October 14, 2011

The Commission’s proposal for increasing the impact of EU development cooperation: Agenda for Change or simply a change of agenda?

Posted: 15:09 PM UTC

by Niels Keijzer on October 14, 2011


One year ago, the European Commission published a Green Paper titled ‘EU development policy in support of inclusive growth and sustainable development – Increasing the impact of EU development policy’. This Green Paper, the first promise of a major policy reorientation under the political leadership of Development Commissioner Piebalgs, provided a basis for a public consultation in which concerned stakeholders could share their own views on the future directions of EU development cooperation. ECDPM was one of over 230 organisations who responded to the public consultation.

While initially expected in September, the Commission published its long-awaited proposal entitled ‘Increasing the impact of EU Development Policy: an Agenda for Change’ on the 13th of October. In a press release, the Commission summarises three fundamental changes that it proposes for EU development cooperation, and which indeed would hold much potential to strengthen its overall effectiveness: “Future EU spending should concentrate on sectors which are key for long-term and inclusive growth, target countries that are in the greatest need of external support and where aid can make a difference.”  In the document, the Commission only refers in passing to the 230+ contributions, which “(…) confirmed the relevance of the existing policy framework, while agreeing on the need to increase impact.” Beyond possibly objecting to this overall summary, stakeholders might also criticise some apparent missed opportunities in the text, for example:

  1. The reference to ‘solidarity’ in the first paragraph of the document, which implicitly places the EU outside the globalising world of which it is an integral part, and which hides its own interests, and in fact future dependence, on the promotion of inclusive and sustainable growth in the rest of the world.
  2. The absence of a reference to the 2005 European Consensus on Development. The European Consensus carries the signatures of the leadership of the Commission, Council and the European Parliament and hence takes precedence over any Council Conclusions that EU Ministers responsible for development cooperation may adopt on the basis of this document.
  3. The rather apolitical language used in relation to Policy Coherence for Development (PCD), the explicit focus on improving partner country policies on migration in this context, and the absence of references to actual policy reform processes that are of relevance to developing countries, such as the upcoming reform Common Agricultural Policy and Europe’s policies on trade and development.
  4. The fact that the Commission only asks the Council to endorse its ‘Agenda for Change’, while for instance any change in thematic and sectoral focus of EU development cooperation would need to be reflected in the future EU financial instruments for development cooperation, which have to be agreed by the Council and the European Parliament – the latter entirely absent in the document apart from the front page.
  5. Contradictory proposals within the space of several sentences, e.g. on page 5: “Development strategies led by the partner country will continue to frame EU development cooperation”, “EU support to governance should feature more prominently in all partnerships”.

However, as normal there is more in EC policy proposals than meets the eye, and in this case some of the subtleties of the document do show important potential for change.

Below, this article looks into the Communication’s fifth section on ‘coordinated EU action’ — which clearly puts the finger where it hurts, in this case Europe’s own bad governance of its collective contribution to international development. For decades the EU member states have shown a ‘shared incompetence’ when it came to effectively dealing with fragmentation and promoting coordinated action, and the Commission today rightfully states that fragmentation and proliferation of aid has in reality increased. While EC proposals to improve this situation go back several decades, in a post-Lisbon setting the European Union is legally empowered to take this challenge forward and – more important – politically committed to do so. Among the concrete proposals put forward that go far beyond anything the Commissioned has ever proposed, the following seem the most political (emphasis from the original):

  • “Where the partner country has formulated its own strategy, the EU should support it by jointly developing a response strategy with Member States. Where the partner country has not done so, a joint EU/donor strategy paper should be developed.”
  • “This process would result in a single joint programming document which should indicate the sectoral division of labour and financial allocations per sector and donor. The EU and Member State should follow the document when devising their bilateral implementation plans.”
  • “Operationally, the EU and Member States should make use of aid modalities that facilitate joint action such as budget support (under a ‘single EU contract’), EU trust funds and delegated cooperation.”[1]

These, and other recommendations such as synchronising programming with developing countries’ own planning cycles, would mean fundamental changes to the way Member States manage their bilateral cooperation – and have been very reluctant to change in the past. The creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which will be staffed for 1/3rd by seconded Member State diplomats, provides part of the answer as to why the Commission aims higher this time around. Even though the media emphasise the EEAS’ teething problems as well as the ongoing turf-wars with the Commission and Council secretariat, the Commission seizes the upcoming programming of development cooperation under the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework as a key opportunity to ‘modernise’ its practice and hopefully increase its collective impact on poverty reduction. It will now be up to the Member States to decide whether they want to challenge the Commission’s proposals or instead take up the challenge. Doing the latter would go beyond any possible contribution they could make in at the fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness Busan and beyond.

In the coming weeks, different ECDPM experts will publish a number of blog articles here on the Talking Points blog and share their analysis of the overall Communication, as well as the sister-Communication on budget support, in order to find out whether it has potential of an Agenda for Change, or nothing more than a change of agenda.

[1] This point is addressed specifically in the accompanying Communication on budget support, which we will analyse in a contribution on this blog next week.



nk The Commission’s proposal for increasing the impact of EU development cooperation: Agenda for Change or simply a change of agenda? Niels Keijzer is Policy Officer Development Policy & International Relations at ECDPM.



This blog post features the author’s personal view and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

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