EuropeAid Forges Renewed Cooperation With El Salvador

Reinhard Junghanns is head of cooperation for EuropeAid in El Salvador where the aid organization is increasingly in unison with the new center-left government. Photo by: EuropeAid

Europe's development approach has new resonance among Salvadorian policymakers. As compared to the conservative, free-market credo of the erstwhile ruling Arena party, the center-left principles of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front-led government are more attuned with European social values.

As EuropeAid's head of cooperation for El Salvador, Reinhard Junghanns is at the forefront of Europe's new cooperation with FMLN. The inauguration of the new administration on June 1 sparked a flurry of meetings between EuropeAid and the former guerillas in a move to forge a new development strategy in the tiny but populous nation.

Junghanns has held his current post since 2007. He has worked with the European Commission for 20 years on democracy and governance, and economic programs. Prior to being named leader of the El Salvador mission, the German native served in EuropeAid's unit dealing with civil society organizations.

Junghanns has also worked with Germany's Foreign Office, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and Ministry of Health and Social Security. He studied law in Germany and Switzerland before earning a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University.

Devex spoke with Junghanns about EuropeAid's work in El Salvador, including the agency's funding priorities. He also talked about the challenge of living as an expatriate in the Latin American country.

EuropeAid in El Salvador

What are EuropeAid's current funding trends and development priorities in El Salvador?

We are in the process of helping the new government to restructure their decision making with cooperation. So, we are meeting with them every two days, more or less. It's interesting - there's substantial change. The framework of the cooperation is defined in the country strategy paper. One trend is a substantial increase of funds.

[In] the previous document which was covering the years 2002-2006, there was an allocation of about 60.5 million euros for bilateral cooperation. In the recent country strategy paper covering 2007-2013, we have a substantial increase in funds to 121 million euros for this period.

We have three major projects in the pipeline. The first one is a classical project, which is called Pro Jovenes 2. There was a Pro Jovenes 1 in the former period. This is a project directed against social violence with the youth and youth delinquency. It's implemented in vulnerable areas in the metropolitan area of San Salvador, which consists of 14 municipalities. This project includes 11.3 million euros over four years.

The security situation is very difficult. There is a daily homicide rate…of between 12 and 13 homicides a day. What Pro Jovenes is doing is focusing on complimentary efforts of an integrated prevention approach against violence. The former government had the policies of "mano dura" [tough] and "mano super-dura" [super tough].

Our approach, which was concentrated on prevention … developed into a European alternative of public policies addressing violence. The new government, of course, is putting [even] more emphasis on prevention. The security aspect is also part of their anti-crisis plan, which they want to implement within the next 18 months.

The two others [projects] are using the methodology of budget support. The first one is budget support for the education sector, which is called Pro Educa. The amount of the program is 25 million euros over the next four years. The funds are going to the national budget, then they are allocated to education.

The question is always: How do you control how European public money is spent? For all the budget support programs, a series of indicators is being defined. The first part is macroeconomic indicators, and the second part is sector-specific indicators. For example, the dropout rate in schools. The money is dispersed in fixed rates and in variable rates. The variable rates depend on the degree to which the indicators are being complied with in the previous term. If the government does not meet one of the indicators, then the variable rate will be reduced. That's how the budget support programs work.

The third one is a bit more complex. It is another budget sector support program; it's called Pro Calidad. The objective is to introduce, to establish, and then foster a national quality system to promote economic growth and the capacity of enterprises - small, medium, but also bigger enterprises - to export.

The areas which are covered by this program will be laboratories, certification, etc. It's quite technical. In the previous strategy papers, the [European] Commission supported small and medium enterprise projects. In the end, we were not very convinced by … these types of interventions. We think the established legal framework for quality of products will serve as a better base for fostering economic growth. So, the commission adopted this proposal. The amount of this program is 12.1 million euros for the next four years.

This is the overview of the three projects in the pipeline, which were adopted by the commission…for 2009. For the next year - 2010 - we are starting to discuss with the government another program in the area of economic growth, which … will be a second phase to Pro Calidad. The program will foster innovation and technology. This could include environmental-friendly technology in the field of energy. For this program that will be adopted in 2010, we have around 24 million [euros]. This program is in the identification phase.

To sum up … the country strategy papers focus normally on two or maximum three priority areas. For El Salvador, the priority areas are social cohesion and human security, and the second priority area is economic growth, integration and trade.

In addition to this these bilateral budget lines, we also manage certain thematic budget lines. They were decentralized some years ago, and the funds are dispersed and organized by the delegations in the beneficiary countries themselves [rather than by the European Commission headquarters]. The thematic programs go directly to civil society and the building of civil society to take part in the formulation of public policy. This is an important objective of the commission.

Since 2007, we have been organizing calls for proposals for thematic budget lines. And the potential applicants are NGOs and local authorities. [There are two major budget lines:] non-state actors and local authorities in development, and the European initiative on democracy and human rights. At present, we open 24 contracts under both thematic budget lines with local or European NGOs, municipalities and human rights organizations.

I openly admit that the funds that the commission has available for the delegations are not sufficient for these thematic budget lines. The yearly funding for the nonstate actors, including municipalities, is 2 million euros in the case of El Salvador. And the yearly funding for the human rights program is 600,000 euros, which is little.

How does EuropeAid collaborate with the government and civil society in El Salvador?

Under the previous government, certain sectors of civil society were more or less marginalized or excluded. There was a very selective view of civil society. The so-called social movements, including most of the European NGOs, were seen as the fifth column of the opposition [the current center-left FMLN administration]. The new government is trying to establish civil society dialogue as part of their policy. They are trying to establish an economic and social council to have the dialogue with civil society organizations.

The commission, last year, made it mandatory to register in a Brussels database called PADOR [Potential Applicants Database Online Registration]. Everybody has to register there. In El Salvador, it is working reasonably well. In other parts of the world, it's more difficult because they are in remote areas, and the delegations have to help them.

[Applicants] have to meet certain criteria. Local applicants have to prove that they have two years of experience working in the area they are applying for. They have to enter their balance sheets, their funding, their members of the board, etc. With this database, the commission has a good overview…of potential applicants. The commission can also tailor the calls for proposal for the added value they are looking for. It became fully operable this year.

Who are your local partners?

It's very diverse. Out of the 24 thematic contracts that are open at the moment, there's a broad variety. Each call for proposal publishes the list of selected contractors on the Internet. For example, we have contracts with Plan International and [Spanish and Basque development organizations]. We [also] have partnerships between Europeans and locals. For example, the Austrian organization Horizont3000 is quite active in El Salvador and has [local] partners in various provinces. We do not have more than two or three projects for one organization, so we have quite a large number of NGOs. For the thematic projects, the initiative comes from the NGOs. They decide what they are going to do.

How large is EuropeAid's staff in El Salvador?

[It's] very, very reduced. Our mother delegation is in Managua, Nicaragua, which is a regional delegation for all of Central America. Our boss is the ambassador of the Managua delegation that is accredited to all of Central America. The other countries outside Nicaragua are small. We are in total 14 persons, [including local support staff]. Basically, we have only … the cooperation section. We do not have a political section, a trade section, and a finance and contracts section. All this is organized at a regional level in Managua for all Central America. If problems in these areas arise, we rely on help and support from the Managua delegation. Our office is really very small; our core business is cooperation.

An expat's life in El Salvador: Living with the threat of violence

What is it like to live in El Salvador as a foreigner and development worker?

Living here is quite easy in a certain way. You do not face big culture difficulties. You are quite close to European values. People are open. It's easy to make contact, professional and private. It's a good place to be posted.

You are not living in the bush. The modern parts of the big cities remind you of Florida. The whole attitude of Salvadorians is oriented toward the United States. One-fourth of the population lives in the United States. The U.S. lifestyle is being imitated. It is not a well-known tourist destination, but the country is undertaking a lot of effort to promote national and international tourism.

The problem all Central American countries [is] facing is the high criminality. In Guatemala, [the homicide rate is even higher than El Salvador] - it's 15 to 16 [people per day]. This is restricting your free movement. You have to be aware, and you have to be attentive all the time. You cannot relax.

Unfortunately, violent crime has also reached the countryside. Previously, you could say there were certain no-go areas in the cities, but you could move around freely in the countryside. Not so anymore. You can be a victim of violence everywhere. We have the trend in recent months that violence is being exported to rural areas that were safe.

So, it's an ambiguous picture. We cannot ignore the constant threat of violence. If you speak to the business community…they said that business has to pay 11.5 percent of its investment for security. It's like a security tax they have to pay. This is the problem in the country.

We have to take certain preventions. We move freely in the new areas near the embassy and the business areas like Santa Elena and San Benito. We avoid, more or less, the city center, which has the problem of a lot of criminal activity.

One thing you absolutely should avoid is public transport, which the local population cannot avoid. The most dangerous place in El Salvador is going by bus. Buses are victims of extortion as are local shop owners. You have killings of bus drivers…on a daily basis. That's a problem that is hindering the economic development of the country.

About the author

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    Andrew Wainer

    Andrew Wainer is director of policy research for Save the Children. He was formerly a senior immigration policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute, which provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. He has also worked as a journalist and social researcher in Latin America and the United States. Andrew’s research and journalism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He holds a master’s degree in Latin American studies from UCLA and is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Portuguese.