Does the ‘Global EU Response’ to COVID-19 match the global expectations for the biggest bloc providing ODA?

In this chapter, CONCORD Europe‘s Riccardo Roba evaluates the ‘EU Global Response to COVID-19 launched in April 2020, calling for the recognition of the pandemic as a new concern requiring additional funds rather than redirection of prior ODA, and examines the Team Europe package as a potential example of multilateralism effectively meeting the needs of the most vulnerable partner countries.

Riccardo Roba, CONCORD Europe

This is an excerpt from a chapter in the Reality of Aid Report 2020/2021. Click here to view the full chapter.

In April, the ‘EU Global Response to COVID-19’ was adopted to give a European coordinated answer to EU partner countries facing coronavirus surges and its consequences.

A comprehensive monitoring report on the implementation of the EU Global Response to COVID-19 is still not publicly available. The European Commission (EC), however, uses an internal COVID-19 marker to identify disbursements by the European Union Delegations (EUDs) related to the EU package. This would be an essential tool for transparency and accountability vis-a-vis the public. The lack of transparency surrounding data availability puts into question the accountability of the EU’s response and has prevented a more comprehensive evaluation.

The reduction of some European donors’ operational capacities at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak reveals that robust and consolidated local engagement is key to reinforcing resilience and the continuity of programs and projects, which represent a lifeline for many people in need. 

Resources to support the EU Global Response have usually been redirected from already budgeted items. An approach that recognizes COVID-19 as a new shock requiring additional funds is therefore needed. Donors have noticeably prioritized multilateral options in their COVID-19 responses. However, information scarcity raises concerns on the lack of attention to “Leave No One Behind” (LNOB) approaches, limited attention on the gender dimension, and uneven consultations with civil society organizations (CSOs) by governments. 

In June, EU Member States increased their efforts to help contain the virus in partner countries, thus making them key players in the EU response. The EU response targets (1) emergency response, (2) support to healthcare systems, and (3) the pandemic’s economic and social consequences. The humanitarian-related budgets, however, are nearly depleted. EU donors have been redirecting funds from already planned activities, also dipping into their contingency reserves, to support COVID-19 response activities. 

The growing use of multilateral responses, alongside the redirecting of funds, has diminished the role of CSOs despite the fact that CSOs (particularly development NGOs) would be well placed to complement governments’ actions and to work in the interest and well-being of citizens, local communities and marginalized people.

Despite committing to put Africa at the forefront of the EU response, updated figures show that, compared to the €11.8 billion for neighboring countries, only €4.8 billion was allocated for Sub-Saharan Africa, which is predicted to be one of the worst hit regions in terms of the economic and social consequences of this pandemic. 

The majority of funding disbursed under EC’s response framework is in the form of grants. The EC, however, is likely to push for an increase in the use of budget support as well as private sector instruments (PSIs) and technical assistance. The emphasis on the use of non-grant modalities is a cause for concern. Moreover, despite evidence of the outbreak’s disproportionate impact on women and girls, little attention has been paid to gender equality or women/girls’ empowerment in donors’ COVID-19 responses. 

The EC has attempted to provide a European face to their COVID-19 response in partner countries through the establishment of the Team Europe package, which aims to support the most vulnerable countries and people most at risk. It is a clear step forward in terms of effectiveness and has the potential to strengthen local ownership aspects. Team Europe could thus become a model and crucial feature of EU development cooperation to address medium- and long-term social and economic consequences. Recommendations for the EC and its Member States include:

  1. Aligning the EU Global Response implementation to the national priorities of partner countries
  2. Making monitoring reports on the implementation of the EU Global Response to COVID-19 public
  3. Providing EUDs with clear guidelines on how to design call-for-proposals and ensuring that the EUDS consult CSOs in the design of these calls-for-proposals
  4. Prioritizing grants-based finance over loans and ensuring that there are no grant/loan conditionalities–increasing support to PSIs should not come at the expense of grants-based modalities

In addition, recommendations for Team Europe include:

  1. Speeding up the disbursements of the package to address the economic and social consequences to that these are in line with the national strategies for development
  2. Increasing the funding committed to the Sub-Saharan Africa, since this will be the most significantly impacted region in terms of the economic and social consequences of the pandemic