The challenge

The European Union carries considerable weight in international affairs as the world’s largest trade bloc and foremost contributor of development assistance. However, against the backdrop of a changing international cooperation landscape, a shifting global balance of power and the financial crisis, the EU is struggling to reconcile its development ideals and goals with its economic, political and security interests.

To perform effectively on the rapidly changing global stage and to respond to the challenges it presents, the EU must consolidate its external action and upgrade it into a more consistent, coordinated and development-friendly foreign policy. The EU has made considerable efforts to this end in the past few years, particularly through establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) in 2010. The EEAS holds the potential to strengthen the link between EU foreign policy and development goals, and to improve the coherence of all EU policies with an external dimension. The past year marked an important milestone for the EEAS: the nascent institution’s first self-assessment point. 

Furthermore, 2013 was the year in which lengthy EU budget negotiations for the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) were held and finalised. Key indicators were formulated for the EU’s new development policy, ‘Agenda for Change’. While the worldwide debate on the post-2015 global development framework accelerated in 2013, ECDPM actively engaged in research and consultations feeding into a strong EU position on this topic.

Despite the progress made in past years, there is still a long way for Europe to go in strengthening its external action. Although the EU has made a commitment to policy coherence for development (PCD), aligning non-development policies with development objectives remains a huge challenge. EU policies in agriculture, migration, security, trade and finance, for instance, continue to hamper development progress in partner countries. EU member states often fail to speak with one voice, which consequently undermines the EU’s influence in global affairs. 

Finally, with the rise of emerging economies and the rapidly shifting global balance of economic and political power, the EU risks losing its position as a pre-eminent player in international cooperation. Construction of a more effective, coherent and visible EU is required to assure Europe of a strong presence on the global stage. 

"2013 marked the settlement of the EU budget for 2014-2020 and the start of the seven-year programming of EU aid. In the years to come, the challenge for the new leadership of the EU institutions will be to close the implementation gap and to establish the credibility of the EU as a global player in international cooperation."

Andrew Sherriff, Head of the Strengthening European External Action programme (pictured)       

ECDPM's role

ECDPM’s Strengthening European External Action programme supports the EU in its efforts to consolidate its external action, with a focus on improving overall policy and delivery for development objectives. We engage with African, ACP, EU and global stakeholders, who rely on us for independent analysis and clarification of key policy and practice issues and facilitation of dialogue and processes. Our work in 2013 was organised in three streams:
  • The EU and the global development agenda
  • EU development policy and practice
  • The EU institutional set-up for external action
The EU and the global development agenda

ECDPM was closely involved in global debates on the post-2015 development agenda. We supported African, ACP, European and global actors and institutions in navigating these debates. We produced two background notes on the post-2015 development framework in preparation for the Sixth Stakeholders Meeting of Belgian Development Cooperation. The usefulness of these notes was acknowledged in particular by the high-level speaker at that event, Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on post-2015 development planning. We briefed the senior levels of the development cooperation administrations in Finland and Luxembourg, which sought to develop and refine their positions in the post-2015 debate.

During the Lithuanian EU Presidency, ECDPM was invited to facilitate a debate on the post-2015 framework at an informal EU Council Working Party on Development in Vilnius. Our presentation, which focused on the implementation challenges of the post-2015 agenda for EU development cooperation, gave a fresh perspective on some of the critical issues at stake. Its usefulness was remarked upon by EU member state participants, the EEAS and the European Commission.

ECDPM, ODI and DIE published the 2013 European Report on Development, entitled ‘Post-2015: Global Action for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future’. As the lead organisation authoring this publication, ECDPM was in high demand to present its analysis to audiences as far afield as South Korea and India. EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs described the report as particularly timely and relevant, adding that it complemented the European Commission’s work on the post-2015 framework. The analysis also provided useful background for individual countries’ deliberations in setting their positions on the framework.

In April, we published a post-2015 edition of ECDPM’s GREAT insights magazine. The issue included our own analyses of the post-2015 development framework, as well as features written by Betty Maina, member of the UN High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda, and Klaus Rudischhauser, EuropeAid Deputy Director General.

ECDPM was an active participant at the 2013 European Development Days, one of Europe’s main podia for sharing ideas and advancing development-related discussions. We facilitated several panel sessions, participated as discussants, and produced informative interviews on various aspects of the emerging global agenda. Together with our fellow members of the European Think-Tanks Group (FRIDE, ODI and DIE) we organised an informal side event that brought together high-level EU officials to discuss the evolving development scene.

Our contributions to the debate on the post-2015 framework did not go unnoticed at the global level. Our involvement in discussions on the implementation and future financing of the emerging agenda for development led to a request for support throughout 2014 by the UN Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing. Our publications addressed specific themes in the context of the post-2015 discussions, including migration and peace, security and conflict. ECDPM inputs on the topic of migration led to an invitation from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) for us to contribute to their book ‘Migration and the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda’. 

EU development policy and practice

We provided independent analysis and advice on various facets of EU development policy and practice, including the new EU development framework, the new EU budget and Europe’s principal aid funding instruments. We engaged with international partners on policy and practice issues related to ‘Agenda for Change’, the new EU development framework. Within this context, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested us to explore the role and potential of EU development cooperation with middle-income countries, in order to inform its Europe strategy.

We provided the first independent analysis of the EU joint programming process, through which the European Commission, the EEAS and EU member states collectively determine a development response strategy for partner countries. Our analysis pointed to critical bottlenecks in the process and has generated interest for the process among EU policy-makers.

Furthermore, we published a review of six ongoing initiatives to increase the effectiveness and relevance of EU development aid and cooperation. This work provided novel insights regarding budget allocations across instruments. The Centre also facilitated a discussion on the next EU budget, the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). Attending this event were civil society organisations, the EEAS, the European Parliament and the European Commission. Participants focused on ways to better enable the EU to reconcile its values and interests in external action to promote development outcomes.

"ECDPM’s expertise on the Multiannual Financial Framework and the Centre’s deep understanding of the topics made the conference a real success.”
Civil society umbrella organisation representative during an ECDPM-facilitated discussion on the next EU budget

In July, we published an independent assessment of experiences in EU aid programming related to two principal development funding instruments: the Development Co-operation Instrument (DCI) and the 11th European Development Fund (EDF). Programming processes were examined from different institutional perspectives and based on interviews with staff at DG DEVCO, the EEAS and the EU delegations.

“Your publication on programming is very useful as we await the programming discussions with the ACP Regional Organizations next week.”
ACP Senior Official

ECDPM delivered several contributions to the debate on EU policy coherence for development (PCD), which is one of our foremost areas of expertise. We played a role in the OECD  (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and EU commitment to step up PCD monitoring and dialogue with third countries. Our study on national systems for PCD provided new insights on how EU member states approach the concept of PCD. The OECD invited us to present the results of that study in Paris. In a similar vein, we were invited to events in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Ireland - some with ministerial-level participation. These countries sought to learn from our analysis to develop their own PCD monitoring systems. Our work in this area has been cited and used by the European Commission, the OECD-DAC (OECD Development Assistance Committee) and numerous NGOs and think tanks. 

Together with ECDPM’s Food Security programme we broke new ground by developing a first methodology to assess the impact of a range of OECD member state policies on food security in individual partner countries. The approach has captured the attention of Finland and Switzerland, which intend to fund and actively participate in country pilots in 2014.

The EU institutional set-up for external action

The programme actively engaged in research and analytical work related to the EU institutional set-up. At the end of 2012, ECDPM published a policy brief on the 2013 EEAS review. Consequently, institutional donors, the Court of Auditors and decision-makers at the European Parliament and EEAS sought our opinion on the review process while it was under way during the year. Although the EEAS review was an internal activity, ECDPM played a role in informing stakeholders as well as the wider public about the process. Staff within DG DEVCO and the EEAS indicated appreciation of our inputs, remarking that our helicopter view allowed them to better identify the gaps between policy and practice and ways to address these. Several African ambassadors expressed appreciation for our studies and reports on EU processes in the post-Lisbon era, as these enabled them to engage more productively in negotiations with EU counterparts.