Transparency as a foundation for effective development in the EU Budget

The Publish What You Fund team presented the findings of the 2012 Aid Transparency Index to the European Parliament in Brussels last week.

The European Union’s budget negotiations are currently the hot topic in Europe, as EU leaders will be meeting this week for an extraordinary summit to focus on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the EU’s 2014-2020 budget. So our joint event with ONE, hosted by British MEP Fiona Hall, couldn’t have come at a better time.

To a crowded room, attended by around 50 representatives from the EU institutions, African representatives, EU governments and civil society, we presented the main findings of our 2012 Aid Transparency Index within the European context, outlined below.

ONE Brussels Director Eloise Todd talked about their Lifesaver campaign and the crucial need to protect EU funds for the fight against extreme poverty under the European Development Fund and Heading 4 of the EU budget that are under serious threat of cuts by Member States.

Ironically, the performance of EU Member States in the Index is very disappointing. European Member States on average underperform, lagging behind other non-EU bilaterals surveyed in the Index. Just over 70% of EU Member States have “poor” or “very poor” aid transparency (compared with 40% of non-EU bi-laterals).

Our first recommendation from the Index is that the EU needs to keep up the momentum on aid transparency and start making progress on implementation. All European Member States should publish ambitious implementation schedules, by the end of this year and at least start publishing to IATI in 2013. CONCORD’s AidWatch will be presenting a Special report on the post-Busan development effectiveness agenda in Brussels next week, assessing EU progress in implementing the commitments made at Busan and with a special focus on transparency and joint programming.

It is great to see the significant improvement made by the European Commission in the Index this year, with a massive 18 percentage point increase, ranking 5th out of 72 donors. At our meeting with Commissioner Piebalgs, he re-iterated his personal commitment to the IATI Standard, echoing his recent public statement and emphasized that DEVCO will do all it can to knock the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) off the top spot next year!

While DG Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid (DEVCO) is clearly the EC’s main implementing agency, responsible for managing the majority of all EU development assistance, the Commissioner agreed that it is now time for other EC departments managing the EU’s external assistance budget to follow suit in improving the transparency of their assistance. This was our second recommendation at the Parliamentary hearing, so we were pleased to hear that there are plans for an Inter-service Working Group within the Commission to share experience and lessons learnt, building on DEVCO’s successful IATI implementation.

We also had constructive meetings with senior officials in DG Enlargement and the new Foreign Policy Instruments Service who reaffirmed their commitment to improved transparency. DG Enlargement announced that they will be publishing an implementation schedule by the end of this year, in accordance with donors’ Busan commitments on aid transparency.

Finally, back to the EU budget and our final recommendation. While negotiations are currently focusing on agreeing the overall amounts for budget headings, it is important to remember that EU decision-makers will also be deciding on the financial instruments governing the implementation of the EU budget.

There are a number of ongoing and future processes which present an ideal opportunity to ensure that international commitments on aid transparency are enshrined in the EU’s legislative and financial frameworks: for example, the negotiations around the EU Budget/MFF and the 11th European Development Fund, consultations around the European Investment Bank’s next External Lending Mandate (2014-2020) and a possible revision of ECHO’s Humanitarian Aid Regulation during the Irish presidency. We hope MEPs will act on this recommendation and take forward our suggestion to ask Commissioners and EU Member States to report back on their IATI implementation during the course of 2013.

While it’s worth noting that the Index is not a measure of aid quality, it is hard to have a debate about the effectiveness of a donor’s aid without detailed and timely information on their spending in a comparable format. We certainly think that as more donors continue to publish information to the IATI standard, it will be easier for all stakeholders, including the European Parliament and national parliaments, to hold their institutions and governments to account.

As our Eurostar rattled across the channel, leaving Belgium behind, we learnt that the Belgian government has just signed up to IATI – a good omen for the future and for Europe?



Liz Steele

Liz is the EU Representative for Publish What You Fund. You can reach her at
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