of globalised neoliberal capitalism, cosmetic changes will not have a long-lasting effect, we need to change the entire system. We need to put food producers – not multinational corporations and supermarket chains (!) – at the centre of the European food system and decision making. This requires a radical transformation of power relations, which is impossible without a large-scale mobilisation of food producers and consumers. The first seed of the transformation has already sprouted. In January 2019, 35 000 of farmers and food activists from around Europe took to the streets of Berlin calling for ‘Agricultural Revolution’. They were ‘fed up’ with industrial agriculture and demanded a reorganization of EU farming policy towards a more sustainable model which supports the welfare of the environment, animals and small-scale farmers, and restores democratic and accountable governance in the food system.

The text is prepared based on multiple discussions with Jaume Franquesa and other ERPI scholars from the research project ‘Right-wing populism in rural Europe: causes, consequences and cures’. It was originally published on ARC2020


About the author:

csm_natalia-mamonova1_855f13fd5cNatalia Mamonova is a Research Fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme, Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) and Affiliated researcher at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) of Uppsala University, Sweden. She received her PhD degree from ISS in 2016. Since then, she was a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, the New Europe College in Bucharest, and the University of Helsinki.  


Human security and migration in Europe: a realistic approach by Ali Bilgiç

Human security is not a moralistic utopia but a realistic approach to migration, which takes European citizens’ insecurities seriously by focusing on human security of migrants. It is now time to bravely and innovatively rethink Europe and migration, and by extension, what kind of European political community can be imagined.


Today, many individuals, whether European citizens or migrants in(to) Europe, live under fear and anxiety. These two types of insecurity are different, but inherently connected. Both are lives under fear, because Europe’s migration (mis)management dichotomise these two lives—these two insecurities. However, European migration (mis)management policies dichotomise the security of European citizens and migrants from the global South. This dichotomy leads to the three dialectics of European migration (mis)management:

  1. Limited Legal Migration Channels and ‘Criminalisation’ of Mobility: The reduction of legal migration routes, combined with continuing high demand for many types of labour from abroad, has led to higher irregular migration and to the flourishing of the smuggling business.
  2. Mutual Distrust: The European border management system operates based on distrust towards migrants. Such distrust by Europe towards migrants feeds into distrust from migrants to Europe.
  3. Mutual human insecurity: The condition of ‘illegality’ is a source of human insecurity for both migrants and European citizens. Each group’s attempts to secure itself cause insecurity for the other.

Human Securitising Migration in Europe

There have been several renditions and implications of human security. In my understanding, which matches that adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2012, human security broadly refers to each individual’s freedom from fear (threats such as physical and direct violence), from want (meaning unemployment, poverty, sickness), and from indignity (exclusion, exploitation, and discrimination). It imagines communities in which political, economic and social systems do not inflict physical and structural violence on individuals.

Human security is explicitly about problematising power relations that inflict violence on individuals and communities. Being conscious of power relations, human security reveals that the security of those who are disadvantaged and marginalised and the security of those who are more privileged in different power relations are, in fact, inherently connected. A human security perspective asks the following questions:

How does the interaction between economic and political structures in Europe produce violence, fear and anxiety for individuals?

The three dialectics of migration mismanagement result from Europe’s political and economic choices in the last five decades. A human security researcher begins her analysis by questioning political, economic, legal, and sociological consequences of these choices which constructed migration from the global South as a security problem in the first place. A migration management policy starts with turning the mirror to Europe and asks how European policies contribute to the criminalisation of migration.

How do European external relations produce or obscure human security?

Europe’s external relations regarding migration have fundamentally two dimensions. The first one targets the countries of origin to tackle ‘the root causes’ of migration. In theory, addressing root causes of migration can be praised from a human security perspective because they are supposed to address structural problems that inflict violence on individuals. However, first, ‘the root causes’ do not affect all individuals in the same way so addressing ‘the root causes’ does not provide us with a quick solution that is applicable to all. Second, the root causes approach must be a long term policy, which should be accompanied by opening legal and circular migration channels to Europe. A smart root causes approach aims to manage migration, not stop it. Otherwise, it is self-defeating.

Another area that human security researchers can question is EU relations with its North African and Middle Eastern neighbours in particular, the field I have been studying in the last ten years. In the last 30 years, Europe has developed the policy of containing migrants in the EU’s neighbourhood by transforming the neighbouring states into ‘Europe’s border guards’. We call this process ‘externalisation’ of migration management. Highly problematic deals with the neighbouring countries to keep migrants on their territories do not consider rising ethnic and racial tensions and exploitation of migrants’ cheap labour, which encourage migrants to continue their migration.

How can the human security of migrants, EU citizens and citizens of neighbouring regions be addressed together, and not opposed to each other?

Human security of one social group cannot—sustainably and successfully—be pursued at the expense of another group. This idea is known as the principle of common human security. It can be traced back at least to the foundation of the United Nations. The current migration management regime of Europe divides groups. This is not to argue that European authorities are not responsible for the security of EU citizens. On the contrary, it encourages and calls European sovereign authorities to take the human insecurities of EU citizens seriously by acknowledging that their security depends on the human security of non-EU citizens.

Against the backdrop of these three questions, several policy research areas regarding migration to Europe from a human security perspective can be thought. For example, one research area concerns developing a new language that surpasses the dichotomies of ‘good migrant’ and ‘bad migrant’, ‘refugee’ and ‘economic migrant’. Reflecting the common human security perspective and deriving from the EU Commission’s calls for developing ‘a migrant-centred approach’ in migration management, human security research explores a new language that reflects realities of contemporary human mobility.

Another research area can be how European political community can regain the trust of migrants so they do not feel the need to be ‘invisible’. A question can be asked what institutional mechanisms can be designed at the EU level, and possibly beyond European borders, to re-establish a relationship based on trust, not fear, between migrant and Europe. In my book Rethinking Security in the Age of Migration, I developed the concept of ‘protection-seeker’ and proposed an EU-level regularisation mechanism, examples of which we can observe in several South American states including Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil.

Human security is not a moralistic utopia but a realistic approach to migration, which takes European citizens’ insecurities seriously by focusing on human security of migrants. It is now time to bravely and innovatively rethink Europe and migration, and by extension, what kind of European political community can be imagined.

This article is based on the lecture of Dr. Ali Bilgiç, presented on 12 April 2018 for his inauguration as holder of the Prince Claus Chair in Development and Equity 2017-19 in the area of ‘Migration and Human Security’ at the ISS. An interview with him (in Dutch) can be found here.

Picture credit: European Union Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta

ali_bilgic_op_prins_claus_leerstoel_migratie_en_menselijkeAli Bilgiç is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Loughborough University. He has a Ph.D. from Aberystwyth University and a MA in European Politics from Lund University. He is the author of Rethinking Security in the Age of Migration: Trust and Emancipation in Europe (Routledge, 2013) and Turkey, Power and the West: Gendered International Relations and Foreign Policy (I.B. Tauris, 2016).