EU’s new development aid architecture: A conversation with Fokion Fotiadis, Part 1

Fokian Fotiadis, former DG DEV chief and now head of the EuropeAid Development and Cooperation Directorate-General. Photo by: Christian Lambiotte / EU

The start of 2011 ushered in major movements in the European Union’s development cooperation structure. As hundreds of European Commission staff moved to the European External Action Service, a new agency borne out of the merger between EuropeAid and the Directorate-General for Development began its operations.

At the helm of the EuropeAid Development and Cooperation Directorate-General is Fokion Fotiadis. The Greek headed DG DEV and was in charge of the European Union’s relations with the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states from July to December 2010.

Devex caught up with Fotiadis at the European Development Days in early December, just a few weeks after the European Commission confirmed that he would lead its unified development arm. In this first part of our two-part interview with Fotiadis, the 30-year veteran EU public servant discusses how the establishment of EEAS and DG DEVCO will affect the bloc’s development cooperation. He also shares his thoughts about budget support and the future of EU external funding.

>> European Commission Merges Development Units>> Top Story of the Week: Donors Aim for More Efficiency, Coherence in 2011>> EU DG Dev Chief Fokion Fotiadis Starts July 1

How will the establishment of EEAS affect the design and management of the European Union’s development policies?

It is paramount that we all contribute to the success of the new External Action Service. We have a collective responsibility to do everything in our power to make it succeed, not least because of the contribution which it can make to development. Indeed, one of the things the external service will have to do is to better deliver on the security aspects in volatile countries. Without a better security environment, you cannot have development.

The creation of the EEAS is a great opportunity for the EU to better deliver on its external policy. If we fail with the external service, we will all be made responsible. Consider the acrimonious discussion within the union before the new treaty was ratified. We now need to deliver on it.

We will have to work with the external service on the nexus between security and development. One cannot work without the other. So, this is not about politicizing development, but, rather, how to better deliver on security in order to better deliver on development.

DG DEV and EuropeAid have merged into the EuropeAid Development and Cooperation Directorate-General. How will this affect DG DEV’s operations?

The merger of DG Development and DG AIDCO is a unique opportunity to bring together policy design and policy delivery. It is very important for people who develop policy to have a reality check of the policies by getting the views of those who are going to implement them. On the other hand, those who have to implement policies need to understand what political objectives we pursue with the funds. Joining them together is a great opportunity to do things better, both in terms of policy design and in terms of implementation. It will also help us to get rid of frictions and to avoid duplication of staff and functions.

This is a very important merger that, I think, will help us to do three things. First, [it will] enable us to design a meaningful development policy for all developing countries. Secondly, it will allow us to become much better in terms of what we call policy coherence. This means [we can] make sure that the EU sectoral policies such as trade, agriculture, immigration, fisheries, energy are designed in a way that will have a positive effect on development. We need to make sure that the new DG will develop the inputs that could make these policies more development-friendly. Thirdly, a better delivery of the EU development funds in terms of impact, in terms of focus, and in terms of results. That’s what I hope DG DEVCO will deliver.

How do you expect the European Parliament and DG DEVCO to relate to each other under this new setting?

We will be as open and transparent with the European Parliament as in the past. The EP is our natural ally and major advocate of development policy. We need to explain our thoughts for modernizing development policy and its instruments and get the support of the parliament.

How about civil society groups, what role will they play in the implementation of programs and in policy dialogue?

I believe that we need to continue to use civil society to promote development at large. There are several things civil society can do. Most important is advocacy, so as to keep the focus on development issues, keep the attention of our governments on the need to continue to support development despite the very difficult budgetary environment. We need the advocacy more than ever before in view of the economic situation.

The second thing where we should put efforts in is helping the civil society of partner countries to be much more involved in scrutinizing government performance, the way governments manage public finances assistance.

The EU highly stresses the role of budget support in development cooperation. How do you foresee the implementation of this instrument?

I believe that budget support is a tremendously useful instrument in order to bring about policy change in countries and in order to incite governments to adopt good governance and good economic policies. I think it is a very efficient instrument, in contrast to traditional project support. With projects, you very rarely are in a position to have a policy dialogue with the government with regard to the overall direction of its economic policy. But with budget support, you do.

Budget support is a policy dialogue instrument involving financial, fiscal and sectoral policies. It is not a political dialogue instrument. However, when we engage in general budget support, we are seen as if we endorsed indirectly government’s overall policy. If you are dealing with a responsible government, there is no problem. But this is not always the case.

Therefore, one of the criticisms of general budget support is that it does not take sufficiently into account problematic aspects of the governments you are working with, in terms of human rights, democracy, corruption, etc. That’s an issue we want to look at, and we have put this, among other questions, to a public consultation by means of a green paper on budgetary support.

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on funding for external actions. Do you envision new financial instruments?

We have launched the consultation on the external budget of the European Union in the framework of the review of the financial perspectives. We want to ask some interesting questions on how the external financing of the EU should look like in the future.

We also want to review our financial instruments in terms of delivery of future objectives, in particular in terms of promoting private investment, including instruments of blending of grants/loans and private investments, which requires complicated financial engineering. There are such instruments that we already have today. We will need more of them in the future.

Read more about what’s next for DG DEVCO in part 2 of our interview with Fokion Fotiadis.

About the author

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    Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.