The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Liz Steele, EU Representative with Publish What You Fund.

If – as the UK Prime Minister David Cameron is finding out – a week is a long time in politics, then five years can appear a lifetime when you don’t have the information you need.

The European landscape has changed significantly over this period. Who could have predicted that in 2016 terrorist attacks would strike the heart of the European capital, that Europe would be facing a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions, or that the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) would be seriously in question?

However this is precisely the time that European governments should be working more closely together to address the underlying causes of the global challenges we are facing, be they inequality, migration, climate change or terrorism. The EU’s aid policies and development spending are a fundamental part of any common European response, underpinned by the principles of effectiveness, transparency and accountability.

Developing countries and their citizens face huge challenges in accessing information about aid flows and activities. Without timely, comprehensive, open and comparable data on donors’ development spending, we cannot know what is being spent where, by whom, and with what results. This can lead to inefficiency – or worse still, misappropriation of funds and corruption.

Publish What You Fund has been monitoring aid transparency since 2011 when the world’s donors promised to publish details of their development projects to IATI, the international open data standard. This week we have launched our 2016 Aid Transparency Index, which assess the aid transparency of 46 of the world’s largest donors.

Five years on our results show that 25% of global aid now meets transparency standards. However despite some progress over the last five years, most donor agencies have failed to uphold this commitment.

So how does the EU do?
Sadly the EU’s overall performance mirrors the global trend.

The 2016 Index assesses 19 of the EU’s main external assistance agencies, covering 10 EU Member States and including three European Commission (EC) Directorates-General as well as the EU’s two development banks, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Delivering on commitments
Only two EU Member State agencies (the UK’s DFID and Sweden) are included in the “very good” category, scoring above the 80% threshold required for information to be useful. They are publishing timely, comprehensive and forward looking data in an open and comparable format, meeting their international commitment to make their aid transparent and delivering a return on their continued political investment in this area.

Improving, but could do better
Three EC Directorates-General and three Member State agencies have partially met this commitment, and are placed in the “good” category scoring over 60%. Denmark, the Netherlands, the German Federal Ministry’s international development arm (BMZ-GIZ) and the EC’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) have all graduated from the ‘fair’ category, increasing their overall scores by around 10% points since 2014.

For the first time, the EC’s main aid agencies are clustered in the same performance category facilitated by the creation of an Inter-service working group, which has generated improvement across departments. The Directorate General for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) is the best performing EC agency, leapfrogging DG Development and Cooperation whose performance appears to have stalled this year.

DG ECHO’s improvement demonstrates that humanitarian organisations can also be transparent about their activities, which is particularly significant given calls for donors to increase the transparency of their humanitarian financing at the UN’s World Humanitarian Summit next month.

Four EU Member State agencies and the two development banks, EIB and EBRD, are placed in the fair category. Germany’s KfW development bank (BMZ-KfW) and Spain have made no significant improvement on their 2014 performance. Belgium, the French Development Agency (AFD), the EIB and the EBRD are among the best performers, improving their scores by over 20% points on the 2014 Index ranking.

Cause for concern
Five EU Member State agencies are in the poor or very poor categories. France’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MINEFI) and Italy are the worst EU performers in the 2016 Index, ranking below Finland, France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development (MAEDI) and Ireland. This lack of progress is cause for concern and would appear to demonstrate scant regard for both European and international commitments on aid transparency, and increasing demands from aid recipient governments and European taxpayers for greater transparency on development flows.

The case for transparency cannot be greater. Access to information and data have been enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More and better data on all financing flows – not just aid – and their outcomes, will be critical in enabling governments and civil society to meet and monitor them. Delivering the 2030 agenda and the SDGs is no longer the exclusive domain of traditional development actors. It will require a coherent approach by different departments within government as well as support from new and emerging external actors, all of whom will need to adhere to development effectiveness principles including transparency and accountability.

That’s why we are calling on the European Commission, EU development banks and European governments to up their game on transparency. This means working together across departments and agencies and within government to share best practice and improve the quality of the data being published.

It means translating international commitments on aid transparency into national or institutional policies and practice.

It means a greater focus on promoting and supporting data use, so that partner country governments can integrate the data into national systems and use it in policy-making processes, and so that stakeholders such as parliamentarians, journalists and civil society are able to hold their governments to account for their political choices.

We are getting ready to raise the bar on aid transparency for the next five years, let’s see if the EU can rise to the challenge.

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