For many of us working with the EU, September certainly feels like going “back to school” following an extended summer period when most EU institutions close down. But new European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker has been hard at work over the holidays putting together his “dream team” of European Commissioners, which he announced two weeks ago.

images (2)As the new term starts, here are our 5 “back-to-school essentials”, identifying the challenges and opportunities for the new Commission in making the EU’s development cooperation more transparent and accountable over the next 5 years.

1. There is an increasing number of EU transparency champions leading the way.

Traditionally the European Commission performs well in our Aid Transparency Index (ATI). The EC has rolled out implementation of the IATI Standard across its main aid-spending departments and has made significant efforts to improve the quality of its publication in 2014, so we would expect them to do even better this year.

The EC is part of an increasing number of EU “transparency champions” that are publishing large amounts of accessible, timely, comparable and comprehensive information about their development cooperation. In 2013 five Member States – the UK (DFID), Sweden (Sida), Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany – together with the EC received places in the top three categories (very good, good or fair) of the ATI. This year we will be looking to see how their performance will improve. As the consistently highest-ranking EU Member States, the UK and Sweden will be vying for the top slots in this years ATI, having led the way by making continuous efforts to improve the comprehensiveness and quality of their aid information.

In January 2014 France’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Development and French Development Agency started publishing to IATI for the first time and we know that Finland, Ireland and Spain all made significant improvements to the quality of their publication during the course of the year. This demonstrates that progress is possible within a relatively short time frame, if backed by political will.

2. The laggards are dragging down the EU’s collective performance

These important efforts are offset by the performance of the EU’s remaining 19 Member States, which were placed in the poor or very poor category in the 2013 ATI. These are a mix of older and newer EU Member States, with varying sizes of development cooperation budgets.

Unless those member countries which have not yet started publishing to IATI or which have not yet outlined any plans to do so, have made considerable progress in 2014, we anticipate that the gap between high and poor performers will only widen.

While implementation of regional or international commitments remains a national responsibility, the individual performances of European members has a clear impact on the EU’s collective ability to deliver on its promises. For EU development cooperation to be more transparent, agencies must disclose all information on development cooperation in a common standard format by 2015 so that it can be more easily accessed, shared and published.

As this deadline rapidly approaches, the EU as a whole risks lagging behind on its own commitment to full transparency by the end of 2015. The EC and EU Member States need to redouble their efforts and to collectively raise the level of ambition over the next 14 months. European members that are not publishing to IATI will need to prioritise this while others may need to improve the quality and sustainability of their publication.

3. Europeans are leading emerging best practice on publishing and using information on development cooperation

A number of European Member States are leading the way by launching open data platforms driven by IATI data, marking an important shift from publishing raw data to visualising it in a meaningful way for others. The UK’s Development Tracker and Sweden’s allows for the exploration of aid volumes, projects and results across different sectors, locations and time periods. The EU Aid Explorer presents information on global development and humanitarian aid flows as reported to various organisations. France’s Mali country portal shows its development cooperation activities at country level and will be extended to priority recipient countries by the end of the year. The Netherlands is leading best practice using their data for internal management purposes and linking budget information to open aid data. The EU needs to get better at sharing experience in publication and at learning from emerging best practice on data use in order to maximize the potential of these efforts.

4. 2015 will be an opportunity to champion transparency, accountability and open data for more sustainable development

2015 is the European Year of Development and will be crucial for EU international cooperation and development policy. The EC and EU Member States will be important players in negotiations on the post-2015 agenda as new goals and frameworks are developed and finalised. Working with all partners and stakeholders, the EU has an opportunity to place transparency and open data at the heart of a new transformative post-2015 agenda, ensuring that these discussions are informed by the Global Partnership’s experience on what makes development more effective.

5. Demand is growing for more open, participatory and accountable governance for EU citizens

This year’s European election results have demonstrated the extent of voter disaffection with Europe, with the EU and its institutions being perceived to be more distant from European voters than ever before. As the EU’s leadership looks to restore lost credibility, it should take note of recent calls from civil society networks and organisations worldwide to engage with the Open Government Partnership with a view towards eventual membership. This would be an opportunity to share best practice in open data and open government approaches and improve the participation, accountability and legitimacy of the institutions.

The European Parliament will have the final say in approving the new European Commissioners, who will be grilled in a series of parliamentary hearings over the coming weeks. Personalities may change, but the key challenges and opportunities for the new Commissioners remain the same.

Those needing to do their homework and learn more about the EU’s aid transparency performance this year would do well to take a look at our 2014 Aid Transparency Index – it’s out on 8th October.

Check out last year’s EU brief in the meantime.