At the end of 2011 the European Commission published a Communication on the future of EU budget support. This Communication introduces important changes, particularly for the EC as a budget support provider. The new Communication obliges the EC to open up its budget support approach to promote, democracy and human rights, alongside the goal of reducing poverty.
It is perhaps no accident that this policy change comes at a time of increasing criticism by member states of the EC’s previous budget support strategy.
While the EC can no longer afford to be ambivalent to democratic governance conditions in recipient countries, tying budget support more strictly to political conditions poses a number of significant challenges.
Four interrelated messages have emerged from our analysis:
- Accounting for the prevailing political conditions in recipient countries in different ways in different budget support operations makes little sense from a purely technical perspective. Yet from a political perspective such an approach is likely to shield the EC from domestic criticism.
- Currently no clear strategy exists on how budget support can be used to leverage political change and promote democratic governance. There is also ambiguity surrounding criteria for determining if a recipient country can receive budget support.
- If rigid selectivity is pursued the EC faces the challenge of safeguarding its leverage and scope for action, forcing it more closely to the position of the ‘28th European donor’.
- In certain contexts donors can leverage changes in democratic governance, provided they drastically improve on coordination to produce coherent incentives for the recipient government and employ a credible set of sanctions in case of non-compliance. Yet donors do not have a strong track record in doing either of these.