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‘Agenda for Change’: Whose agenda? Change for whom?

Posted on 9 October 2013

Reality of Aid Secretariat October 9, 2013

The Agenda For Change, first unveiled in 2011 and approved in May 2012, will determine European Union (EU)’s development policy in the coming years. It is an attempt to improve EU poverty reduction efforts by making its development assistance “more strategic, targeted and results-oriented”. [i] “Impact” has become a buzzword among European development officials but issues that plague European development cooperation over the years call to question whether or not the new overseas aid policy can indeed bring about real transformation in the lives of the poor in Asia & the Pacific.
 
EU development cooperation in principle is guided by the Lisbon Treaty, which states that the Union’s development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the eradication of poverty. Policy coherence for development is also an explicit obligation within the treaty. [ii] EU also underlines that human rights, democracy and rule of law are fundamental underlying principles for each development agreement, along with environmental sustainability and gender equality. It has also affirmed through the Paris, Accra and Busan agreements its commitment to the principles of ownership, mutual accountability, removal of conditionality in aid and untying of aid, and the promotion of inclusive development partnerships which means the recognition of different and complementary roles of all actors, including the recognition of CSOs as development actors in their own right. 

It is important to critically examine whether the reality of EU development cooperation matches the fine image that its treaties and proclamations suggest. 

Fragmentation and proliferation of the EU aid architecture

The EU aid architecture is highly fragmented. The EU 27 member states each choose their own partner countries, priority sectors and levels of financial allocation in sovereign decisions. The European Commission (EC), in fact, is only the EU’s 28th provider, making it a donor in its own right. Many member states, and the Commission, maintain several different aid agencies or financing mechanisms – each agency has its own regulations and guidelines, attach their own conditions to aid, and conduct their own monitoring and evaluation exercises.
 
This fragmentation and proliferation of the EU aid architecture has severe implications for both parties involved in development cooperation. For EU donors it means they have to invest time and money in cumbersome coordination, or the result will be waste from unnecessary duplication. The EU’s partner countries in turn have to negotiate with all these donors separately, receiving and entertaining their missions and writing progress reports, to mention just a few of the tasks this entails. The bureaucracy distracts from the core work of administering the country and providing public services for the citizens, and involves high costs in poor countries, which often lack capacity or resources. [iii]
 
Failure to meet aid commitments
 
In 1970, the UN general assembly agreed that "economically advanced countries" should make efforts to provide 0.7% of gross national income as official development assistance (ODA). The initial idea was that donors should achieve this target by the mid-1970s, but most EU member states have not reached the figure.
 
Especially at
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