Challenge for Europe

A Single Governance Model Does Not Exist

A recurrent debate has been brooding for more than ten years in the community of development assistance donor countries (or the lender countries), around the definition of “governance” and how it should be taken into account in development strategies. In fact, the concept of governance is at the heart of today’s cooperation strategies without despite the lack of a collective definition that allows them to define the contours. The debate that it arouses reveals the multitude of approaches to cooperation. It deeply questions the way that societies of the north, built on specific institutional and social models, can comprehend the diversity of regulatory institutions that exist within partner countries. It questions the difficulties financial backers have in articulating common principles of governance against a wide array of contexts and institutional arrangements that might accompany their implementation. Europe appears to be the determinant actor within this debate today. First, this is because the European Union plays a more and more central role in the community of donor/lender countries. Second, it is because the diversity of national experiences within Europe allows it to give a more intercultural dimension to the notion of governance, less centered on the model of nation-states and the specific institutional architecture that has been developed around it.

The European Union: A Pioneer in the Field?

In 2006, after its publication of European Consensus on Development, the European Commission seemed to have partly assumed a pioneering role in the debate by proposing a more transversal vision of governance to the community of donors and lenders. This vision distances itself from the institutional, economic and administrative recipes that made up the dominant thinking in the field up to that point. The emergence of this new approach, which we first saw in the Cotonou Accord of 2000, comes back to certain inherent contradictions in the “governance” strategies of donor/lender countries.

To understand the stakes of this new approach, we are lead quickly back to the reasons for the emergence of a new concept of governance in the slow progression of thought developed through international cooperation over the past thirty years. While the eighties and the beginning of the nineties are years characterized by the reduction of public powers and the primacy of “structural adjustment” strategies, the second half of the nineties was marked by a rehabilitation of public action as a necessary condition for development.

The policies of international cooperation, more and more conscious that a poor management of society tends to compromise the effectiveness of aid, place “good governance” conditionality in the centre of their allocation mechanisms. This approach to governance is above all else based on the promotion of an economic and political model that will allow aid to be distributed with greater effectiveness and transparency within partner countries. It also reinforces a framework that works towards the economic development of a country. The World Bank, pioneer in the development of governance criteria applicable to all partner countries, assumed a relatively uncontested leadership role in this domain until the beginning of the 2000s. The questioning of this leadership (notably by the European Commission, but also by certain bilateral and multilateral financial backers) beginning in the 2000s points notably to the strong restrictive and normative character of governance criteria developed by the World Bank. The European Union similarly denounces the fact that the World Bank complicates policy vision in partner countries and creates technocrats. The European Union advocates, on the contrary, a multidimensional and multi-actor approach to governance. It similarly questions the limits of an exogenous evaluation of the weaknesses and challenges of partner countries in the matter of governance, and the week appropriation of these evaluation tools for financial backers. It also promotes “appropriation over conditionality” and “dialogue over sanctions,” as the new dynamic of cooperation in the South. Will the tools put in place by the European Commission to respond to this new approach to cooperation in the field of governance succeed in overcoming the challenges?

The “Governance Profile”: One step backwards, one step forwards

For several years now, the European Commission has developed a rubric for the analysis of governance that is designed to promote dialogue with countries: these are the “Governance Profiles.” If the “European Consensus” allows in theory for the expansion of our understanding of governance to a more multi-sectoral and multi-actor approach, the Profiles do not even partially reflect this less restrictive definition of governance. They are of a different character largely reflected in sources such as KKZ indicators (indicators of good governance where the initials make reference to the names of their conceivers: Kaufaman, Kraay and Zoldo-Lobaton) from the World Bank.

The innovative character of the profiles comes mostly from a willingness of the commission to take a theoretical distance from the principle of conditionality and performance rankings that partly determine the allocation of aid. Whereas the World Bank seeks to carry out a performance ranking of countries on the basis of data taken beside a series of institutional partners, the Commission Profiles are not intended to compare countries. They are made up of a series of questions that are more qualitative than quantitative. The process of developing a profile can be undergone in a way relatively independent from countries themselves. However, the information coming from the Profile is supposed to help partner countries to develop an “Action Plan,” submitted to the Commission. It is the evaluation of this national Action Plan that determines a portion of the Commission’s allocation to partner countries (in the form of an added incentive) so that it does not simply measure the performance of governance in countries.

This approach therefore implies, at least on paper, a fundamental advance in the understanding of cooperation with partner countries around the “governance” agenda. The partner country is respected as capable of determining its reform agenda and the priorities it means to advance. And yet, these new processes come up against several limitations. These limitations bear witness to the difficulty for financial backers in conforming their practices to the evolving discourse and have seriously reversed the traditional logics of development assistance.

Many Words, Few Applications

What latitude is really given to partner countries in the definition of their own governance challenges? Is the European Commission, which encourages partner states to implement an action plan of their own, actually in line with this arrangement? This logic implies that the financial backer conforms to priorities of the partner country (a principles at the heart of the Paris Declaration of 2005). And yet in practice, the process of developing an Action Plan is in large part determined by the framework of analysis rooted in the Commission’s Governance Profiles, responding therefore primarily to exogenous preoccupations. From this perspective, it remains to be seen how the Action Plans can go beyond a being a simple exercise to capture aid funds and instead become a real tool for policy direction that is useful to the partner countries.

In addition, many of the partners of the Institute for Research on Governance (IRG) insist on one point. The writing of profiles and national Action Plans remains, in a large majority of countries, a process limited to within the partner government. For the moment, it does not work in any instrumental way to permit the participation all actors who are affected by the implementation of these policies. If the profiles appear to be a tool for dialogue between the European Commission and partner governments, the demand for “participation” of civil society within this dialogue, which comes mainly from the European Commission, remains largely superficial.

In this way, there is still a gap between the conceptual advances initiated by the European Consensus on Development (notably in terms of alignment on the strategy of the partner country and the will to get rid of an overly normative and exogenous vision of government), and the implementation of tools working to end the debtor/creditor relationship of the classic aid logic.


With an eye toward furthering the prevailing logic of alignment within the European Consensus on Development, the European Commission should now endeavour to explore the dynamics of concertation and analysis of existing governance within partner countries more deeply, like they do with the African peer-evaluation mechanism that has begun to be integrated at the Action Plan level. The recognition of these tools and respect for their dynamics they generate are indispensable prerequisites for moving ahead with strategies that will help partner countries to reform of governance from within.

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