EU Report



Regarding operationalisation of its WGA, the EU’s current external financing instruments, as established under the 2014–2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF), have struggled to provide enough coherence and flexibility in responding to today’s quickly shifting contexts. In the face of mounting instability in the neighbourhood (and beyond) and a sharp increase in refugee flows and migration, the key finding of a mid-term self-assessment by the Commission was the need for “more strategic and overarching programming” and “coherent interactions at operational level in the renewed international context” (EC 2017b: 2). The need for flexibility and the problem of silo approaches similarly figure in a ‘Coherence Report’ from external evaluators (EC 2017a) and the European Parliament’s implementation assessment (EPRS 2018).
In an effort to address these recommendations, the Commission has come up with a new and bold proposal for future spending on issues relating to the neighbourhood, development and international cooperation (EC 2018a). By merging the 11 existing instruments (cf. Debuysere and Blockmans 2019b: Table 2) into one financial instrument, the so-called Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) put forward in the Commission’s proposal seeks to increase simplification, coherence, responsiveness and strategic direction in EU external action.
The proposed NDICI consists of four components (EC 2018a). First, the geographic pillar, which takes up the biggest chunk of the NDICI budget (76%), ring-fences money for dialogue and cooperation with third countries in, for example, the neighbourhood and sub-Saharan Africa. The thematic pillar (8% of the budget) includes programmes for human rights, civil society organisations, and stability and peace. While the rapid response pillar (5%) aims at effectively responding to situations of crisis and instability, the additional emergency cushion (11%) is a flexible budget to account for emerging challenges and priorities.
An underexposed angle in the existing body of commentary on the NDICI is how the proposed instrument relates to the EU’s commitment to an ‘integrated approach to conflict and crisis’ (EEAS 2016: 9). Pooled funding and joint financial instruments can be seen as a way to facilitate the implementation of this kind of integrated approach.
While the preamble of the Commission proposal (EC 2018a) outlines a commitment to the five priorities enshrined in the Global Strategy, the proposal does not mention the integrated approach explicitly. References are made, however, to “a more geographically and thematically comprehensive approach” by tackling policies in a “trans-regional, multi-sectoral and global way” with a goal of breaking down silos (EC 2018a: 9–10). But in what ways does the NDICI regulation actually live up to facilitating a multi-dimensional, -level, -lateral and -phased approach to conflict and crisis?
According to the Global Strategy, the integrated approach is multi-dimensional in that it draws on “all available policies and instruments aimed at conflict prevention, management and resolution” (ibid.: 28), and that it brings together diplomatic engagement, CSDP missions and operations, development cooperation and humanitarian assistance.
Merging financial assistance for neighbourhood, development and international cooperation agendas under the NDICI should facilitate the financial implementation of a multi-dimensional approach to crises. However, one wonders how ‘integrated’ the NDICI actually is given that the budgets for, say, the ‘neighbourhood’ (under its geographic pillar) or ‘stability and peace’ (under its thematic pillar) remain ring-fenced.
Moreover, the NDICI proposal does not cover all dimensions of EU external action spending. For one, CSDP operations and military capacity-building for CFSP objectives cannot be included under the EU budget (and, hence, under the NDICI) due to limitations enshrined in the EU Treaty. Similarly, humanitarian aid resides outside the NDICI’s scope in compliance with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. Sufficient coordination among the NDICI, the ECHO budget (including the EU’s Emergency Aid Reserve), and different types of security funding will therefore be key.
In fact, four different security-related instruments and funds are currently on the table for the 2021–2027 period: the NDICI, the CFSP budget, the European Peace Facility and the European Defence Fund. While the NDICI and the CFSP budget mainly seek to finance soft security needs, the proposed European Peace Facility (HRVP 2018) caters to CSDP operations with military and defence objectives and the European Defence Fund (EC 2018b) aims to encourage the development and operationalisation of joint defence capabilities among member states (Blockmans 2018). The envisaged split between the NDICI and other funds will continue to hamper the type of ‘civ-mil’ coordination that a truly integrated, nimble and effective approach to external conflict and crisis requires.
According to the Global Strategy, the integrated approach is multi-level in that it acts to address the complexity of conflicts “at the local, national, regional and global levels” (EEAS 2016: 29).
The NDICI proposal seeks to improve coherence between geographic and thematic interventions by transferring most (global) thematic actions into (country- or region-based) geographic programmes. Despite the intention to shrink thematic programming, clarifications will be needed about how coherence will be achieved between peace and security interventions financed under bilateral and regional envelopes, on the one hand, and those facilitated by the Stability and Peace thematic programme, on the other.
Moreover, while it makes sense to invest more in geographic programmes, given that these are closer to home (neighbourhood and Africa) and tailor-made, such an approach raises concerns about support for local-level actors. Since geographic programming and implementation take place via bilateral or regional cooperation, national governments and public authorities will have to endorse the decentralisation of allocations to, for example, authorities, councils or civil society organisations at the local level. In countries mired in conflict, repression and authoritarianism, this approach may prevent some local-level actors from having guaranteed access to EU support under the geographic pillar.
According to the Global Strategy, the integrated approach is multi-lateral in that it engages all players “present in a conflict and necessary for its resolution” and aims to partner “more systematically on the ground with regional and international organisations, bilateral donors and civil society” to achieve sustainable peace “through comprehensive agreements rooted in broad, deep and durable regional and international partnerships” (EEAS 2016: 29).
Generally speaking, the NDICI regulation outlines that programming should take place in cooperation with partner countries or regions, and preferably through joint programming with EU member states. Joint programming with other donors and consultation with representatives of civil society and local authorities shall take place “where relevant” (EC 2018a: 33). More specifically, when drawing up programming documents with partner countries and regions afflicted by conflict and crisis, the proposal (ibid.: 34) stipulates that “due account shall be taken of the special needs and circumstances of the countries or regions concerned”, and that “special emphasis shall be placed on stepping up coordination amongst all relevant actors to help the transition from an emergency situation to the development phase.”
The proposal remains vague, however, as to with whom and how financial coordination will be consolidated in conflict zones. For example, there is no explicit mention of joint programming or co-financing with the UN even though the latter is the EU’s core strategic partner in the field of conflict prevention and peacebuilding (Debuysere and Blockmans 2019a).
Vagueness about “effective multilateralism” also predominates at an inter- and intra-institutional EU level. A truly integrated approach to conflict and crisis will require increased coordination both within the Commission (e.g. in the Commissioners’ Group on External Action) (Blockmans and Russack 2015), the Council (among all relevant working parties) and the Parliament (between the AFET and DEVE committees, in particular), as well as among these institutions. However, at one point in the process, attempts to move the management of external financing instruments (e.g. the NDICI) from different line DGs and the FPI service (co-located in the EEAS) to DG DEVCO were interpreted as signalling an intended concentration of power of the purse, which is anathema to the philosophy of multilateralism within the EU’s own apparatus.
According to the Global Strategy, the integrated approach is multi-phased in that it allows the EU to act “at all stages of the conflict cycle, acting promptly on prevention, responding responsibly and decisively to crises, investing in stabilisation, and avoiding premature disengagement when a new crisis erupts” (EEAS 2016: 9–10).
Under its different pillars, the NDICI provides financial assistance for all phases of the conflict cycle. However, given that the NDICI is to be employed in a flexible manner in line with policy priorities, some phases of the conflict cycle risk being gradually overlooked in favour of quick responses to unforeseeable challenges and crises. As such, short-term foreign policy interests (e.g. stopping migration flows) may trump longer-term preventive approaches to conflict. Further clarification regarding the flexible short-, medium- and long-term deployment and impact of, in particular, the rapid response pillar and the emergency cushion is therefore imperative.
At the intersection of a multi-lateral and -phased approach to conflict and crisis lies a difficult balancing act of reconciling complex ‘multi-lateral’ coordination with the need for responsive crisis intervention. While the rapid response pillar and the emergency cushion do not require time-consuming programming, clarification is needed on how swift coordination among key EU players (e.g. DG DEVCO, DG NEAR and the EU delegations) and non-EU players (e.g. the UN, NATO and the OSCE) will take place under these two envelopes in order to avoid increasing delays in responding appropriately and decisively to crisis situations.
In short, looking at it from the angle of an integrated approach to conflict and crisis, there lies a paradox at the heart of the current NDICI proposal. On the one hand, by streamlining all instruments into a single flexible instrument, there is a risk that certain conflict dimensions, levels or phases will outweigh others, such as if there is political pressure to serve the EU’s direct internal and external interests. As such, a joint instrument risks undermining a truly holistic approach.
On the other hand, however, an integrated financial approach would likewise be undermined if the solution to this problem is to install excessive ring-fencing within the NDICI, thereby nullifying the philosophy of integration in the process. A difficult balance between merging instruments and preserving comprehensive action needs to be struck if the NDICI is to facilitate a genuine, rather than a merely cosmetic, integrated approach to conflict and crisis. Indeed, simplification is the hardest thing to do.
Yet despite the fact that the NDICI embodies the rationale of an integrated approach, the instrument may well be pulled apart by the future European Development Fund and the European Neighbourhood Instrument owing to a political decision late in the process. If so, this would indicate that, despite commitments and logic, more specialist interests sometimes run counter (and powerfully so) to achieving integrated action.
Furthermore, there are a number of other instruments and procedures that seek to facilitate an IA. For example, the ‘Concepts, Knowledge Management and Training’ division of the new Dir. ISP (ISP.1) seeks to boost a process of lessons learned. What is new about this procedure is that it will try to look at the EU’s overall performance in a conflict zone. Rather than learning lessons about a certain aspect of EU intervention – as currently conducted by, e.g., DEVCO for development and the FPI service for financial instruments in external action – Dir. ISP.1 hopes to set up lessons learned processes in an integrated manner (interview EEAS, May 2019).
If it succeeds, this form of knowledge management will help to set up feedback loops, as the lessons learned will be used to impact the planning and training activities of Dir. ISP itself. However, it remains to be seen whether ISP.1 will manage to implement this kind of more integrated lessons learned procedure about the EU’s overall performance. The fact is that ISP.1 lacks sufficient staff to execute this process properly, and that conducting these types of assessments may also not be appreciated across the board, as they are likely to identify structural failures (interview EEAS, May 2019).
For the next legislature, the EU is seeking to step up its own ‘joint programming’ in development cooperation, which means the joint planning, analysis and response efforts (in short, a joint strategy) by all relevant EU partners. While still under negotiation, development programming in the next MFF is supposed to happen in an even more integrated manner involving DG DEVCO, DG ECHO, the EEAS and the member states (interview DG DEVCO, April 2019). Indeed, there is an increased focus on joint programming with the EU member states in the Commission proposal on a new jumbo instrument for external action (EC 2018a; cf. supra).
Important for a successful IA is to enhance information- and analysis-sharing among the various actors involved in crisis response in order to facilitate the implementation of a joint conflict response. The first implementation report of the IA, which has since been issued on an annual basis, outlines that the EU institutions are improving shared conflict analysis with member states and other stakeholders (EEAS 2017). The work being done by Dir. ISP to foster a shared understanding and analysis of a given conflict is particularly appreciated by various Commission DGs (interview DG ECHO, May 2019). They believe that different actors can provide different perspectives on a conflict or crisis with, for example, DG DEVCO (which often operates in the capital) and DG ECHO (which also operates outside the capital) providing complementary analysis.
Furthermore, human resources (HR) do not necessarily facilitate or reflect the importance of an IA to external conflicts and crises. In fact, a widespread sentiment within the institutions is that in order to write policy at the EU level, one needs to work together by default. In this sense, an IA is inevitable and an HR policy is not the core driver behind cooperation or coordination among services (interview EEAS, April 2019). Nonetheless, some interviewees have identified HR as one realm in which there is major scope for improvement in the belief that fostering incentives could enhance the services’ performance in working in an integrated manner.
Political leadership is also key when trying to implement an IA. There has been massive improvement in inter-institutional coordination in the last six years. One key factor behind this has been the leadership shown by Commission President Juncker and HRVP Mogherini (Interview EC SecGen, May 2019). In contrast to their respective predecessors, José Manuel Barroso and Catherine Ashton, who were reluctant to work in an integrated manner, Juncker and Mogherini have facilitated and encouraged inter-institutional cooperation. In a similar vein, one expects HRVP Josep Borrell and European Council President Charles Michel to cooperate better than their predecessors. After all, heads of state or government play an important role in foreign affairs, especially when acting in crisis mode in the European Council. Since the staff of the European Council’s president is spread too thinly, it requires the preparatory support of the EEAS.
Furthermore, leadership at bureaucratic levels can also facilitate an IA. For one thing, having heads of units and DGs rotate among different services and institutions can help to foster better inter- and intra-service cooperation. For example, when DG DEVCO got a new DG who had previously worked at the EEAS, he managed to push for more and better cooperation with the EEAS (Interview DG DEVCO, April 2019). Similarly, effective rotation between the EEAS and its stakeholders – especially the member states – will be key to a better functioning of the EEAS as well as the success of the IA.
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