A data revolution for development – will the EU be left out in the cold?

This week the European Commission is hosting its annual European Development Days in Brussels on 26-27 November.

The forum aims to bring together development stakeholders from Europe and around the world to promote greater effectiveness in development cooperation efforts – this year’s focus is on the Post-2015 agenda.

2013 has been a ground breaking year for our campaign on aid transparency. Transparency is now recognised as a key pillar for development – a necessary condition to enable effectiveness, accountability and social change. At the G8 summit, some of the largest and most influential providers of development assistance reaffirmed their commitment to aid transparency. The High Level Panel report on the post-2015 development agenda called for a “data revolution” placing transparency and accountability at the heart of this new framework.

The EU as a block has been sadly reticent on this issue. The February 2013 Communication A Decent Life for All and the ensuing Council Conclusions, highlight a number of key building blocks for a post-2015 agenda. Tucked away at the end of the document the European Council tentatively agrees that “The new framework should reflect the existing commitments to improve aid and development effectiveness agreed at the High Level Forums in Rome, Paris, Accra and Busan”.

On this point we would concur; regardless of WHAT should (or should not) be included in the post-2015 agenda, it’s clear that the creation of any new framework should be informed by the “HOW” – how resources can be best managed for development to be more effective. Providing open data on development has the power to reduce corruption, improve decision-making and allocation of resources, empower citizens and support good governance, all prerequisites for creating local ownership and responsibility and ultimately, successful poverty reduction.

For open data on development to be useful, we know that it needs to be shared in a timely, comprehensive, comparable and accessible way. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) remains the only common standard for publishing current information on aid in a way which is meaningful.

This means that the EU’s credibility and reliability as a global actor (and the world’s largest aid provider) will be determined by what it can bring to the MDG table and the extent to which it can demonstrate that it has delivered on the commitments made back in Busan in 2011.

From an aid transparency perspective the signs aren’t good. Our 2013 Aid Transparency Index (ATI) shows that the EU’s performance as a whole is disappointing. While the European Commission (EC) and a few major EU governments have made significant improvements, the majority of Member States have made no or little discernible progress in making their aid more transparent.

The European Commission has upped its game this year and made significant progress. While work must continue to improve data quality and coverage, the EC should be congratulated for successfully rolling-out its IATI implementation across all its main aid-spending departments. No doubt this has come at the right time, with MEPs recently approving the EU’s budget for the next 7 years.

If we examine EU Member States’ results more carefully, there is a break away group of European governments demonstrating real political will and ambition to make their aid more transparent. The UK and Sweden are leading the pack, ranked 3rd and 9th respectively, and followed by Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, which are all placed in the fair category.

This leaves the majority of the EU lagging behind in the poor or very poor categories. As the EU’s 3rd largest aid provider, France’s performance is most worrying, which is why we will be closely following the government’s recent announcement that it will begin IATI implementation in 2014 for priority countries. Italy is also in the EU’s top 10 aid providers and yet scores below 10% together with Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta and Greece. Finland and Spain could do so much better if they simply published their IATI information more frequently.

Some newer EU Member States with smaller development cooperation budgets – Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia – have started publishing information on their aid activities in machine-readable formats including CSV or Excel. The new EC project on ODA reporting provides the EU-13 with a real opportunity to build IATI into the software and systems that are being developed.

Those that are not publishing to IATI or are only publishing historic data are off-track to meet their aid transparency commitments for full-implementation by the end of 2015. This means they will need to work hard over the coming year to catch up. This is particularly relevant as the EU begins preparations to agree a common position for the first High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in April 2014.

A lack of progress across the board not only jeopardises the ability of the EU as a whole to deliver on its commitment to full aid transparency by the end of 2015 but also puts into question the EU’s ability to position itself internationally as a major donor block. If EU Member States are not willing to “open their books” to allow European citizens to follow the money how can they expect others to do the same?

As European Development Ministers meet in Brussels in December to discuss the 2013 Accountability Report and progress on aid quantity and aid quality commitments, the message is clear. The EU needs to seize the opportunity to be part of this data revolution for development and accelerate its efforts.

European Member States that have not already done so should begin publishing to IATI in early 2014 or risk being left out in the cold.

Liz Steele

Liz is the EU Representative for Publish What You Fund. You can reach her at liz.steele@publishwhatyoufund.org.
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