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The EU's Good Governance Agenda in Development

Europe should prioritise national accountability

The European Commission’s August 2006 communication on governance and development co-operation aims to position more clearly the European Union as an actor on governance, gradually bringing EU Member States towards a common approach. The EU risks using a flawed Commission approach as its basis, set in motion too quickly for reasons of the internal EC aid programming calendar and lacking thorough debate with stakeholders in developing countries who have a vital interest in governance reform. By Denise Auclair.


The increasing concern by donors over governance – witness the World Bank’s new strategy on governance and anti-corruption, and the United Kingdom’s recent White Paper on governance – is fed by several factors, notably: with governments’ promises to increase aid in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, public clamour is growing for assurances that taxpayers’ money reaches the poorest people in developing countries, rather than being wasted or siphoned off by governments not acting in the public interest.

* A view from the South: The accountability of the state
This coincides with serious and increasing attention to governance within developing countries. In June, the alliance of Catholic development organisations CIDSE carried out a survey of over fifty of its partner civil society organisations working in the South on governance, denouncing cases of corruption, improving access to public information and accountability to voters, and fighting against inequalities and human rights abuse. This survey formed the basis for two publications, Governance and Development Cooperation: Civil Society Perspectives on the European Union approach, and The World Bank’s Strategy on Governance and Anticorruption – A Civil Society Perspective.

Civil society organizations participating in the survey agreed that the first imperative for work on governance is enhancing the accountability of the state to its citizens. For example, in Nigeria civil society is actively engaged in advocating for transparency in the use of government revenues from the oil resources of the country, which should be used in the interests of the common good rather than for enriching the few.

* No shared understanding of good governance
Yet the evaluation recently completed in June 2006 by external experts including the European Center for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) for the Commission of its work on governance over the past several years concludes that there is not a generally shared understanding of governance and how to address this issue in EC programming. External observers have noted that the Commission has often taken a technocratic approach (as have other donors), focusing on limited issues such as capacity of government administrations to handle management of public finances, rather than a political approach, for example by supporting the democratic oversight role of Parliaments.

The external evaluation of EC governance support takes an explicitly political approach, as it defines governance as referring to the rules, processes and behaviour by which interests are articulated, resources are managed and power is exercised in society. Thus “governance support” is taken to mean support for “societal transformation processes.” This accords with the views of CIDSE’s Southern civil society partner organisations, which stress that governance reforms must above all be located in the national context, deriving from national debates and consensus on development objectives, and local analysis of how these are to be achieved. This means that donors like the EC must not unilaterally define what governance means for a given country, but instead must as a priority involve and support stakeholders within a country including Parliaments and civil society in their work on public accountability.

* Governance reforms cannot be imposed from outside
Multi-actor dialogue – strengthening the EC Delegations’ contacts with local actors and their analysis on governance – for better ownership of governance strategies within each country is strongly recommended by the external evaluation of EC governance support, as it notes that governance reforms cannot be imposed from without, but only take place from within a country. The Commission has stated that the lessons of the evaluation were taken into account in its new policy set out in the August Communication, however with regards to better involvement of local actors in discussions on governance reform, this does not appear to fully be the case.

Already during the drafting of the strategy, the Commission allowed for only a quick and superficial consultation of civil society, criticised in the June 2006 paper, Whose governance?, of CONCORD, the European confederation of relief and development NGOs, published by its working group on the Cotonou Agreement. The Commission now plans to establish a “governance profile” for each developing country, containing an extensive set of indicators, some of which have little to do with a government’s ability to act in the interests of the country’s citizens and of poverty eradication, and more to do with EU interests – for example what the EU thinks the government should do to stem migration, or to create an “investment-friendly” climate.

The Commission envisages using the profiles as a basis for political dialogue with country governments, yet it is unclear whether the country profiles already submitted by Commission staff according to strict programming deadlines would be made public for debate, so that national Parliaments and civil society can know what their governments are being asked to do. Even a representative of an EC delegation has pleaded for more time to be taken for a broader discussion on the governance profiles: given that these are supposed to establish the basis for the EC’s work in a country over the next five years, sufficient time must be taken in order to get them right, rather than rushing through a flawed analysis on the basis of EC internal calendars.

* What about the EU’s own governance?
Finally, CIDSE’s civil society partners in the South clearly stated that the European Commission must also take responsibility for its own role in governance problems, whether this be related to a conducive environment for corruption (e.g. banking secrecy) or aid policy standards (e.g. unpredictability in delivering on aid commitments). The EC external evaluation came to a similar conclusions, that governance support can only succeed if it is underpinned by a partnership model based on mutual accountability. For the time being, the Commission argues that donor aid and other policies are separate from its conception of governance. Yet dialogue must be a two-way street, otherwise the EC and other donors will lack all credibility in advocating for governance reforms in the South.

In the short term, the Council of the European Union must use the opportunity of Development Ministers’ conclusions on the Commission’s communication, due for 16-17 October, to orient the future implementation of the Commission’s work on governance. Member States should insist on reinforcing national accountability through greater co-ordination with local actors on defining governance reforms to be pursued, and on ensuring that discussions on governance cover both the responsibilities of the Southern government and the responsibilities of donors for their own policies which may contribute to governance problems.

The European Parliament’s Development Committee will also hold a debate during its 2-3 October meeting, and should use its own role in holding the Commission responsible to influence the EC approach to governance in favour of greater national accountability.

Civil society also expects these issues to be raised during the European Development Days organised by the European Commission in November, which will include three days of debates between representatives of European and African governments, civil society, academics as well as international institutions precisely on the theme of governance. The Development Days should provide an arena for frank discussions on problems of governance, successful approaches, and the respective roles of governments, civil society, and donors. This may indeed mark a step closer to a common European approach to governance, as desired by the European Commission – but only if the Commission itself is open to revising its own approach.

Denise Auclair is Policy Officer for EU development policy at CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity) and Caritas Europa in Brussels.

Posted: 25 September 2006

Recommended citation: Auclair, Denise (2006), ‘The EU’s Good Governance Agenda in Development: Europe should prioritise national accountability’, World Economy & Debelopment in Brief, 25 September (www.wdev.eu)

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