A gentle exchange or policy dialogue? Negotiating the implementation of the Agenda for Change in the Sahel

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      Part 3

      Building on our two previous blogs on the challenges facing the implementation of the Agenda for Change in the Sahel, this third and final blog identifies two main take-aways: the need to be context-sensitive and that compromise is imperative.

      On paper, the Agenda for Change is a strategic roadmap for dialogue with developing countries on the use of European aid – a step forward in the modernisation of EU development assistance. In practice, engaging host countries to speak about how change may take place is a huge and enduring challenge, and far more complex than a gentle exchange of views or informal consultations. As we see in the poorest countries of the Sahel, it is easier for the European and the African side to cooperate on immediately visible interventions rather than on politically sensitive social change.

      The choice between various types of aid contracts signed with partner governments (good governance and development contracts, sector reform contracts, or state building contracts – a form of budget support in Mali and Mauritania) is also the result of negotiation within the EU system and with the host country. For instance there are pros and cons of the state building contract in Mali. Yet some staff in EU Delegations say that real implementation starts with the choice of performance indicators for budget support implementation. Negotiating these indicators consists of finding compromises between EU headquarters, government in partner countries and EU Delegations and Member States. The practitioners we interviewed in Senegal and Niger acknowledged EU’s untapped potential of influence in that respect

      The case of Mali, where international aid – including the EU's – has been temporarily suspended, is particularly telling. This recent story shows the Agenda for Change as such did not really make the difference in helping the EU, the IMF or France to prevent unfortunate circumstances.

      A brief review of the conditions under which the Agenda for Change is being implemented in the Sahel leaves us with two main take-aways:

      First, the Agenda for Change is a set of important guidelines and instructions that provide a valuable and powerful framework for aid-related dialogue between the EU and partner countries. Although much of this was a reiteration of past EU policies, the Agenda for Change did bring them together well. However, flexible interpretation of this framework is unavoidable and even preferable, as stated in the document itself and in the instructions for the programming of EU financial instruments. It is too early to say if the Agenda for Change as a policy document has been successful in the Sahel from an implementation perspective. Having said that, open dialogue between Commissioners’ cabinets, DEVCO, the EEAS and EU Delegations and member-states will remain essential for the EU as a whole to match realities country by country.

      Second, the results of the Agenda for Change will come from what programming eventually achieves and the compromises found between European and African counterparts through policy and political dialogue. With a new Commissioner for International Cooperation & Development in charge, there will at some point be a desire to evaluate and review how the Agenda for Change has been implemented in practice. Change, as far as it is possible, cannot just be a change of words in the title of a policy document or a swap of priorities to please the other side.

      While recent letters and speeches from the new President of the European Commission and the HR/VP Mogherini show encouraging signs towards a more coherent external action at large, this wind of change will have to be translated into context-sensitive development practices by constantly considering the political and societal underpinnings of the aid relationship. This is one benchmark – among others - against which the new EU leadership has to be assessed.

      The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM

      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.

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