Helly, D; 'A Gentle Exchange or Agenda for Change in the Sahel? The Implementation Challenges'; ECDPM; 2014
I recently asked what sector concentration actually means for those in charge of implementing the EU’s guiding development policy, the Agenda for Change.
Although we have a new Commission it seems likely that the Agenda for Change will continue to be the guiding development policy document until the post-2015 framework. Commissioner designate Mimica already made this clear in his hearings.
The good thing about the Agenda for Change is that it mixes the imperatives of coordination, joint programming and policy and political dialogue. It also proposes the combination of aid instruments and modalities in a new fashion – through blending, trust funds, delegated cooperation or sector contracts. This could pave the way for a transformation in the way the EU does the aid business in the future.
In the Sahel it has been possible for the EU to align with countries’ national development strategies through the Agenda for Change, although EU staff are aware that there will still be many bumps in the road ahead. This is perhaps one of the biggest paradoxes of the Agenda for Change in the Sahel, as a blueprint that recognises the specificity of fragile contexts. If not efficiently implemented, it still runs the risk of underestimating or ignoring (consciously or not) the limited absorption capacity of very weak state structures. This can be explained by a variety of existing studies on the political economy of aid.
Our recent field missions to the Sahel convinced us that these risks are real and that detailed analytical work on the next phases of programming and implementation would help understand whether local absorption capacity, combined with European haste to disburse, are indeed still the issue.
Along the lines of the Agenda for Change, the EU and its Member States have worked to synchronise their aid programming cycle. They plan to start synchronised joint programming in the next few years – for example 2016 in Niger and 2018 in Senegal. There are also examples of delegated cooperation that can be interpreted as coordination efforts when Europeans count on each other to implement national aid commitments.
Yet despite donors general commitments to increase coordination, practitioners note that the transaction costs (in both time and effort) turn out to be very high for a development agency representative to volunteer – with no additional capacity – as convener of donor thematic coordination working groups. While some may argue that innovative measures are still required to create convincing incentives for those volunteering to coordinate donors, others might wonder why coordination is still not always ensured by the host government itself.
Other more structural hurdles seem to impede the smooth implementation of coordination principles promoted in the Agenda for Change – like the tendency to transform the European Commission into merely a financing agency increasingly relying on external agents to implement its programmes which in many ways is detached from the realities of programme implementation. Pressure is then high on staff to disburse funds with little or not enough guarantees about their use in countries where aid dependency has become the norm. This reality runs in contrast to a phrase used by both Commission designate Neven Mimica and Federica Mogherini in their hearings at the European Parliament where they wished the EU to be “More of a Player than a Payer”.
There is tension between the long-term development objectives of the Agenda for Change and the ambiguity of the resilience approach, in so far as the latter’s implementation has focused on emergency to date and does not yet seem effective for long term poverty alleviation. The extent to which host governments coordinate (or not) resilience and development approaches is worth monitoring closely in the Sahel.
Watch out next week for the third and final instalment in this blog series on the Agenda for Change in the Sahel. Subscribe to our Weekly Compass newsletter to receive it straight to your inbox.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM
Photo courtesy of nyhao
In addition to structural support by ECDPM’s institutional partners The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Austria, this publication also benefits from funding from the Department of International Development (DFID), United Kingdom.
Read all of our work on the Sahel at the ECDPM Sahel Dossier