Open Europe: How EU Can Improve its Aid to MENA Region

A European Union official speaks with Yemeni refugees. Contributions to the EU's aid instrument for the Middle East and North Africa should be made volutary to encourage accountability and improve aid effectiveness. Photo by: Mohammad Huwais / EU

Contributions to the European Union’s aid instrument for the Middle East and North Africa should be made voluntary to encourage more accountability and improve the effectiveness of the bloc’s aid to the two conflict-torn regions, a U.K.-based think tank argues in a new report.

The European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument currently draws funding from the EU’s central budget. In a briefing on EU aid published May 8, Open Europe argues that by making contributions to the ENPI voluntary, there would be more pressure to ensure that aid is well-targeted and well-spent.

Open Europe, which is pushing for economic liberalization and greater accountability and transparency within the EU, argues in its report that the bloc’s €13 billion ($18.6 billion) commitment to Middle Eastern and North African countries have so far failed to promote development and democracy in the two regions, which are now being swept by a wave of anti-government uprisings.

The think tank says EU’s aid to the regions have failed to boost democracy and improve human rights and has not encouraged greater transparency and good governance in recipient countries. There was too much focus on building government capacity and not enough on strengthening civil society, Open Europe adds. The bloc’s selection of projects to support also reveals waste, mismanagement and questionable priorities, the think tank says.

The EU announced in March that it is revamping the ENPI in response to the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. As part of planned reforms, the bloc said it will refocus some of €4 billion in grants available to the EU’s southern neighbors for the period 2011-2013.

>> EU Overhauls MENA Aid Instrument, Refocuses Funding

Open Europe says the proposed reforms are encouraging and worth considering. It also outlines several other recommendations on how to revamp the ENPI, in addition to making contributions voluntary:

- Include provisions that would punish governments that are found reneging on their commitments to promote democracy, protect human rights, fight corruption and boost transparency. - Set more realistic and achievable targets.- Allocate more aid to efforts that aim to boost regional trade.- Develop and implement a more robust, rigorous and transparent quality control system that includes tougher scrutiny of projects and better monitoring of program implementation. - Increase the ENPI’s focus on civil society development.

- Tailor ENPI policies and funding to the needs of recipient countries.

The EU should also boost its efforts to help its southern neighbors improve their trade potential, simplify its rules of product origin and scrap the Union for the Mediterranean, which is a multilateral partnership of 42 countries from Europe and the Mediterranean, Open Europe says. The UfM has so far failed to deliver the results it was expected to produce, the think tank argues. 

Read more of Think Development: Think tanks in review, a Devex blog chronicling news and views from the international think tank community.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.