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The dynamics of EU budget negotiations for external action – Towards a ‘single’ instrument?

December 2017

Di Ciommo, M., Sherriff, A., and Bossuyt, J. 2017. The dynamics of EU budget negotiations for external action - Towards a ‘single’ instrument? ECDPM Briefing Note 99. Maastricht: ECDPM.

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In 2018, at a time when the world and Europe are changing more than in decades, the EU will make critical choices on the design of its budget for the period 2021-2027. These choices will have a lasting strategic impact, and could see the transformation of long cherished – but often criticised – separate instruments such as the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), European Development Fund (EDF), Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), and European Initiative on Democracy and Human Rights (EIHDR).

The political economy of the negotiations for the EU’s next external action budget (incorporating foreign policy and development cooperation ambitions) will involve reconciling five different approaches that will dictate the outcome. The approaches explored in the paper are; 1) managerial, 2) political control, 3) development led, 4) financially led, and 5) strategy driven. The idea of a single instrument involving significant rationalisation of the EU’s existing External Financial Instrument (EFIs) is gaining momentum.

Yet key questions arise such as: how solid is the narrative that would justify a single instrument? What are the core instruments design choices that need to be made? And what are the various scenarios for operationalising a single instrument? The devil will be in the details of design and operationalisation. Hence, clear political choices will be required on a single instrument’s scope and ambition, geographic focus, and political control.

Also, what would be the desirable safeguards, earmarking and accountability, and what would be the consequences? Any ‘single’ instrument or rationalisation carries significant risks as well as potential benefits. In this brief we have highlighted different scenarios to assist stakeholders gain an insight into the political economy underpinning positions and make informed choices on issues surrounding a single instrument.


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European external affairsBriefing Notes (series)