Should the European Neighbourhood Instrument be included in the proposed ‘single instrument’?

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A unified external instrument

On 5 May 2018, the European Commission issued its proposal for the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021 to 2027. A key element concerns a proposed ‘single instrument’ for financing the EU’s international cooperation, in particular with developing countries and regions, for which the EU will propose a draft EU regulation on 14 June.

This instrument would unify several financial instruments that are administered separately in the current MFF, including the European Development Fund (EDF), the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), the Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), the Partnership Instrument (PI), and the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI). Other instruments, including the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance, the instruments for financing Cooperation with Overseas Countries and Territories, including Greenland, Humanitarian Aid, and the Common Foreign and Security Policy, are intended to remain self-standing instruments due to their specific focus or legal status.

The Commission considers that this restructuring would “provide more coherence between instruments, to exploit economies of scale and synergies between programmes and to simplify processes. This will make the Union better equipped to pursue its goals and project its interests, policies and values globally”.

Few member states will be against pursuing such objectives, yet they may have reservations on whether all instruments should be integrated to this end. The ENI is especially in focus, since it finances regional and bilateral cooperation programmes in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which some European actors consider to be of a fundamentally different nature – as well as a higher strategic priority – than international cooperation with other regions.

There are several good reasons for including the ENI in the single instrument which, in our view, outweigh the potential advantages of leaving it out.

A single instrument would provide increased flexibility for the ENI and the ENP

In recent years, the strategic importance of the Neighbourhood for the EU has grown due to political tensions in the sub-regions covered by the Eastern and Euro-Mediterranean partnerships and the pressures of migration from neighbouring countries and further afield. EU officials argue that the current ENI, which was negotiated before the 2011 Arab uprisings and the escalation of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, has become too small and inflexible.

While it is currently possible to move funds between instruments, a single instrument for international cooperation would make it easier to react to changing political priorities. It would also enable more effective ‘cross-border’ responses in cases where challenges affect, but go beyond, neighbouring countries, such as the EU’s Sahel engagement. This can potentially reduce the need for using more controversial innovations to increase flexibility, such as trust funds.

Flexibility would also enable considerable efficiency and human resources gains on the part of the Council and Parliament: the inclusion of the ENI in a single instrument would allow for reducing the number of Council Working Groups and reducing duplications between them. The same would apply for the European Parliament, where scrutiny of legal instruments is presently divided between the AFET and DEVE committees.

Such flexibility would be best achieved through the ‘soft integration’ of the ENI in a single instrument with a single legal framework, but with clear regional ‘envelopes’ that can be adjusted in accordance with changing priorities, both on the EU side and from the perspective of partner countries. This approach would be consistent with the spirit of the more differentiated approach to the neighbourhood promised by the 2015 ENP Review. To make it work in practice, negotiating partners would have to resist the temptation to earmark funding for their favourite partner countries and programmes.

A single instrument could help ‘development-proof’ the ENI

The inclusion of the ENI in the single instrument would mean that it is governed under the same legal basis as cooperation with other regions or global themes. The European Parliament has already indicated in a draft of the single instrument regulation that it will press for a very high percentage of the single instrument to be compatible with official development assistance (ODA). This has the potential to re-focus the ENI on development cooperation and halt the recent trend towards securitised cooperation.

The flip side is that the strong political pressures to securitise development cooperation are unlikely to dissipate, and including the ENI in the single instrument may risk the further securitisation of the EDF and the DCI.

However, as these other instruments are explicitly for financing development cooperation, it is more likely that the European Parliament – and its Development Committee in particular – will defend their ODA-compatibility strongly and that this will extend to the whole single instrument. This approach would be consistent with the logic of the global 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, which provide an overarching set of guidelines for EU cooperation with the whole world.

There are, nevertheless, potential disadvantages of including the ENI in the single instrument, which cannot be ignored and must be addressed if the single instrument proposal is to go ahead.

The perception of ‘downgrading’ the ENP and relations with neighbouring countries needs to be avoided

Among the ENP policy framework’s guiding narratives is the ‘privileged relationship’ promised by the EU for neighbouring countries. The proposal to include the ENI in the single instrument has been interpreted by some policymakers as a potential downgrading of this relationship. Even though this is probably reading too much into a budget reorganisation process, political communication to allay this impression with neighbours will be needed if the proposal becomes a reality.

The ENP will continue to exist as a strategic policy framework, and its operational logic of offering neighbouring countries that adhere to EU norms, values and laws closer relations such as deep and comprehensive free trade agreements and other kinds of bilateral association (‘more for more’) will not change. A dedicated political declaration by the European Council to this effect would be needed.

The difficulties of administering a single instrument across several Commission Directorates General will have to be resolved

In November 2014, DG DEVCO units responsible for administering the ENI were transferred to DG NEAR. This was done to reduce transaction costs and to provide DG NEAR with greater autonomy. As the administration of the single instrument would presumably have to take place in ‘one house’, potentially two Commissioners and the High Representative would have to co-decide on financing cooperation programmes with neighbourhood countries.

If implementation responsibility were to be moved back to DG DEVCO, an internal Commission agreement stating that cooperation with ENP countries will continue to be jointly decided by the Neighbourhood Commissioner and the High Representative, would be needed. Since the non-inclusion of pre-accession financing in the single instrument presumably means that DG NEAR will need to retain financial administrative capacity, it may make sense if NEAR administered the ENI as well. To prevent inefficiencies, the EU Regulation governing the single instrument would have to clearly spell out how financing decisions are to be taken.

As the negotiations over the next EU budget intensify in the coming months, member state and EU-level decision-makers need to remember that the EU’s international cooperation is about principles as well as interests. If the EU creates a single instrument for financing its international cooperation, then the ENI should be included. Leaving it out would increase the likelihood that the development principles enshrined in the 2030 Agenda and the OECD’s ODA rules would not apply to the ENI. Including it would mean that the EU would have to apply these principles in its cooperation with all developing regions and partners.

Authors: Mark Furness and Niels Keijzer (DIE).

Photo courtesy of TPCOM via Flickr.

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