Staffing issues are all the talk in Brussels at the moment amid heated discussions over the next EU budget. EU Member States want the European Commission (EC) to reduce its staff by more than 5 % over the next 5 years, more than Council President van Rompuy recently proposed. In particular, Member State officials have made critical observations about the size of the Directorate-General for Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid (DG DEVCO). Counting 6.5% of the EC’s Brussels-based staff, it is the second largest of the EC’s offices in Brussels. However, DEVCO staff manages relatively large amounts of funding at € 10.3 million per staff member in 2012 compared to DFID’s € 5.3 million and Sida’s € 3.4 million.
Discussions have been on-going within DEVCO on how to deliver on the EU’s new development policy, while at the same time achieving efficiency gains. As a result, a new organisational structure will take effect in January 2013. This blog-post gives an overview of the broad changes and considers what effects they might have on EU external action. With development spending also under pressure in the EU’s budget, is DEVCO facing up to new realities?
Image over insight?
The first significant change is that DEVCO’s department (Directorate) for Quality and Impact will be broken up. The Units for Quality and Delivery Support and for Evaluations will be incorporated into the EU Development Policy department. However, the Units for Inter-institutional Relations and for Communications and Transparency are brought up to report directly to the recently appointed Deputy Director-General for Policy and Thematic Coordination.
This clearly indicates the choice for DEVCO to prioritise its positioning towards other institution, the Member States and the wider EU public, and follows the recommendations in the recent evaluation of the visibility of EU external action. Though this is good news, it remains worrisome that independent evaluation and learning are no longer as high priority as they used to be. The Evaluations unit previously reported directly to DEVCO’s senior management based on best practice for safeguarding the independence of evaluations, whereas the unit now remains a regular line unit.
A second change concerns the department for Sub-Saharan Africa and Horizontal ACP (African Caribbean Pacific) matters. It will be separated into two departments respectively covering East and Southern Africa and ACP Coordination, and West and Central Africa. This split follows some internal difficulties coordinating the design of the future development cooperation instruments, leading to some tensions within and between DEVCO and the EU’s foreign policy service, the EEAS.
The stated reason for the split is that these are ‘priority’ regions. However, no EU development policy documents support this prioritisation. Also, the two new departments cover the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa as before. Planning and programming departments for the ACP region will furthermore remain in place.
Although this may therefore appear like a cosmetic change at first sight, the split will ensure that DEVCO’s departments for managing development cooperation with Africa match those of the EEAS at the Directors-level. This will not only introduce opportunities for improved coordination and financial management, but reflects the trend of structuring and coordinating EU external actions on a (sub-)regional basis. Some staff reshuffles and reductions seem inevitable.
Making the match
To a cynic, these changes simply reflect Brussels office politics – relations between the EC and the EEAS have been somewhat strained and working arrangements contested. This reorganisation could represent an attempt to insulate DEVCO against (actual or perceived) encroachment by the EEAS. Yet the opposite could equally be suggested: DEVCO is preparing itself to meet the EEAS and other EC services half-way by creating counterparts in the two services in an attempt to ‘build-in’ coherence at the institutional level.
Two further changes support the latter reasoning. First, the relocation of the Unit for Fragility and Crisis Management to report directly to the Deputy Director-General for Geographic Coordination is clearly aimed at shortening decision-making lines and achieving more efficient, rapid and implementation-oriented crisis management. It matches the EEAS’ consolidated crisis management structures and gives effect to commitments made in the new development policy. Although this will not allay the fears of those concerned about the ‘securitisation’ of development cooperation, the changes are a welcome upgrade for those concerned with peace building and fragility.
Second, DEVCO will set up a task force in charge of setting up 4 regional DEVCO hubs responsible for budget support and thematic expertise in the EU Delegations in Kenya, Thailand, Nicaragua and Egypt. Ominously named ‘Centre of Gravity’, it will be responsible for managing the rebalancing of resources from and towards the hubs in collaboration with the EEAS (with DEVCO as the ‘centre’).
Stargazing or navel-gazing?
Though a step towards realising the Agenda for Change, the changes are nonetheless conservative, ‘Brussels-centric’ efforts to bring order to the EU institutions. DEVCO has undergone several reorganisations, notably a major merger, since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. While the budget negotiations bring into perspective the extent to which ‘Brussels’ is engaged in navel-gazing, one should keep in mind that bilateral aid agencies are similarly subject to frequent reorganisations. These repositioning efforts are oftentimes critical for them to deliver on new commitments.
It seems the new task force perhaps best symbolises the intent of these efforts, i.e. to rationalise DEVCO structures and rebalance thematic and geographical expertise towards the EU Delegations. DEVCO senior management has understood that this is where the real meat is for demonstrating that it can deliver on EU development commitments efficiently and effectively. EU external action must speak for itself.
This blog post features the author’s personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.