Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND)


  1.  BOND is a network of over 230 development non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the UK. BOND's membership reflects the huge diversity of UK civil society's response to international poverty and injustice. This submission represents a collective statement of BOND members. It cannot be taken to represent the views of any individual organisation. It should be read as a complement to the submissions made by individual BOND members.

  2.  As the UK NGO platform of the Liaison Committee of European Development NGOs, BOND welcomes the Select Committee's continuing interest in and close scrutiny of EU aid effectiveness. With this submission, BOND aims to assess how the EC reform process is enhancing the EC's capacities to meet its agreed development objectives, namely, "to reduce and, eventually, to eradicate poverty" through support for "sustainable economic and social and environmental development, promotion of the gradual integration of the developing countries into the world economy and a determination to combat inequality". Specifically, this submission aims to provide a critical analysis of the EC reform process focusing on its impact on the implementation and formulation of EC Development Policy. Admittedly, it is still difficult at this stage to assess whether the reforms will succeed in their objective or not.

  3.  The EU states that its Development Policy "is grounded on the principle of sustainable, equitable and participatory human and social development" adding that the promotion of "human rights, democracy, the rule of law and good governance are an integral part of it. By spending over 9 billion (£5.5 billion) per year in official development assistance in over 140 countries worldwide, the European Community (EC) is the world's second largest multilateral donor. It therefore has the potential to make a substantial and significant contribution towards sustainable and equitable rights-centred development and poverty reduction. The EU's clear position on mainstreaming the "horizontal aspects"—"the promotion of human rights, equality between men and women, children's rights and the environmental dimension" within all its development co-operation activities greatly enhances this potential. The EU however is not delivering to the poorest countries in the world and the disbursement of EU aid is still too slow. The current reform of the management of the EC's external assistance will be fundamental to enhancing the quality and effectiveness of its Development Policy. As such, it will require close monitoring and evaluation.

  4.  So far, the reforms have brought about many positive changes. The Development Policy Statement[1] has identified poverty reduction as the central aim of EC development assistance. This is expanded in the Commission's rolling Programme of Action[2] setting out both working methods and a time frame for implementation. The devolution of administrative and decision-making authority to the Commission's Delegations in third countries is also positively viewed by NGOs. We also consider the setting up of EuropeAid, developed from the Service Commun Relex (SCR), as a major turning point. Likewise, the new inclusive framework for the programming of EU aid based on country and regional strategies drawn up in collaboration with beneficiary governments and non-state actors including NGOs is a welcome improvement. Finally, we believe the Annual Report on "The European Community's Development Policy" to be an invaluable tool for monitoring the Community's progress in implementing its Development Policy and accompanying thematic policies and programmes.



  5.  EuropeAid is the main implementing body of EU Development Policy. Since its creation in January 2001, EuropeAid has contributed to addressing key shortcomings in EU aid effectiveness previously identified by the Select Committee. These include strengthening multi-annual aid programming, the integration of the operations cycle from project identification through to the full implementation of programmes and projects, as well as putting in place urgent measures to eliminate old and dormant commitments.

  6.  To date EuropeAid has managed to decrease old commitments by 52 per cent. Dormant commitments have also been reduced by almost one third. Likewise, commitments made under the European Development Fund were almost halved. Furthermore, EuropeAid has reduced the time lag between commitments and payments, a major factor hampering EU aid effectiveness. For those budget lines managed by EuropeAid, the level of commitments made by the end of September 2001 was 22 per cent higher than the previous year. Payments also increased by

230 million (£141.7 million) significantly reducing the gap.

  7.  Ten months since it was set up, EuropeAid comprises almost 1000 staff. Further expansion is envisaged with 170 positions still to be filled and an additional 248 staff to be recruited when all of the 49 Technical Assistance Offices' functions will be eventually absorbed by EuropeAid at the end of 2001.

  8.  Given EuropeAid's key role in implementing EC Development Policy, it is of paramount importance that the right balance between quality and effectiveness of aid management is struck. Most of EuropeAid's staff were re-deployed from DG Development, DG External Relations and the old SCR. With over a 1,000 staff, it is clear that EuropeAid is more than adequately staffed, however, NGOs are concerned about the quality and expertise of this staff. The Commission needs to ensure that personnel working in EuropeAid are trained in participatory, people-centred development and that they are committed to the principle of poverty eradication. In particular, we would like to draw the Committee's attention to the absence of a gender balance in EuropeAid's present organisational structure as well as the lack of adequate financial or human resources to implement gender mainstreaming. This is unacceptable given EC policy on gender[3].

  9.  There is also a need to enhance expertise in the areas of democracy and governance. Here too, despite its stated policy, the Commission is not fully mainstreaming the promotion of human rights and democracy in all development co-operation programmes. In addition, there is a need to increase support to programmes which aim to strengthen local democracy, particularly in the urban areas of developing countries.

  10.  Overall, NGOs feel that there is a real danger that the strong focus on the effectiveness and speed of aid delivery might detract attention from the quality of projects and programmes selected and the development expertise of the personnel recruited.

  11.  EuropeAid is responsible for drafting the Annual Report on the implementation of EC Development Policy. NGOs, MPs, MEPs and Ministers alike have long called for the Commission to produce yearly reports in line with other multilateral donors. Despite this being a step in the right direction, we have been quite disappointed by the first Annual Report, presented by the Commission to the Development Council on 8 November 2001. The Commission has described it as a "year 0" report: covering the pre-reform period from December 1999 to December 2000. Notwithstanding, we are concerned by the structure of the report, which does not allow for an honest assessment of activities against strategic objectives, focusing on hurdles as well as achievements. Despite focusing on mainstreaming activities in cross-cutting areas such as gender, the environment and human rights, the report still lacks transparency.

  12.  We recommend that more emphasis be placed on assessing the coherence of EU policies on trade, agriculture and security with development objectives. Future Annual Reports should also make reference to the output targets for aid allocations to activities in human and social development within the EU's regional co-operation agreements set by the European Parliament. We believe that these provide a valid benchmark for gauging the level of EU support to poverty reduction activities and should thus be reflected in the Commission's annual reporting exercise. An equal emphasis should be placed on developing a set of performance indicators for measuring the impact of EU aid on poverty eradication in these regions. We urge the Select Committee to take note of these issues on the Annual Report in their recommendations to the European Commission.

Deconcentration to EC Delegations

  13.  The Commission is committed to reforming its decision-making structures and to "deconcentrate" administrative and decision-making authority to its Delegations in third countries. They aim to deconcentrate the management of its external assistance to a total of 86 Delegations by the end of 2003. Twenty-two Delegations will be deconcentrated by the end of the current year. Another 30 will follow in 2002 and the remainder in 2003. EuropeAid is responsible for co-ordinating deconcentration.

  14.  The process in itself is extremely positive and welcomed by NGOs. We believe that the streamlining of management and decision-making procedures within EC Delegations is crucial to improving EU aid effectiveness in-country. EC Delegations are known to be chronically understaffed and under-performing. One example, is the lack of gender policy implementation by Delegations. Evidence from Delegations in Bangladesh, South Africa, and Nicaragua suggests that gender policies are not widely implemented or seen as top priorities. Delegation staff do not feel they have access to training to improve their skills in mainstreaming gender. Despite this, the European Commission has been under significant pressure to devolve authority to the Delegations quickly. After spending most of 2001 preparing the ground, the deconcentration of the first batch of Delegations is scheduled to start in January 2002.

  15.  Under the new structure, Delegations will have greater responsibility for the overall development project cycle. This brings the clear opportunity to make EC development co-operation more responsive to locally felt needs, but it also means the Delegations will need to be considerably strengthened in terms of staffing and capacity to achieve these goals. We ask the Select Committee to highlight the importance of pre-posting training for officials relocating to the deconcentrated Delegations. We suggest that this include awareness raising and training in implementing the EU Development Policy with particular reference to the horizontal aspects, namely, "the promotion of human rights, equality between men and women, children's rights and the environmental dimension".

  16.  We fear that, in the absence of a pilot phase and given the pressure on the Commission to deconcentrate, the process might be unnecessarily rushed and inadequately financed. Redeployment of personnel from Brussels and external recruitment are conditional on the availability of necessary financial resources in the 2003 and 2004 EU budgets. A lack of such resources will inevitably cripple deconcentration. NGOs have an important part to play in ensuring ongoing monitoring and evaluation in close collaboration with Southern partners. We urge elected representatives both in the UK and in the European Parliament to carefully monitor deconcentration guaranteeing quality control and making the necessary adjustments to budgets and strategies throughout the process.

EC-NGO Relations

  17.  NGOs welcome the positive outcomes that the reforms have had so far, namely the introduction of a Call for Proposals system and the clearing of the backlog of applications. It seems that issues on existing co-financing project contracts (under budget line B7-6000) are now being dealt with more quickly than before the reforms. Despite these improvements, NGOs have lamented a continuing lack of transparency in all parts of the project cycle and overwhelming bureaucracy surrounding the financing of activities under budget line B7-6000.

  18.  The co-financing programme has been of paramount importance to NGOs. This was overhauled with the introduction of the new General Conditions. The revision of the General Conditions was applauded by NGOs for breathing new life into EC-NGO funding relations. The new system however has been fairly disappointing. The reform process has entailed a suspension of NGO co-financing since November 1999. Under the new General Conditions, NGOs were promised two Calls for Proposals per year and a maximum limit of six months for the EC to process applications. This has not been the case. There has only been one Call over the past two years whose results we are now receiving. The subsequent Call, due any day we are told, has also been delayed over several months. Unacceptable delays between submission of proposals and receiving a rejection or an approval also continue. Many of BOND member agencies have had to wait for up to a year before hearing back from the Commission. Furthermore, since the SCR was set up two years ago, EC personnel responsible for the NGO co-financing programme has been relocated twice, the latest move having shifted the NGO unit to EuropeAid. This has created significant confusion, inefficiency and the loss of innumerable NGO dossiers.

  19.  It seems from feedback from NGOs that many good projects are turned down on the basis of bureaucratic technicalities rather than the effectiveness of the project design in meeting the perceived needs and EC development objectives. However, there does not seem to be a formal effective channel for feedback from the Commission to NGOs. Similarly, it would have been helpful for the Commission to have engaged in consultation with NGOs regarding the priorities for the 2001 Call.

  20.  We feel that the separation of EuropeAid from DG Development has negatively affected EC-NGO dialogue. We are very concerned by the fact that the Commission seems to increasingly view NGOs as mere implementers rather than development actors in their own right. As a result, we feel that it has been resisting an open and frank dialogue with civil society on EC Development Policy formulation and implementation. This has been epitomised by EuropeAid, which seems to act independently, of and sometimes in contradiction to, the EC Development Policy. The recent rejection of proposals under the human rights and the co-financing budget lines regardless of their strong impact on poverty eradication is an example of this.

  21.  In light of the current international situation, NGOs feel that increased spending on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the surrounding region should not be at the expense of humanitarian or development funding for other poor countries, particularly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Even less should funding to shore up support for the "coalition against terrorism" be at the expense of the least developed countries.

  22.  Overall, the continuing problems under the EC-NGO co-financing programme have been very distressing for NGOs and their partners in the South. Although expectations were raised, it is felt that NGOs have not reaped the benefits of the reform. On the contrary, so far the re-structuring seems to have had a negative impact on the poverty eradication programmes implemented by NGOs and their partners in developing countries. We urge the Committee to take up the issues made in paragraphs 14 to 17 in their inquiry since now is the time to address these shortcomings whilst the reforms are still settling.


EU Budget

  23.  According to the new principle of Activity-Based Management the EC should take decisions about policy priorities and the corresponding resources together allowing for "resources to be allocated to policy priorities and decisions about policy priorities to be fully informed by related resource requirements"[4]. Despite this, we would like to draw the Committee's attention to the mismatch between development priorities and funding highlighted in the Commission's preliminary draft budget for 2002 (see pie chart). Despite committing to poverty eradication through achieving the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals, the Commission's funding pattern for 2002 continues to be significantly skewed towards the near abroad and penalises budget lines aimed at combating poverty. The Commission suggested slashing priority areas such as food security and human rights, as well as allocations to Asia and NGO co-financing. Conversely, budget lines that are not pertinent to poverty eradication were either untouched or increased by the Commission. Most of the proposed cuts were only reversed after concerted efforts by NGOs and the intervention of the European Parliament.

  24.  European NGOs have challenged the allocation of funds to non poverty-related lines covering for instance co-operation with industrialised countries, migration, nuclear energy as well as pre-accession aid to Turkey, Cyprus and Malta under category 4 of the budget. Clearly, more work needs to be done in order to streamline funds allocated under the development budget chapter to the sole aim of the elimination of poverty in line with EC Development Policy.

  25.  Mindful of the importance of the harmonisation of the development budget, we are concerned that the rationalisation of legal bases and the merger of budget lines (reduced from 64 to 55 in 2001) is overly driven by administrative concerns and too little by development priorities. Historically, smaller sectoral budget lines have been managed efficiently and have supported innovative, small-scale actions greatly contributing to EC development initiatives.

  26.  In the interest of greater coherence and integration in the EC development programme, we support the inclusion of the European Development Fund (EDF) into the Community budget. The current separate arrangement for Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries undermines the accountability and transparency in the delivery of EU aid for poverty eradication to some of the least developed countries in the world. Moreover, if the EDF were brought into the EC budget, financial oversight over EDF expenditure would be considerably strengthened and the number of procedures that apply to EC aid would be reduced. BOND recommends that the Select Committee give careful consideration to this matter in its deliberations.

  27.  Another area of weakness has been the complex, bureaucratic and burdensome financial control procedures governing aid disbursement. To address this issue and to try to ensure that EC aid expenditure can be compared to that of other DAC members the European Parliament amended the 2001 budget to require the Commission to produce output targets. The idea behind these is to measure the impact of spending across policy areas so that it becomes clearer how much the EC spends on basic education, primary health or sanitation versus expenditure on infrastructure projects. The Commission has failed to make the required internal reforms during this year and the Parliament has therefore required that this be carried out in 2002. NGOs are concerned about the Commission's reluctance to comply with the agreed output targets, as this is crucial information for being able to ascertain the poverty focus and therefore the effectiveness of EC aid to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

  28.  A concrete example of a potential mismatch between objectives and resources may be that illustrated by the Communicable Diseases Programme of Action adopted in February 2001. Not all of it requires resources drawn from development. Parts of the plan relate to the regulatory environment and the degree to which the EC can mobilise research and development resources. However, that part of the plan that is around improving the impact of existing interventions may be hard to realize within the current budget allocation. If ACP countries do not prioritise this area of activity as an area for Community support, the Commission, with only 25 million in the 2002 PDB as amended following the European Parliament's first reading, will find that it cannot make much progress in this area.

EU Aid Programming

  29.  BOND welcomes recent improvements in the programming of EU aid. The new Framework for Country Strategy Papers (CSPs) is an invaluable instrument for promoting greater coherence, or a better "policy mix", between external assistance and other EU policies (trade, CFSP, etc.) in a given country or region. The setting up of the inter-service Quality Support Group (iQSG) is also a positive development. Since its creation in September 2000, the iQSG has established guidelines for the development of CSPs and has launched a series of seminars for the relevant EC personnel. To date, the Group has made recommendations on 37 CSPs for ACP countries under the Cotonou Agreement, and for 12 countries in Asia, the Balkans, the Southern Mediterranean and the New Independent States. By the end of 2001, the iQSG is expected to present a thematic and qualitative analysis of all completed strategies making proposals for further improving the programming process.

  30.  However, despite the Commission's rhetoric on the inclusiveness of the new country strategies, reports from the South have shown that there was little or no civil society participation in the drawing up of the first CSPs. Furthermore, despite the alleged transparency of the process, NGOs have found it almost impossible to access information on CSPs. It appears that the strategies reviewed by the quality support group revealed a significant concentration in the areas of transport and macro-economic support. Given CSPs only allow for a maximum of two focus areas, these results are worrying. A way in which the EC may offset this, in order to deliver funding for a more comprehensive development strategy, is through the use of its thematic budget lines. Improved donor co-ordination on the ground, prioritised by the reform process, will also be of paramount importance. We ask the Select Committee to call on the EC for greater transparency in the drafting of CSPs, for the publication of final drafts, and to underline the importance of participation by civil society organisations in order for the programming exercise to be truly owned by poor people in beneficiary countries.


  31.  BOND welcomes the reduction in the number of Commissioners with responsibilities over development from four to two. This reorganisation has enhanced the coherence of development and humanitarian policy formulation. On paper, Poul Nielson, Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, is now responsible for the entire portfolio toward developing countries including the ACP, Asia, Latin America, Southern Africa and the Mediterranean. The External Relations DG's geographical remit largely overlaps with DG Development's, excluding ACP countries. EuropeAid is entirely responsible for implementing EC Development Policy although policy formulation and programming remain the responsibility of the DGs for Development and External Relations. EuropeAid, however, is not headed by Commissioner Nielson but by a Board of Commissioners chaired by Chris Patten and including Commissioners for Trade and Enlargement. Poul Nielson is also a member of the Board as EuropeAid's Chief Executive Officer. Although this set-up is an improvement from the previous arrangement on the SCR, which was under the aegis of DG External Relations, we believe that EuropeAid's governance structure still poses structural problems by blurring the political boundaries between DG Development and DG External Relations with regard to development policy formulation.

  32.  According to the Commission, the Commissioner for External Relations is responsible for developing the policy for EuropeAid whereas the Commissioner for Development is responsible for its implementation. It is unclear how these responsibilities reflect the Commissioners' political portfolios. NGOs have been increasingly concerned by the gradual reduction in size of DG Development, which now has less than 200 staff. DG External relations and EuropeAid together instead comprise well over 1000 officials. The dwarfing of DG Development has gone hand in hand with the loss of political clout by its Commissioner. International events over the past year have amply demonstrated that although Nielson is responsible for Development Policy, the responsibility for EU policy towards developing countries is firmly in the hands of Commissioner Patten. Despite the rhetoric, DG Development's responsibilities have been greatly diminished except for EU aid programming under the Cotonou Agreement. The deconcentration of authority to EC Delegations in-country will exacerbate this further.

  33.  In this context it is not unthinkable that a future Commission might deem a separate Directorate General for Development as superfluous. The Commission's internal auditors have recently prepared a report that criticises the Commission's current external relations structure and suggests that there should be three divisions in future: foreign policy, trade and development. It is an open question as to whether it is DG Development that goes or EuropeAid but it is very likely that one of the two of them will disappear. The disappearance of DG Development would seriously undermine the Community's approach to development co-operation, as set out in the Treaty of the Union, making aid policies susceptible to becoming mere instruments of foreign policy jeopardising the focus on poverty eradication.

  34.  The persistence by the EC in allocating funds to the near abroad is symptomatic of this. Looking at the top ten recipients of EC aid according to the DAC we see that not one is a least developed country, not one is in sub Saharan Africa and not one is in Asia. The Commission needs to address this imbalance urgently if it is to convince observers that its aid is not subject to shifting political priorities.

  35.  Another example is the new strategic framework for the European Union's relations with Asia over the next decade, recently formulated by DG External Relations. Sadly, despite the fact that the majority of the world's destitute people live in Asia, the strategy's main focus is on strengthening the EU's political and economic presence across the region. Poverty eradication is only one of six priority areas, not the overarching objective. Furthermore, in the light of recent international events and the EU's commitment to the fight against terror, NGOs fear that development objectives may once again be subordinated to political considerations and that aid may be allocated to Afghanistan and the surrounding region at the expense of other poor regions in the world.

  36.  BOND calls for this trend to be reversed and for political representatives and other Member States to ensure that a political entity charged with Development Policy formulation and implementation be maintained. Having a credible and well resourced DG Development acting as a political advocate within the Commission, will be essential to ensure that poverty eradication is maintained as the overarching objective of EC Development Policy. Without this strong independent voice, the EC's Development Policy is unlikely to have the political backing to make it a reality.

  37.  Despite the recognised effectiveness of EU Member States' bilateral aid programmes, particularly the UK's, we believe that a common European approach to development co-operation remains necessary given the EU's increasing clout as a Global Player. While foreign policy aims to defend and promote the EU's security, economic and commercial interests in the world, development policy must be based on the needs of the poorest countries.


  38.  In conclusion, BOND believes that the current reform offers a window of opportunity to improve the quality and effectiveness of EC external assistance in the long term. At present however, the impact on EC Development Policy implementation and formulation is quite mixed. Albeit, it is too early to reach any final conclusions on whether the reforms will eventually achieve their objectives. Nevertheless, BOND feels that it is absolutely crucial for NGOs, local beneficiaries and elected representatives to keep a close eye on the unfolding reform process. Despite the Commission's efforts to increase transparency and accountability, we feel that there is still work to be done in these areas within the framework of the reform. This inquiry should be part of an ongoing process of scrutiny by the UK Parliament to assess the EC's performance against its development objectives, with particular emphasis on poverty eradication. We look to the Select Committee to take on a "watchdog" role and exert political pressure on the Commission in order to make sure that it addresses its shortcomings.


  BOND recommends that the Select Committee:

  1.  Makes reference in its deliberations to the need for the highest quality and expertise of EuropeAid staff, particularly in the areas of gender, governance and participatory development.

  2.  Stresses the importance of the Annual Report on "The European Community's Development Policy" making reference to BOND's specific recommendations on the content of the Report.

  3.  Highlights the need for comprehensive and poverty-focused pre-posting training for officials relocating to deconcentrated Delegations.

  4.  Carefully monitors deconcentration in order to guarantee quality control allowing for the necessary adjustments to budgets and strategies to be made throughout the process.

  5.  Encourages the Commission to urgently address the continuing severe shortcomings in its relations with NGOs including speeding up EuropeAid's consideration of NGO proposals, as well as putting in place better feedback and consultation procedures.

  6.  Challenges the continuing of funding allocations away from the poorest countries and poverty-focused budget lines in the Community's Budget.

  7.  Gives careful consideration to the case for budgetisation of the EDF in its deliberations.

  8.  Encourages the Commission to comply with the output targets set by the European Parliament in the EU Budget for 2002.

  9.  Calls on the Commission to make aid programming more transparent, for the final drafts of Country Strategy Papers to be made readily available and to stress the importance of civil society participation in the programming process.

  10.  Explores the extent to which EC Development policy and practice continue to be influenced by the EU's security, economic and commercial interests at the expense of poverty eradication.

  11.  Requests the Commission to ensure that DG Development is adequately resourced and staffed in relation to DG External Relations and EuropeAid and, most importantly, that it is maintained in any future re-structuring of the Commission's services.

  12.  Takes on a watchdog role and exerts political pressure on the Commission in order to make sure that it addresses the shortcomings outlined in this submission.

British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND)

12 November 2001

1   The European Community's Development Policy-Statement by the Council and the Commission, November 2000. Back

2   Commission Staff Working Paper, The European Community's development policy: Programme of Action SEC (2001) 808, Brussels 21.5.2001. Back

3   Council Resolution no 12847/95 on Integrating of Gender Issues in Development Co-operation, 20.12.1995. Back

4   Reforming the Commission, A White Paper-April 2000. Back

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