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Is EU’s Development Policy a Neo-Colonial Project? Research Paper


Introduction

The European Union (EU) has an expansive history of development cooperation with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states, with available literature demonstrating that the Union is, in fact, the world’s largest provider of Official Development Assistance mostly targeted at poverty reduction, sustainable development, democracy and good governance (Hurt 2003; Dearden 2008; Hurt 2010).

It is without a doubt that the EU has over the years taken the initiative to develop and implement more enduring partnerships with ACP countries, while at the same time ensuring that the relevant financial regulations targeted at aid recipient countries continue to be streamlined with the view to enhancing administrative efficiency (Dearden 2008).

However, it is now becoming increasingly clear that the EU’s credibility as the world’s largest provider of development assistance continues to be heavily damaged by the discrepancy between its own protectionist agricultural, fisheries and trade policies (Forwood 2001), as well as by its demonstration of the highly unequal and political nature of a relationship that was officially perceived as non-political (Hurt 2003).

This report illuminates some neo-colonial perspectives predominant in ACP states (e.g., economic influence, political interference, financial dependence, and security concerns) to demonstrate why the EU’s development policy is largely perceived as a neo-colonial project.

Overview of the EU’s Development Policy

The EU’s development policy towards ACP states is centred on two major agreements, namely the Lome’ Convention and the Cotonou Agreement. Available literature demonstrates that the Lome’ Convention was a trade and aid agreement between the EC and 71 ACP countries first signed in February 1975 in Lome’, Togo, while the Cotonou agreement came into existence in June 2000 to define the new relationship between the EU and ACP nations after the expiry of the Lome’ Convention (Hurt 2003).

The first Lome’ Convention (Lome’ 1) and the subsequent renegotiated agreements (Lome’ II, Lome’ III and Lome’ IV) were basically structured around non-reciprocal trade preferences, while the Cotonou Agreement was structured around regional free trade agreements to be negotiated by the EU and a multiplicity of groupings in ACP countries (Forwood 2001).

A number of researchers are in agreement that the EU’s development cooperation in both agreements was intrinsically tied to a number of factors or conditionalities that seemed to perpetuate a neo-colonialism perspective (Forwood 2001).

For instance, available literature demonstrates that, after the end of the Cold War, the EC/EU policy towards Africa broadened “from the original goal of promoting economic and social development increasingly towards giving priority to the promotion of stability, security and democracy” (Olsen 2004, p. 426).

This author further argues that the reorientation of the EC/EU’s policy towards Africa was to a large extent influenced by the new international system in the 1990s and subsequent attempt by the Community to become a significant international actor by relying more on instruments related to foreign and security policy, rather than the traditional instrument of development assistance.

Following a Statement on Development Policy developed in 2000, “poverty reduction was recognised as the main objective of community development policy with seven areas identified as demonstrating the EC comparative advantage – trade and development, regional integration, macroeconomic support, transport, rural development, health, and education and institutional capacity building” (Dearden 2008, p. 188).

The Statement, according to this author, further reiterated the EU’s unwavering dedication to coherence, coordination and complementarity in its development policy to ACP states, and also to the orientation of aid programming in the direction of achieving mutually fulfilling results by the development and implementation of an appraisal culture.

Moving on, it is important to note that most of the development cooperation under the Cotonou Agreement is tied to the respect for democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights; however, the narrow national interests of the individual EU member states toward ACP countries place clear limitations on how far it is possible to commence common policy initiatives that would benefit aid recipient countries (Forwood 2001).

Although the EU still pursues this development assistance approach in ACP countries, it is increasingly being tied to a number of new goals and objectives that, in the view of critics, are neo-colonialist in nature and scope (Elgstrom & Pilegaard 2008). The subsequent section provides evidence to demonstrate why the EU’s development policy in ACP states is a neo-colonial project.

Understanding Neo-Colonialism and its Characteristics

In the wake of the EU’s rapid expansion as the world’s largest provider of Official Development Assistance and of its mounting role in the global geo-political and economic domains, there are escalating passionate debates around the world on whether the Union’s development policy is actually a neo-colonial project (Olsen 2008; Scheipers & Sicurelli, 2008).

So, in essence, it is important to define the concept of neo-colonialism and its characteristics with the view to establishing whether indeed the EU’s development policy is laced with neo-colonial connotations.

Various authors have attempted to define the concept of neo-colonialism, though up to date, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of the concept.

As demonstrated in the literature, the first official description of neo-colonialism was conceptualised in the 1961 Resolution on Neo-Colonialism Conference, with actors describing it “as the survival of the colonial system in spite of formal recognition of the political independence in emerging countries, which become victims of an indirect and subtle form of domination by political, economic, social, military, or technical means” (Haag 2011, p. 9).

Since then, the concept has been defined differentially, with a major highlight being that of Kwame Nkrumah, who argued that “the essence of neo-colonialism consists in that the state subject to it is officially independent and sovereign, while its economy and political policy are controlled from outside” (Haag 2011, p. 9).

Consequently, drawing on the works of Rodney (2011), the main characteristics of neo-colonialism can be listed as (1) existence of ongoing influence of the former colonial powers long after the colonised nations gain independence, (2) excessive exploitation of resources found on formerly colonised nations by former colonial powers, (3) inhibition of independent political and economic policies in former colonies, and (4) maintaining the former colonies in a dependent position which allows for economic exploitation.

Perspectives of Neo-Colonialism & EU’s Development Aid

The justifications for assuming the approach that the EU’s development policy is a neo-colonial project are many and varied. One critical argument projected by McKinlay and Little (1979), cited extensively in Olsen (2004, p. 427), is that “the amount of aid received by any low-income country is proportional to the level of interest to the donor.”

Furthermore, it is evident that the aid motivations literature extensively cited in European studies and international relations acknowledges that ‘donor interests’ and not ‘recipient needs’ have always served as the main motivators of the EU to provide development aid to third world countries (Olsen 2008; Scheipers & Sicurelli 2008). It has also been acknowledged in the literature that most of these ‘donor interests’ are selfish in nature (Olsen 2004), thus are most driven by a neo-colonialist connotation (Hurt 2012).

Indeed, according to Hurt (2003), it is increasingly becoming clear that the language of the Cotonou Agreement mixes notions of consent and coercion to propagate the interests of the EU at the expense of aid recipient ACP countries.

Consent is attained through the conceptions of ‘dialogue’, ‘partnership’ and of ACP nations ‘owning’ their development strategies, while coercion is present in the EU’s presentation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as the only feasible alternative, phased programming of aid, and also through the implementation of frequent reviews of aid provision that have conditionalities attached.

The subsequent sections of this report discuss the relevant neo-colonial perspectives predominant in most ACP states and how they lend credence to the assertion that EU’s development policy is laced with neo-colonial connotations. The perspectives that will be reviewed under the following subtopics include economic influence, political interference, financial dependence, and security concerns.

Economic Influence

From an economic standpoint, it can be argued that the Cotonou Agreement is basically a continuation of the neoliberalisation of the EU-ACP relationship as it builds on trends that have developed over the course of the various Lome’ Conventions, particularly apparent during Lome’ IV in the 1990s (Hurt 2003).

As postulated by this author, one of the most fundamental inclusions within this agreement was to use part of the European Development Fund (EDF) to provide support to World Bank-imposed structural adjustment programmes (SAPS) that are remembered for disrupting the economic and social orientation of ACP nations.

Although the EC had been accused of lacking clear objectives particularly in reducing poverty in ACP states (Dearden 2008), its successor, the EU, went ahead to support SAPS and in the process widen poverty gaps and economic stagnation in aid recipient countries (Bogayoko & Gibert, 2009).

It is evident that EU’s economic strategies in its development policy are firmly embedded in the “Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which [resulted] from the decision in the Cotonou Agreement to replace the preferential trade agreements that defined the relationship in the past with reciprocal free trade agreements (FTAs) between the EU and seven sub-regions of the ACP group” (Hurt 2010, p. 161).

However, although the EU looks at the EPAs as comprehensive development partnerships, they have nevertheless being accused of focussing too much on Africa and the trade-related features of EPAs rather than on the more familiar deliberations over market access. But while economic considerations of the EU are illuminated more broadly, it becomes apparent that a concern for the needs of developing countries under the ACP flagship is often of secondary nature and importance.

For example, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has had a damaging effect on many developing countries, with available literature demonstrating that EU subsidies have often led to overproduction of products that are later ‘dumped’ in developing countries (Hurt, 2010). Moreover, the tough sanitary, phytosanitary and environmental standards imposed by the EU present additional challenges for ACP countries attempting to gain access to European markets (Elgstrom & Pilegaard 2008; Elgstrom 2009; Carbone 2010).

Consequently, it is justifiable to suggest that the perceived economic partnerships between EU and ACP member countries, though largely beneficial to countries in the developing world, are masked in neo-colonial connotations as most of the former colonies are maintained in a dependent position, thus allowing for economic exploitation.

Economic issues cannot be divorced from trade. The EU has emerged as an important and distinctive player in the Doha Development Round of multilateral trade negotiations, with available literature demonstrating that the Union “has been the most persistent and vigorous advocate of a broad trade agenda, going beyond the built-in agenda on agriculture and services, to include non-agricultural products, competition policy, investment, government procurement and trade facilitation (the Singapore issues)” (Young 2007, p. 769).

However, the Union continues to adopt a liberal position as well as the deployment of liberal rhetoric with respect to some aspects of the agenda, leading to a situation whereby the EU is perceived as offering too few concessions, particularly in agriculture, labour, education, healthcare and audio-visual services.

In the view of critics, such protectionist interests projected by the EU are increasingly making the Union to be perceived as a power through trade, rather than as the most powerful trading bloc in the world (Meunier & Nicolaidis 2006; Elgstrom 2009).

Additionally, the EU is increasingly being accused of using “market access as a bargaining chip to obtain changes in the domestic arena of its trading partners, from labour standards to development policies, and in the international arena, from global governance to foreign policy” (Meunier & Nicolaidis 2006, p. 906).

When such orientations are targeted at international trade partners in the ACP countries, it is justifiable to suggest that they are neo-colonial as they demonstrate the use of economic issues to control and influence former colonies in the developing world.

Political Interference

In the mid-term review following the Lome IV negotiations and agreements of the 1990s, it became clear that the high-profile partnership between the EU/European Commission and ACP countries was increasingly being pegged on non-financial elements such as observation of rules of democracy and respect for human rights (Olsen, 2004). This author notes that “the introduction of such political conditionalities moved the Convention one step further away from its original concept of political neutrality” (p. 429).

The introduction of politically-oriented performance-based policy on aid to ACP countries diverted substantially from the original Lome´ model that was originally grounded on the principles of partnership. As noted by Olsen (2004), such a development coming from the mid-term review was perhaps meant to show that most EU/EC countries had lost faith in the capability of the ACP countries to take sole responsibility for enhancing their own development.

However, as acknowledged by Meunier and Nicholas (2006), this could have served as the basis for the introduction of the neo-colonialism paradigm in the guise of shifting the global context of EU’s development assistance. It is important to note that the reality of democracy/political facilitation in ACP member countries is far less exciting than the rhetorical assertions made by the EU insinuate (Hurt 2010).

Olsen (2004, p. 430) argues that, ‘as in its predecessor, the non-financial elements of the Cotonou Agreement represented an additional step towards tightening the conditionalities for receiving development assistance from the Union.” Other politically-oriented measures introduced under the Cotonou Agreement included anti-corruption, good governance, political dialogue, fight against drugs, peacebuilding, and conflict prevention.

However, while such measures could pass as some of the most highly profiled policies of the EU/EC during the 1990s and 2000s, their implementation have at best been weak and inconsistent, leading to the conclusion that Europeans have a neo-colonial agenda particularly in ACP countries (Olsen 2008; Scheipers & Sicurelli 2008).

For example, although the 1993 Maastricht Treaty underlined that the development and consolidation of democracy, the rule of law and observance of human rights and elementary freedoms were among the most imperative objectives of the development policy of the EU, it is evident that the amount of aid channelled into enhancing democracy and respect for human rights was astonishingly constrained and the implementation was deeply flawed (Olsen 2004).

Hurt (2003, p. 171) argues that the political conditionalities that came with these changes have functioned in two major ways: “first in targeting aid towards projects that have the direct aim of improving human rights and the practice of democracy, and second by the introduction of sanctions on aid, if violations of these core principles are observed.” However, it is argued here that such politically-oriented conditionalities have only served to further EU’s neo-colonialism agenda in most ACP states.

The examples to support this claim are many and varied. In Uganda, for instance, most EU-member states are threatening to withdraw their development aid due to the passing of a bill that criminalises gay acts as unnatural. The main point here is not whether gay acts should be criminalised or not; rather, it is how the EU has continued to use threats of introducing sanctions on aid to force the political leadership in Uganda to change its position and agree to gay relationships (Africa Review 2014).

The shallow interests of the EU in Uganda are further exhibited by the fact that it now wants the Ugandan people to adopt practices that are against their culture and tradition, yet it is the same EU that professes respect for human rights and capacity of ACP countries to take control over their own development. Such political interference in the guise of development aid, in my view, is neo-colonialist in nature and scope.

Overall, the global context of aid provision has been reflected in the Cotonou Agreement, with politics now firmly embedded in the EU-ACP relationship concerning the political elements that need to be met by ACP states so as to benefit from development aid. As already mentioned elsewhere, the fundamental political components of the Cotonou Agreement include the “respect for human rights as defined in international law, the promotion of universal democratic principles and the independent rule of law” (Hurt 2003, p. 171).

Although the agreement allows for the suspension of development aid if any of these fundamental components are violated, it nevertheless fails to define the components in sufficient detail, giving room for neoliberal interpretations to be adopted by the EU. Some of these neoliberal interpretations qualify the EU’s development policy to be perceived in the context of a neo-colonial project due to frequent political interference in ACP states (Nunn & Price 2004; Carbone 2010).

During the 2013 general elections in Kenya, for example, the EU and other aid donors were quoted in the mainstream media as attempting to use development cooperation to sway the results of the presidential election in favour of their ‘preferred’ presidential candidate (Africa Review 2013).

While this may be an isolated case, it nevertheless demonstrates how the EU may indeed be using its development policy to further its shallow interests in Africa and other ACP states without regard to the will of the people. Again, such an orientation is neo-colonialist in nature and scope, as it demonstrates an ongoing influence of the former colonial powers that to a large extent inhibits an independent political policy in ACP states.

Financial Dependence

Following Lome IV (1990-2000) negotiations, there was little doubt the negotiating positions assumed by many EU member states “reflected widespread disquiet about the effectiveness of common development assistance in general, as well as strong scepticism about the effects of giving aid to Africa in particular” (Olsen 2004, p. 428).

But even after the realisation that providing financial aid to ACP countries was not solving the multiplicity of challenges affecting these countries, the EU went ahead to provide more financial packages to developing nations that were perceived to be implementing the various policies and approaches agreed upon in the Cotonou Agreement (Hadfield 2007; Carbone 2008).

It is argued in the literature that such an orientation made many ACP states to become increasingly dependent on financial aid from the EU (Hadfield 2007; Hurt 2012). Subsequently, the EU gained more control over the political and economic affairs of these countries as most could no longer function without the financial packages.

Although today most ACP member countries are becoming less dependent on the financial incentives in the form of aid (Faber & Orbie, 2008; Gibert 2009), it is clear that the EU has used its development cooperation as a neo-colonial tool to further its agenda and influence major political and economic decisions in the developing world (Carbone 2010).

Indeed, it is argued that the political conditionalities attached to the financial aid have so far not scored highly in ensuring the aid recipient countries (1) take clearer leadership on making aid more effective for development results, (2) become fully accountable to domestic stakeholders, (3) mobilise domestic resources for development, and (4) continue to improve their systems on financial management, procurement, monitoring and evaluation, as well as fighting corruption (Carbone 2008; Bogayoko & Gibert 2009).

Instead of transforming lives, the financial aid provided by the EU has perpetuated a cycle of dependency and subsequent exploitation for economic gains. This is one of the hallmarks of neo-colonialism.

Security Concerns

Available literature demonstrates that “in the post-cold war era, the EU has special (national) security interests in weak postcolonial states because as a postmodern state it is exposed to turmoil and general instability” (Olsen 2004, p. 428).

In recent years, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the EU and other international aid donors have increasingly paid attention to the so-called ‘fragile states’ to pre-empt a situation where these states could collapse, thus providing an enabling environment for crime and terrorism to develop (Hout 2010).

Overall, according to Hout (2010, p. 141), “…the focus on fragility is part of a more general trend of securitisation of development, which is preoccupied with creating conditions for stability in the developing world.”

However, instead of stabilising the fragile states through the implementation of policies and approaches aimed at reducing poverty, satisfying basic needs, strengthening economic sustainability and creating representative civil institutions, the EU has largely incorporated governance issues into its strategies, with a highly technocratic character as well as a strong emphasis on public sector reform and public finance (Faber & Orbie 2008; Holland 2008; Versluys 2008; Gibert 2009).

This approach, it is argued here, is in stark contrast to the international recognised standards for the promotion of human security, provision of global security, and attainment of basic needs. Although security is the first condition for development as acknowledged in Hout (2010), there is need for the EU to take a comprehensive approach in addressing security concerns facing the fragile states instead of coming up with a whole raft of conditionalities related to governance issues as these states have unique challenges.

Furthermore, some of the EU support strategies in fragile states, including decentralisation, electoral support and civil society support, have been accused of interfering in legally elected governments in ACP countries by supporting opposition figures and funding civil unrest (Hurt 2012).

In Kenya and Zimbabwe, for example, the EU and other international donor agencies have been accused of propagating a neo-colonial perspective through their funding of governance programs that end up triggering civil unrest. Consequently, it can be argued that the EU’s development policy of funding governance issues with the view to dealing with security concerns in the so-called fragile states is neo-colonial due to the approaches used.

Conclusion

This report has illuminated some neo-colonial perspectives predominant in most ACP countries under the EU development aid to demonstrate why the EU’s development policy is largely perceived as laced with neo-colonial connotations.

The neo-colonial perspectives that have been reviewed in this report include economic influence, political interference, financial dependence, and security concerns. An overview of the EU’s development agenda has demonstrated that the Union’s development policy towards ACP member countries is centered on two major agreements, including the Lome’ Convention of 1975 and the Cotonou Agreement of 2000.

By and large, it has been well demonstrated how the EU’s development policy is often perceived by many as a neo-colonial project. In the economic influence perspective, for example, it has been demonstrated that the perceived economic partnerships between EU and ACP member countries, though largely beneficial to countries in the developing world, are masked in neo-colonial connotations as most of the former colonies are maintained in a dependent position, thus allowing for economic exploitation.

In the political interference perspective, it has been demonstrated how the various political conditionalities imposed by the EU under the guise of development cooperation end up compromising the political leadership and the rule of law in most ACP states, with examples of Kenya and Uganda provided to reinforce the assertion.

In the financial dependency perspective, it has been demonstrated how the EU has used its development cooperation as a neo-colonialist tool to further its agenda and influence major political and economic decisions in the developing world.

Lastly, in the security concerns perspective, it has been demonstrated how some of the EU’s security support strategies in fragile states, such as decentralisation, electoral support and civil society support, end up interfering with legally elected governments in ACP countries by supporting opposition figures and funding civil unrest.

This report does not wish to portray that all of the EU’s strategies embedded in its development policy and relationships with ACP member countries are neo-colonial in nature and scope.

However, evidence has been adduced to the fact that some of the Union’s strategies embedded in its development policy are indeed laced with neo-colonial connotations. The task, therefore, is for the EU to embrace more inclusivity and involvement of interested parties as it goes about designing future strategies and approaches for deployment in its development policy.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Is EU’s Development Policy a Neo-Colonial Project?" November 15, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/is-eus-development-policy-a-neo-colonial-project/.

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