Changes in the EU’s “Agenda for Change”?

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      European Development Cooperation Ministers adopted a five-page statement on Monday entitled ‘Increasing the Impact of EU Development Policy: an Agenda for Change’. The journey towards this political statement started in November 2010, when the European Commission (EC) published a green paper that formed the basis for an extensive public consultation which led to the adoption of the EC’s proposal for the Agenda for Change in October 2011. Last year ECDPM analysed the policy reform proposals on this blog.

      EU Member States’ discussed the Commission’s proposal for nearly 6 months before agreeing on the political statement adopted this week. As they were negotiating:

      1. the EC and the European External Action Service were also trying to reach an agreement on the programming’ of development assistance for the period of 2014-2020;
      2. political discussions were underway on the overall size of the EU budget for the same period and the distribution between its different ‘Headings’;
      3. and discussions between the European Parliament and the EU Member States on the design of the legal instruments to guide the spending of the EU development cooperation budget were also ongoing.

      While the Member States made important changes, they generally welcomed (and thus endorsed) the Commission’s development policy proposals. They also expressed their priorities for development cooperation at the European level in several paragraphs (including paragraph 14 of the Agenda for Change that somewhat curiously speaks of “EU bilateral development cooperation”). The document also captures the current mood in general discussions on development policy through references to ‘global public goods’ and the ‘catalytic’ role of Official Development Assistance. And it explicitly expresses the EU Member States’ desire for their agreement on the Agenda for Change to guide the design and implementation of the future legal instruments - a challenging process under the current volatile economic and political situation in many European countries.

      In some areas the EU goes further than the EC, in others it limits ambitions

      As we noted in our earlier blog post on the EC’s proposal, quite political and far-reaching suggestions were put forward under the heading “coordinated EU action” (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.”

      The EU Member States’ response, under the heading “Working together better”, clearly does not emanate the same level of ambition. It does not speak of possible ‘budget support contracts’ and limits joint programming to a limited number of countries explored on a piloting basis (see our recent analysis on this).

      Conversely, the Commission’s proposal included some rather conservative proposals on strengthening the contribution of other EU policies to meet the EU’s development objectives (i.e. Policy Coherence for Development (PCD)). Here the Member States called for a more ambitious approach to PCD and added important priorities to the agenda, including the need for knowledge-sharing, more country-level dialogue, and further engagement with governments, civil society, and other stakeholders. Moreover, the EU adopted a separate statement on the matter, which links to the Agenda for Change (though the latter does not return that favour). The PCD statement reaffirms and synthesises earlier EU political discussions on the matter since 2006, and which in paragraph five “(…) notes the need for a more evidence-based approach and for improving coordination mechanisms and implementation within the EU institutions and the Member States.” The Member States also invite the Commission to put forward new policy proposals in this regard. Reflecting on the last EU report on Policy Coherence for Development, the Council expresses a need for a more independent assessment of progress, including qualitative and quantitative consequences and costs of policy incoherence. While the EC is also invited to help in this regard, the first paragraph observes that making further progress in this area “(…) is essential for the credibility of the EU as a global actor.” Only through internalising this point, and taking concrete action, can the EU and its Member States go ‘beyond intentions’ in this area.

      Implementing the Agenda for Change will be a challenge

      All together, the agreements reached by the EU Member States this week point to an important agenda for change. Discussions in the months ahead on the future EU budget will make sticking to this agenda a challenge.

      EU Development Ministers also adopted conclusions on budget support which a separate Talking Points Blog contribution analyses. A blog post considering the implications of the Agenda for Change in relation to EU action in fragile states is forthcoming. 


      Niels Keijzer is Deputy Programme Manager EU External Action at ECDPM.


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

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