Doing more with less – Where EU ambition meets sobering reality
2015 Global Development Challenges Series - Part 4
Federica Mogherini’s appointment as the new EU High Representative has been received with reasonable enthusiasm in Africa. However, the extent to which Mogherini will be able to meet the ambitions of EU foreign policy in the 21st century will be conditioned by the outcome of at least four challenges.
A diplomat posted to Addis Ababa recently told us “It is hard do any worse than Lady Ashton”. The good news is that the Africa-EU partnership could gain more traction in the coming year. It now has a dedicated funding line for African continent-wide initiatives. Together with Mogherini, four different Commissioners, will spearhead relations with the African continent. 2015 is a pivotal year for EU-Africa relations. Negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change will culminate in 2015, and the quest for common solutions to global problems may give new impetus to the partnership, both politically and operationally.
Challenge 1: Firefighting in the EU Neighbourhood
Recent events in the EU’s neighbourhood, particularly in North Africa, have had important spillover effects in other African countries - notably in the Sahel. Stability around the Mediterranean deteriorated significantly in 2014, shedding light on the shortcomings of the EU’s response to the challenges of migration. As Europe’s neighbourhood becomes embroiled in ever widening and deepening crises, analysts are calling for a reboot of European foreign and security policies, a revisit of EU strategic partnerships and a redesign of the EU’s neighbourhood policy. Despite these factors, getting the Member States on board for a Common Security and Foreign Policy (CFSP) that is more than the lowest common denominator will require strong EU leadership and genuine interest from Member States to do business differently - including the heavyweights.
Challenge 2: A Unified Position on Climate and Post-2015
Climate change is a top priority of EU-Africa dialogue and features prominently in the 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy. However, the two continents have not yet managed to define a truly joint climate position in the run-up to COP 21. For the Sustainable Development Goals to work, they need to be underpinned by a strong, effective and legally binding climate deal to be agreed in Paris.There are concerns that EU external climate action has been weakened by a short term focus on economic growth, and that EU energy interests could prevail over the needs of sustainable development. This means that a unique opportunity to build synergies between the UNFCCC and the post-2015 negotiations could be missed, compromising the EU’s commitment to sustainable development.
Challenge 3: Doing More with Less
Development cooperation is being increasingly criticised for its limited impact and structural inability to deal with the complexity of development. Public finances are increasingly under pressure and as donors are compelled to “do more with less” aid architecture, including at DG DEVCO EuropeAid, often seems to be more interested in quick results and swift disbursement rates, rather than adapting systems and procedures to the risks of complexity.
Challenge 4: With Shrinking Resources, Can Mogherini Show the Added Value of EU Delegations?
During her hearing at the European Parliament, Mogherini recognised the important role played by EU Delegations in representing the EU and managing its policies abroad. Building on the ideas of the 2013 EEAS Review, the new HR/VP has committed to restructuring the EEAS management system, deploying more resources to EU Delegations that take into account changing political priorities and dynamics on the ground.
Well crafted institutions and skilled staff can only make a difference if there are clear chains of command. This ambition resonates well with European Parliament’s call for the modernisation of the EU’s network of 140 Delegations to “meet the needs of the foreign policy of the EU in the 21st century” by, amongst other things, “adapting the number and knowledge of staff”. Yet, the reality is that this process will unfold in a context of shrinking resources. To use Mogherini’s own words “overall budget constraints may require tough decisions”.
In 2015, DEVCO’s plan to cut its administrative budget by 5% across the board and the redeployment of human resources will unfold. Discontent with the cuts is already visible among several EU Delegations. They are worried that the benchmarks for the cuts do not take into account the workload in coordinating EU member states - a key role played by EU Delegations in the post-Lisbon context - or the challenges linked to managing larger aid volumes in countries with limited absorption capacities, a direct result of the EU’s differentiation policy (see Chapter 4 of the ETTG Memorandum).
The added value of EU Delegations lies in their ability to lead and facilitate the local coordination of Member States. This is to ensure the effective external representation of EU foreign policy and to implement EU development policy through high-impact aid. But such added value will be difficult to show if EU Delegations are crippled by staff cuts. Management may show quick wins in budget cuts, but at the plausible expense of the quality of EU Delegations’ work.
Mogherini will need to address these issues head-on in 2015. Management at DEVCO and EU Delegations will have to learn to live with a new reality of ‘doing more with less’. The rationalisation of human resources will be accepted more easily by Delegations if the specific nature of their work is acknowledged and their added-value recognised and supported with complementary measures that compensate for the inevitable loss of staff. This will require an urgent and visionary knowledge management strategy which nurtures existing in-house thematic expertise, and explores synergies and new ways of working amongst various directorate generals (DGs) and, of course, EU Member States.
The views expressed here are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of ECDPMRead ‘Finishing the Job and Building Bridges to the Future’ by Amina Mohammed
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