Putting the trust in trust funds: What has the EU achieved so far?
This blog was co-authored by Elise Dufief and Rupert Simons. We would like to thank Andy Lulham for research support and Niels Keijzer from the German Development Institute for comments on an earlier draft.
It is now two years since the European Union (EU) set up the ‘EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa’ (Emergency Trust Fund), worth €3.2 billion. The fund was conceived at the height of the refugee crisis with the objective of tackling the ‘root causes of destabilisation, displacement and irregular migration’. It was set up to bypass the usual EU budget procedures, in the interests of speed and mobilising more money from member states.
Earlier this week, the EU launched a consultation on its future long-term budget, including how it funds and manages migration. This prompted us to ask: How has the Emergency Trust Fund money been spent and what has it achieved so far?
The main information sheet records that 117 programmes worth €1.9 billion have been agreed across three regions: the Sahel/Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa and north Africa. Some of these projects are displayed on an interactive map along with planning documents.
In June 2017, the European Consensus on Development committed EU member states and agencies to transparency across “the full range of development resources” (para 115), including trust funds (para 80). Following that, in December 2017, a new website was launched with further details on the project plan, the implementing organisation(s) and contract amount. Overall, there is information on over 100 activities and associated contracts. At first glance this represents a significant improvement in transparency.
Information gaps and inconsistencies
However, we also identified some gaps and inconsistencies, which makes it difficult to see what impact the Emergency Trust Fund is having, or the extent to which the EU is complying with its commitments to respect country ownership and transparency. For example:
- Not all projects appear on the IATI Registry. The Sahel/Lake Chad window records 8 regional projects, but these could not be found on the IATI Registry. Given that the IATI Registry is the most detailed resource of data on aid and development finance, it is critical that full project information is available on it.
- Integrated border management in Burkina Faso. The website shows this as being managed by Germany’s Gesellschaft fuer International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), with a commitment of €25 million. However, the equivalent entry on the IATI Registry does not mention GIZ at all and shows only a disbursement of €9.5 million to ‘Burkina Faso’ in December 2016. The objectives and results of the programme are also confusing. One objective is for 5% of the population to have access to water, health and education services in border communities but there is no baseline or current value specified.
- State and community-level conflict management in north-eastern Nigeria. This project was approved in April 2016, with a commitment of €21 million, to be managed by the UK Department for International Development and the British Council. The status of the project is unclear: the website suggests that project implementation began in early 2017, with the British Council as implementer, whereas the IATI Registry records ‘Nigeria’ as the implementing organisation, with no record of disbursements to date.
These examples are illustrative and don’t show the full picture. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that the EU still needs to do more to provide consistent, comprehensive information on Emergency Trust Fund projects. The European Parliament expressed serious concerns about the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa in June 2016, and our analysis suggests that some of these concerns remain relevant. The EU’s foreign and migration policy in North Africa and the Sahel is already controversial: without greater transparency, there is little chance of shifting the perception of some local stakeholders that this is “European money for Europeans”.
What can be done to improve transparency?
We suggest that the EU Commission, as the Emergency Trust Fund manager, should retain responsibility for publication but take a more consistent approach to how it records the various project commitments, implementing organisations and results. This should include:
- Make sure all project activities are published on both the Trust Fund website and the IATI Registry. This is important so that the data can be imported and joined up with data from other funders, including other funds from the Commission.
- Updating this dataset at least quarterly – ideally monthly – as per its commitment to regular reporting in the new EU Consensus on Development.
- Sharing experiences with other organisations publishing data on trust or pooled funds, such as the United Nations Development Group, with a view to standardising the approach across organisations.
We hope that these technical changes will help in what is ultimately a deeply political process. Transparency alone won’t help the Emergency Trust Fund achieve its objectives. It is an essential component, though, not least in building trust in how the money is spent. It would also demonstrate that the EU Commission is serious about meeting the commitments to country ownership and development effectiveness enshrined in the EU Consensus for Development and the new European Fund for Sustainable Development.