Interview with Marjeta Jager, Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and Development
1. How important are jobs and growth to the international development agenda?
They are quite simply vital. While they are not the only ways to measure development, jobs and growth are fundamental development drivers, helping create opportunities for people to live their lives in dignity. That’s why contributing to sustainable growth and job creation is a key aim of our development policy.
In this respect, we are very much in tune with global development approaches. For instance, decent work and labour rights are cornerstones of the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Employment even has its own stand-alone goal, SDG 8, and is integral to achieving many of the other goals, such as ending poverty and hunger, achieving gender equality and reducing inequalities.
When people cannot access decent work, inequality and poverty persist and development slows down. Indeed, our new European Consensus on Development refers to decent jobs as essential for inclusive and sustainable growth, particularly for women and youth.
The EU is committed to helping our partner countries achieve these goals. President Juncker’s recent announcement of a new Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs between Europe and Africa during his State of the Union address is a prime example of that. It’s no accident that the alliance mentions jobs specifically in its title. We want to help create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next five years alone. We will do this through large-scale initiatives aimed primarily at boosting strategic investment, involving the private sector more closely, and investing in education and skills.
2. Given the high levels of inequality and the pervasiveness of informal work in many countries, how can inclusive and productive growth and employment be ensured?
Economies and labour markets in many developing countries have to deal with a number of persistent problems – high levels of inequality, migratory pressures, adverse working conditions, a predominance of informal work, chronic underemployment and sheer unemployment.
With an estimated 1.4 billion people working in vulnerable or informal sectors worldwide, secure and decent work remains out of reach for many. We also know that even in countries with good GDP growth, job creation rates are low and sometimes even falling.
By promoting decent job creation and inclusive growth in our partner countries, we hope to see everyone in society benefit from economic growth, especially groups with the fewest options in the labour market, like women and young people.
Jobs can only improve economic inclusion and reduce inequality if they are secure, offer a fair wage and safe working conditions, and are able to provide social protection and dialogue. These are all elements of the decent work agenda, which we are actively promoting.
3. What is the EU doing to spur growth and encourage decent jobs, especially for young people and women, in its partner countries?
First and foremost, as I just said, we need to ensure that the conditions for decent jobs are in place.
Secure employment opportunities that pay a fair wage are the foundation on which people can build decent lives, which in turn, allow stable and peaceful societies to prosper. Decent jobs can increase productivity and trigger even greater, more inclusive sustainable growth.
We are promoting the conditions for an economic transformation that creates decent jobs, increases productive capacity, generates sufficient revenues for public services and social protection, and fosters sustainable value chains and diversification.
One of our major initiatives in this regard is the External Investment Plan (EIP), launched in 2017. It is designed to attract more investment, particularly from businesses and private investors, into countries near the EU (what we call the EU Neighbourhood) and in Africa. We hope to leverage 44 billion euros of investment from an initial EU input of 4.1 billion euros. Using public money will lower the risk to investors of investing in key sectors like sustainable energy or lending to small businesses.
In this way, the Plan will serve at least four key purposes in one go. It will create jobs and livelihoods for people. It will support entrepreneurs seeking to turn their ideas into viable businesses that create jobs and, in turn, wealth. It will enable economies to grow and will help tackle the root causes of irregular migration by offering people legal and gainful employment at home.
Development cooperation projects need to take better account of the quality and quantity of jobs alike, whether they support economic reforms to improve the investment climate or help maximise job opportunities from investments supported by blending facilities.
Last but not least, equipping people with the right skills is critical when it comes to creating jobs and growth. If people are to be able to perform high-quality, decent jobs, they will have to have the skills and training required by the labour market, and these are often lacking. This is why the EU is supporting vocational education and training, or VET systems in many partner countries to address the all-too-common ‘skills mismatch’, so that labour market participants, especially young people and women, can develop their full capabilities, seize employment opportunities and drive inclusive development, both now and well into the future.