Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by UK Platform, EC NGO Network/British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND)


  1.  The UK Platform of the EC-NGO Network is an organisation of c.110 UK development and humanitarian Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) which are engaged with the development and humanitarian policy and practice of the European Union. The UK Platform works with the EU-wide Liaison Committee of Development NGOs (LC/CLONG), which provides a central forum for liaison and consultation between European development NGOs and the institutions of the European Union. The UK Platform seeks to promote policies and procedures which address the practical needs of member NGOs and their Southern partners, and enable the EU to play an improved role in global development. A full membership list is attached.[2]

  2.  The UK Platform has recently merged with British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND), the main umbrella organisation for UK NGOs. This is expected to provide a stronger voice for UK NGOs to engage with UK and EU development policy-makers in a coherent way, and to ensure that the views of development NGOs are more fully represented.


  3.  The UK Platform welcomes the opportunity provided by the International Development Committee inquiry to comment on the EC Development Policy Statement and the Reform of the Management of EC External Assistance. We believe that both initiatives have the potential to radically improve the significant problems affecting European Commission development policy and implementation.

  4.  The UK Platform believes that the EC, which is the world's second largest multilateral donor, spending £3.3 billion a year on official development assistance, has enormous strengths and the potential to play a leading role in global efforts to eradicate poverty. Given its founding principles, and its commitment to democracy and human rights, the EU has a special and valuable role to play in promoting sustainable and equitable social, economic and political development.

  5.  Sadly, this potential has not been realised. The share of EC official development assistance going to Less Developed Countries (LDCs) fell from 75 per cent in 1986 to 51 per cent in 1997, as political considerations have impinged on developmental priorities. This has been exacerbated by a proliferation of external assistance instruments and budget lines, and the absence of a single coherent development policy.

  6.  The lack of an explicit statement explaining what the EC is seeking to achieve in its development policy has made it impossible to assess whether it is meeting its objectives. This is exacerbated by a lack of consistent monitoring and evaluation of the impact of EC aid, and can lead to sweeping criticisms of Commission practice which are not always rooted in objective analysis. Reform of Commission development policy, programmes, and mechanisms must be based on an objective assessment of existing Commission practice.

  7.  The Commission's development policy should be rooted in the Amsterdam Treaty, which states that European Community development co-operation shall foster: "the sustainable economic and social development of the developing countries", the campaign against poverty, the "smooth and gradual integration" of developing countries into the global economy, and shall contribute to the general objectives of "developing and consolidating democracy and the rule of law, and to that of respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms". It should also be based on the international agreements made in Rio, Vienna, Cairo, Copenhagen, Beijing, Istanbul and Rome.

  8.  Both the Development Policy Statement and the Reform of the Management of External Assistance proposals are admirably frank in their admission of the problems which have led to the Commission's under-performance, many of which have been previously identified by Member States, NGOs, and others. However, not all the recommendations for the future of EC developmental co-operation logically arise from these criticisms, nor from the primary objective of poverty eradication. Specific criticisms and recommendations in this regard follow in the next section of the memorandum.

  9.  The reform process must be transparent and open to all stakeholders. NGOs have been critical of the lack of consultation with Southern governments and civil society organisations, and hope that the Commission will allow sufficient time for such consultation to take place.

  10.  Member States need to recognise the opportunity for reform, and work with those in the Commission seeking to take the reform process forward. Commission reform will require substantial investment in improving the quality of systems and staffing. The Department for International Development (DFID) has a great deal of expertise and experience to contribute in this area.



  11.  The production of a single statement of European Commission Development Policy is an initiative which is warmly welcomed by the UK NGO community. The EU has committed itself to poverty reduction, and therefore needs to take action in development co-operation and trade and foreign policy which will support that commitment. This Policy has the potential to provide the framework necessary for the EC to play a leading role in the eradication of global poverty. However, the Development Policy Statement does not propose a convincing, coherent, or comprehensive policy and strategy to meet this commitment. UK NGOs believe that considerable revision is necessary for the Statement to provide the basis for a strategy which could be effectively implemented and would meet stated EU commitments.

Status and timing

  12.  The production of an overall EC Development Policy is well-timed, coinciding as it does with the growing international consensus around the International Development Targets (IDTs) and the coordination of global development assistance. However, the current paper does not meet the aim of an "integrated and strategic statement on development policy" agreed at the EU Development Council of May 1999. The Council requested an "overall profile" of the EC's development co-operation, "a general framework for prioritising objectives, policies and fields of action", which contributes to "increased complementarity" between the Community and Member States, and "ensures total coherence between development co-operation and the common foreign and security policy as well as external economic policy".

  13.  If the document is designed to frame a strategy, several elements are clearly missing: specific objectives, activities to achieve them, targets and indicators to measure the impact, the role of the players and clarification of the responsibilities and finally, an Action Plan.


  14.  The Statement fails to set out a clear vision of the state of global development, and this inevitably weakens the analysis of the EC's specific role in addressing the issues. It surveys a range of trends in development thinking without drawing clear conclusions or developing a clear link between the identified problems, and the consequent need for actions to address them. It fails to fully develop an analysis of a rights-based approach to development based on international agreements.

  15.  It also fails to build successfully on, or adequately refer to, the new EU/ACP partnership agreement, which in many respects has provided a more coherent basis for EU development policy than that put forward in the Statement.


  16.  UK NGOs welcome the adoption of poverty eradication as a central objective of EU development policy. It should be noted, however, that the statement fluctuates between poverty eradication, poverty reduction, and combating poverty, each of which have different practical meanings.

  17.  The analysis of the differential impact of poverty (in different countries, and on different groups, eg women) is weak, and there is almost no explanation of the causes of poverty. The Statement puts forward "three ways of enhancing and measuring the poverty focus of Community aid" (section 3.1.3), but their various merits are not analysed in a way which could be used to guide the allocation of resources.

  18.  The commitment to poverty eradication is undermined by a series of caveats and "escape clauses", which raise further doubts about the implementation of this objective. In particular, the phrase "Improving the primary poverty focus is clearly limited by the setting of the political priorities and the consequences for the distribution of the financial resources to the regions" is unacceptable. Poverty eradication should be addressed by, not balanced against, the EC's external relations with the rest of the world.

  19.  The emphasis on the integration of developing countries into the world economy is problematic. Developing countries are already integrated into the global economy (through the supply of raw products, migrant workers, Export Processing Zones, etc) but on highly unequal terms. In order to promote economic development which truly addresses poverty, the terms of this engagement need to be made more equitable.

Development and Trade—Coherence

  20.  NGOs welcome the explicit link between development and trade policies and the need for consistency and coherence. However, the central need for coherence between development and trade policies is again undermined by caveats—the EU is obliged to "check that the objectives of its development policy are taken into account when the implementation of other policies are likely to affect developing countries" (section 2.2.2). It is not clear how the EU's declared commitment to policy coherence will be implemented in practice. Unless this is spelt out, there is nothing to prevent political and other priorities overriding development considerations whenever the two are perceived to be in conflict. The "check-list" approach to coherence will not ensure that EU and global trade policies do not undermine development efforts—rather, development objectives should be central to Commission trade policies, and mechanisms should be put in place to ensure this.

  21.  No analysis is provided of how the EU will ensure that the WTO and IMF are more open and responsive to the needs of LDCs and low income countries (LICs).

Priority activities

  22.  We welcome the statement (section 4.3) that "the [priority] areas chosen must contribute to the objective of poverty eradication". The recent introduction of an additional sector (capacity-building, good governance, and the rule of law) is welcome. However, the fact remains that the priority fields do not seem to flow logically from the central objectives proposed by the Commission. Their expected impact on poverty is not explained, and no implementation strategy is proposed. This creates a suspicion that these areas have been selected because they are existing Commission competencies, rather than for their ability to truly address poverty. NGOs question whether the recommendation that this "sectoral concentration should be fully reflected in Community programmes within a time span of four years" can be practically implemented.

Cross-cutting issues

  23.  Cross-cutting principles (such as the mainstreaming of gender policies) are mentioned, but no proposals are given as to how this will occur. The statement on gender equality does not reflect the Commission's own gender policy. The IDC's own valuable inquiry into "Women and Development" provides useful recommendations in this regard.

Civil society participation

  24.  The commitment to involve civil society actors in the design and implementation of development policy is to be welcomed, and reflects the proposals to increase the participation of civil society in the new EU-ACP Agreement. However, the heterogeneous nature of civil society is not properly examined, nor are the different roles of civil society in Europe and in the South, and of different actors (Churches, NGOs, trades unions, women's associations, etc).


  25.  The relationship between the Policy and other Commission initiatives, such as the Reform White Paper, is spelt out clearly, and a significant improvement on the original version of the Statement. The proposals for the reform of the Common Service for External Relations (SCR) should also help implementation. The Commission has developed a clear analysis of some of the major problems affecting implementation (section 2.3).

  26.  However, the overall capacity of the Commission to implement the policy remains questionable, and is not addressed by the Statement. Although decentralisation of decision-making to Delegations is welcome in theory, the weakness of these institutions, and their lack of relations with civil society in their respective countries, make this problematic.

  27.   UK NGOs call for the production of a time-limited Action Plan, which sets out specific objectives, targets and goals, and clear lines of responsibility (between the Commission and Member States, and different sections of the Commission), against which the implementation of the Policy can be measured.


Problem identification

  28.  The UK Platform of the EC-NGO Network welcomes the fact that the Commission has recognised the critical problems affecting the implementation of EC Development Assistance, and has taken this step to tackle the major difficulties in the organisation of its services. Many of the problems identified reflect longstanding criticisms made by NGOs and other civil society organisations.

  29.  However, the paper is in some respects unduly sweeping in its criticism of the Commission's performance. Whilst the administration of aid is not always effective, there are nevertheless excellent examples of EC aid implementation, eg the HIV/AIDS and reproductive health awareness programme in southern Africa. Where the Commission employs expert, qualified and innovative staff, quality programmes tend to result. The sharing of lessons learned from these aspects of EC development cooperation should therefore be encouraged. It is also important that reform is based on a rational analysis of current practice, both good and bad. The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) evaluation of EU Aid, and the global evaluations of ACP, ALA and MED development assistance, are important evidence in this area.


  30.  The reform proposals claim to cover all aspects of EC external assistance, yet there is an overwhelming emphasis on the political aspects of this, and very little mention of development objectives. For example, it is noted (pg.8) that "In external relations the key objective is to ensure a stable and enlarged Europe with a stronger voice in the world". There is no reference to the Amsterdam Treaty's primary objectives of combating poverty, and fostering support to the world's most disadvantaged countries, which should be equally important objectives for these reforms to address. There is no mention of poverty at all, nor the Commission's objective of tackling the International Development Targets. The reform proposals are therefore not immediately coherent with the Development Policy Statement, which raises concerns about the implementation of both initiatives.

  31.  EC Development Cooperation should be implemented without the influence of political considerations. It should therefore be made clear that all development cooperation functions are now clearly located in DG Development and the new External Relations Common Service (SCR), with none remaining in DG RELEX.


  32.  The grouping of all the relevant development cooperation and humanitarian aid services under the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, should enable more effective implementation of the relief—rehabilitation—development continuum.

  33.  At present, the division of responsibilities between DG DEV and SCR breaks the cycle of project assessment and implementation, and hampers the Commission's capacity to oversee and implement development projects. Proposals to reintegrate the project cycle should allow for more efficient aid programmes and projects. However, we have concerns about the lack of clarity in the proposals about the precise relationship between DG Development and the reformed External Relations Service (SCR), and what this implies for the link between policy, programming and implementation. Shifting the divide to another point in the process may improve some aspects of aid delivery but it also carries the serious risk that other links are weakened. This will need to be closely monitored.

  34.  The proposals are based on an exclusively project-based approach. Many donors are shifting towards budgetary support for particular sectors, eg DFID's support of the Ugandan Government's strategy to develop basic education. Such an approach places the partner government at the centre of policy development, and reduces the need for Commission staff. The EC should learn from good practice in Member States and elsewhere in this area.

  35.  The decision to de-concentrate and decentralise decision-making and administration, and in doing so to reinforce the authority and flexibility of operation of EU Delegations in aid administration, is to be welcomed. Significant questions remain regarding the capacity of Delegations, in particular their ability to adequately engage with a wide range of development actors in their respective countries, particularly with civil society organisations. Delegations will need to be significantly strengthened, and their approach made much more inclusive and transparent, in order to fulfil this role effectively.

  36.  NGOs welcome the proposed shift away from the use of Technical Assistance Offices (TAOs), which have generally proved expensive and inefficient, towards more decentralised solutions. Such reforms will nevertheless need to ensure that political and policy oversight of all Commission external assistance is maintained in Brussels, to maintain coherence with overall development policy.


  37.  NGOs welcome the emphasis placed on the critical problem of understaffing in the Commission's External Relations operations. Without significant investment in improving the quality and quantity of appropriate staffing, no amount of reorganisation will be sufficient to resolve the existing problems.

  38.  The proposals make no reference to the type of staff required, although this will be crucial to the effective implementation of the proposed reforms. This strengthening needs to provide Delegations with the appropriate staff required—not more bureaucrats, but instead social development advisors with skills in participatory development, able to develop gender-sensitive programmes in co-ordination with Southern governments, IFIs, other donors, NGOs, and civil society organisations.

EC-NGO Relations

  39.  We welcome the principle of reintegrating the administration of budget lines for NGOs in one Unit. However, we believe NGOs have a great deal to contribute to wider EC policy dialogue and project implementation, and this proposal should not lead to NGOs being excluded from dialogue and communication with the rest of the Commission.

  40.  We view with concern that no decision has yet been taken on the organisation of services with regard to NGOs. A prolonged period of indecision is very likely to have serious negative repercussions for NGO-Commission co-operation.


  41.  Although reform in some areas is urgent, the Commission must ensure that proper consultation takes place on the reform proposals, which will have a far-reaching impact. It should allow more time for stakeholders such as Southern governments and civil society organisations to be consulted.

UK Platform, EC NGO Network/British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND)

June 2000

2   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 8 August 2000