Red flags raised over governance of EU Trust Fund projects

The signing ceremony of the EU's Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo by: European Union

LONDON — A report published last week raises red flags over the transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

The report from Global Health Advocates supports concerns shared with Devex by some prominent figures in the Brussels development community about the quality and governance of projects being implemented through the fund.

Among them, Elly Schlein, a member of the European Parliament’s Development Committee and chair of its working group on migration, said that parliament has not been given “the right democratic scrutiny” of the fund, and that elected EU officials do not have enough information about how the money is being spent.

The EUTF — a development instrument launched in 2015 with the aim of “tackling the root causes of migration” — has been controversial from the outset for seeming to prioritize Europe’s political agenda over the development needs of its partner countries in the eyes of many of its critics. It is part of a broader tilt toward migration concerns in European development cooperation.

But the GHA report also seems to support growing concerns that EUTF projects are falling short of standards on monitoring and accountability.

Based on interviews with organizations in Niger and Senegal, the report says that programs have been implemented without consultation with local actors, without public calls for proposals, without eligibility guidelines, and without a clear framework for evaluation, “bypassing most good governance principles.”

The report, which advises EU member states not to replenish the fund until it is revised, was published the same week that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for increased contributions to it as part of his priorities for the year ahead.

The commission has denied the findings of the report, telling Devex in a statement that “the assistance provided under the EU Trust Fund is transparent and subject to close monitoring and evaluation.”

Short-term solutions

Advocates have been raising concerns about the fund for some time. Earlier this year, Hilary Jeune, policy advisor at Oxfam EU, told Devex of reports from the ground that some projects were becoming subject to indicators on their efficacy in reducing migration, and were being implemented hastily in order to showcase rapid results.

Supporting this concern, the report cites a development agency in Senegal that alleged that “parts of its project proposal were rejected on the grounds that results would be yielded only four years later.”

More broadly, the report points out that, although most of the resources for the fund come from medium- to long-term development pots, its framing as an “emergency instrument” allows it to operate more flexibly.

According to the report: “Its project cycle is much swifter than under traditional development programming. Projects are identified at country level under the leadership of the EU Delegations, discussed and selected by an Operational Committee in which African countries only have an observer status, passed through a fast-track approval process, and contracted by the EU Delegations through simplified procedures.”

Schlein told Devex that a recent meeting of the migration working group exploring the situation in Niger concluded that there seems to be little or no consultation with local civil society organizations, and that the focus of a majority of the projects on migration and border management could be problematic given that the fund is supported by development cooperation instruments. A European Parliament resolution last year also called on the commission “to clarify and formalise the consultation procedures with [local] stakeholders so as to ensure their effective participation ... with clear and transparent eligibility criteria.”

However, a spokesperson for the European Commission told Devex that “all programmes have been developed in close consultation and dialogue with a range of relevant actors, including national and local authorities, civil society organisations, member state agencies, or international organisations.”

They added that there is a thorough, four-part evaluation system in place and that “all projects are being screened and approved by the Operational Committee in line with an evidence-based approach.”

Absence of parliamentary scrutiny

Another cause of concern has been the European Parliament’s apparently limited ability to scrutinize the fund, since it does not form part of the official EU budget. Most of its resources are drawn from the European Development Fund, an aid instrument that EU countries contribute to on a voluntary basis, and it is managed by the European Commission, the civil service arm of the EU responsible for implementing policy.

Gian Marco Grindatto, EU advocacy manager for GHA, told Devex that operating outside of the official EU budget “means quicker and less bureaucratic procedures to approve funding and projects, but it also means less transparency and accountability. The European Parliament has no scrutiny power on how funding is allocated and how projects are selected. Basically, the parliament has no say in the overall management of the Trust Fund.”

The NGO’s report adds that “this results in little if any EU accountability for development outcomes.”

Speaking to Devex at the European Development Days conference in June, Schlein, an Italian MEP and member of the parliamentary group tasked with scrutinizing aid spending, said: “I would love to be able to know more [about how Trust Fund money is being spent], but unfortunately the European Parliament was completely sidelined in the shaping and the functioning of this new financial instrument.” She added, “Today, it is very difficult for us to understand how the money is spent — for which kind of projects, with what kind of aims.”

She said her working group on migration and aid is seeking “the right democratic scrutiny that we are supposed to have as a European Parliament.”

A commission spokesperson responded that it “keeps the European Parliament duly informed about progress in the implementation of the Trust Fund activities through a regular sharing of information on progress achieved. The chairs of the relevant European Parliament committees have also been invited to participate as observers in meetings of the Strategic Board...

“As an additional tool... the Commission issues a monthly report with updated figures on each EU Trust Fund. In addition, the Trust Fund Annual Report and certified Annual Accounts are sent to the European Parliament.”

Yet Schlein added by email that the information provided to the committee only allows for scrutiny after the fact, and that more information needs to be available, especially regarding the selection and monitoring of projects and how compliance with the EU’s aid regulations is ensured. Much more could be done to increase transparency and ensure that parliament has scrutiny rights, she said.

Among other recommendations going forward, GHA suggests that ongoing EUTF programming should be revised to better cohere with aid effectiveness principles; to embrace the sustainability of programs as a core indicator; to publish calls for proposals and selection criteria in order to ensure transparency and accountability; and to establish a clear and effective monitoring system.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you free every business day.

About the author

  • Jessica Abrahams

    Jessica Abrahams is Devex's Deputy News Editor. Based in London, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on Europe & Africa. She has previously worked as a writer, researcher and editor for Prospect magazine, The Telegraph and Bloomberg News, among other outlets. She holds graduate degrees in journalism from City University London and in international relations from Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals.