European Commission has launched the new aid programming cycle

With no surprise, at their Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting on 14 May, the EU Member States (MS) welcomed the two communications produced by the EC aiming at reviewing and ‘modernising’ EU development cooperation policy and practice; the Agenda for Change and the Future approach on EU Budget Support.
The FAC conclusions on the Agenda for Change are very much aligned with the EC communication especially with regard to the focus on inclusive growth, private sector and blending of loans and grants. In other areas, however, they contain a few additional or slightly differing interesting elements. In particular, the council conclusions go much further than the EC communication in the area of Policy Coherence for Development (PCD). Indeed, in spite of its significance for an agenda based on growth, trade, investments and the role of the private sector, this issue was given very little attention in the EC communication. Thanks to the leadership the Danish Presidency supported by a few other Member States, the HR Ashton who chairs the FAC and all Council members finally decided to adopt separate conclusions on PCD. The essence of these conclusions is to recognise that PCD is an important element in the Council Conclusions on an Agenda for Change, which complements the EU development policy framework and to agree on the need for a more evidence-based approach and for improving coordination mechanisms and implementation within the EU institutions and the MS.
Particularly welcome is also the following statement: ‘the EU and its Member States remain firmly committed to the goal of eradicating poverty, as set out in the Lisbon Treaty and the European Consensus on Development, and, convinced of the catalytic role of ODA, reaffirm their commitment to achieve all their development aid targets, including the collective 0.7% ODA target to be reached by 2015. See also the separate council conclusions on ODA targets adopted at the same FAC meeting.
CONCORD members also appreciate the absence of any reference to ‘value for money’ in the council conclusions on the Agenda for Change while the principles of mutual accountability and ownership are emphasised. Certain elements of the following text in the paragraph on governance come directly from CONCORD’s recommendations to MS: ‘the EU and its Member States will support and promote an enabling environment for an independent, pluralistic and active civil society in partner countries, building on the Structured Dialogue. Awareness raising and development education are part of this. Successful development cooperation also requires significant progress on gender equality, empowerment and opportunities for women, including through political and policy dialogue, gender mainstreaming in policies and programmes, and specific actions’.
The Council position with regards to the nexus between security and development is more ambiguous with no clear intention to adopt an EU action plan on situations of fragility and conflict as suggested in the EC communication but a mention of ‘the development of a comprehensive strategy, taking into account previous Council Conclusions’. The conclusions also state that the EU and its Member States shall pursue actions to implement the New Deal for engagement in fragile states, as set out in the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. The FAC conclusions also mention the still open and undefined concept of resilience: Fostering developing countries’ resilience to national and global shocks and crises is key to their sustainable development. It requires integrating resilience and disaster risk reduction in development programmes and linking humanitarian relief and development cooperation. Likewise, strong coordination between the EU’s climate and development policies is vital. This commitment is reinforced in the separate Council conclusions on Strengthening Resilience to Food Crises in the Horn of Africa where the Council invites the Commission to follow up with further proposals on building resilience in drought prone areas including a Communication before the end of 2012 (see separate article in Humanitarian aid section). Resilience and food security is also on top of the agenda of the Cyprus presidency between July and December 2012.
In the chapter of the conclusions dealing with implementation of the Agenda for Change, the MS strongly support EC proposal to focus EU aid both in terms of sectors (inclusive growth and governance) and countries. The differentiation between countries based on the criteria suggested in the EC proposal and the priority for cooperation with Africa and neighbouring countries are welcome but the Council states that the EU will also continue to cooperate with other countries and regions, such as in Latin America and Asia, that are key partners in responding to global challenges and where poverty and inequalities remain widespread. MS are also committed to improving aid coordination at EU level and to organise a joint programming of aid in a few pilot countries under the leadership of EU delegations.
At a debriefing session with Civil Society, Commissioner Piebalgs expressed its satisfaction with regard to the support and backing of Member States in favour of the EC new approach on Budget support. The EC is comforted in its objective of maintaining Budget Support, and more particularly sectoral budget support, as a way to improve aid effectiveness as well as the effectiveness and governance of public policies and services in developing countries. In that area as well, MS are ready to improve coordination and joint assessment with the view to provide coordinated and consistent EU responses.
The Council conclusions on the Agenda for Change close with these words: the principles contained in these Conclusions will guide the design and implementation of external action instruments under the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020. However, even before the new legal bases for future cooperation instruments are adopted (expected to take place somewhere in 2013), the Agenda for Change already forms the backbone of the instructions to EU delegations for the programming of bilateral cooperation with developing countries that is starting right now and concerns all developing countries covered by the DCI (Asia, Latin America, Middle East) and the EDF (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific).
Main novelties of the programming process are:
– Country differentiation implies that no programming process will take place is the 19 upgraded countries of Asia and Latin America and that the launch of the programming is postponed in around 20 Middle Income countries of the ACP group until a final decision on how differentiation will apply to this group of countries is taken.
– The country or region multiannual indicative programmes (MIP) will become the central element of the process and no country strategy paper will be necessary in case the national development strategy of the country is judged sufficient or a joint EU strategy/cooperation framework exists for the country or the region or the national envelope is lower than 50 million euros. The MIP will concentrate on 3 sectors maximum per country (at the exception of fragile states that may need a more flexible approach).
– In countries eligible for bilateral aid, the first phase of the process, supposed to end by 30th September 2012, comprises the analysis of the national development plan and the outline of the EU response with a proposal for maximum 3 priority sectors. This first phase is key and is supposed to take place in consultation with the partner government, national parliament, CSOs and private sector, EU MS and other donors. Priority sectors should preferably be in line with the broad objectives of the agenda for change. Examples of sectors listed under objective one – Human rights, democracy and good governance: democracy, human rights and the rule of law; gender equality and the empowerment of women; public sector management; tax policy and administration; fight against corruption; civil society and local authorities; sustainable and transparent management of natural resources and Development-security nexus. Example of sectors listed under objective two – Inclusive growth: business environment, productive capacities and investments; regional integration and international trade; education; health; employment and social protection; sustainable agriculture, fisheries and food security and sustainable energy. Note that priority sectors of cooperation for each region will be included in the annexes of the legal basis of the DCI that have to be approved by the Council and the Parliament.
– After 2 months of internal consultation by EC and EEAS headquarters, the delegations will receive instructions for the second phase and the preparation of the MIP. At that stage (end 2012 – beginning of 2013), regional programming seminars with the presence of Commissioner Piebalgs could be organised. In addition delegations should maintain dialogue and consultation as in the first phase.
– For ACP-countries, in line with the Cotonou Agreement, a specific allocation may be set aside for supporting CSOs and Local Authorities (LA), in addition to the 3 priority sectors.
– After consultation of MS at field level, the EU delegation may judge that a joint programming is feasible. It seems that it is the case for 5 countries only: Guatemala, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda and Nepal.
– The preparation of the regional multiannual indicative programmes will start later.