EuropeAid has made the way it delivers aid more effective by devolving the management and supervision of projects to its field offices. This is based on the premise that anything that can be better managed and decided on the spot, close to what is happening on the ground, should be.
In 2000, the European Commission embarked on a reform process to improve the way it prioritises, organises and implements development aid and external assistance outside the EU. In order to make its actions more responsive to local needs, facilitate coordination between donors and speed up implementation, the Commission decided to make its delegations – i.e. its representations in partner countries – responsible for the management of external aid.
There are currently around 110 devolved Commission delegations in Africa, Asia, the western Balkans, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific. The delegations act not only as the eyes and ears of the Commission in their host countries but also as its mouthpiece vis-à-vis the national authorities and society as a whole.
Concerning development aid and external assistance, delegations are responsible for identifying projects, assessing their feasibility, as well as implementing and evaluating their results. EuropeAid’s headquarters in Brussels are responsible for overall coherence, and for general, thematic and quality support. Headquarters also coordinate with other Commission directorates-general, with Member States and with the other EU institutions, and carries out the overall planning and reporting on the progress of development aid. Highly specialised areas – such as supporting reforms in the nuclear energy sector and regional and horizontal programmes which affect several or many recipient countries – are managed directly from Brussels as well.
While devolution was mainly about the management of external assistance, it also led delegations taking on a more active role in presenting, explaining and implementing EU policy (the so-called external dimension of internal EU policies); analysing and reporting on the policies and developments in the countries to which they are accredited; and conducting negotiations in accordance with a given mandate.
Delegations are at the forefront of contributing towards the implementation of multilateral agreements and conventions, such as the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
As a result of devolving responsibilities to the delegations:
- EU assistance is implemented more rapidly and effectively
- The impact and visibility of the Union’s external assistance has improved
- There is closer cooperation with Member States on the ground
- The Commission is recognised as a more accessible and service-oriented cooperation partner
In 2007, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) carried out a peer review of the European Union’s development cooperation which concluded that: “The substantive devolution of management responsibility away from Brussels to the Commission's empowered field delegations has been a key component of the reform process. This is highly appreciated by Community partners in the field and has played a major role in improving the efficiency of the Community operations."