“NDICI-Global Europe”, or how the EU is going to finance its external action in the Neighbourhood, development and international cooperation.

“NDICI-Global Europe”, or how the EU is going to finance its external action in the Neighbourhood, development and international cooperation.

“Today’s agreement sends a strong signal to our partners on the role of Europe as a leading global player in the international scene and its commitment to continue being a reliable partner.” High Representative/Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell pronounced these words the 18th December 2020 after the adoption of the political agreement on the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument-Global Europe (NDICI-Global Europe) by the EU Member States in the Council and by the European Parliament. [1]

The same enthusiastic tones have been used by two exponents of the German Presidency of the Council on the 18th December 2020. Indeed, Heiko Maas, German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, affirmed that “the European Union shows its ability to act globally and strengthen Europe’s role as an anchor of stability in the world. NDICI-Global Europe will become the EU’s main financial tool to address our key foreign policy objectives of the next decade”. Gerd Müller, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, shared the same opinion as Maas, adding that with this new instrument “the EU is putting an emphasis on climate action. The only way for us to master the big global challenges that we face is by acting together.”[2]

During another press conference, HR/VP Borrell said that the new instrument of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will allow the EU to have more flexibility and more efficiency for its external action implementation.

HR/VP Borrell defined power as “the capacity of influencing, defending your interest and values and defending your partners using capacities”. In his opinion, the EU can do this with financial capacity. He stated that “Power starts with financial power”. Therefore, having the right financial capacity, which should however be implemented in the right way, the EU could hope to be more influential world-wide globally.[3]

The new instrument is definitely ambitious, with a large scale of scope, but how does it work? What does change?

NDICI-Global Europe policy timeline

On 14th June 2018, the Commission published a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council establishing the NDICI (COM(2018)460). The new instrument for the 2021-2027 MFF in the proposal had a budget of €89.2 billion. The European Commission proposal is under Heading 6, Neighbourhood and the World, of the 2021-2027 MFF.

The European Parliament received the proposal in July 2018 and the two Committees in charge of it were the AFET[4]  and the DEVE[5] . The Committees adopted a joint report for the proposal on 4 March 2019, accepting the proposal but asking for a stronger role of the Parliament for secondary policy choices.[6]

Afterwards, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission negotiated in trilogues the proposal. This process ended in March 2021, when the 18th of March the two Committees of the European Parliament voted for the proposal. The European Parliament will vote the provisional agreement, result of the negotiation, in the plenary of June 2021. Furthermore, the regulation will have retroactive effect from 1st of January 2021. After the negotiations, the NDICI-Global Europe was cut of € 10 billion, the current provisional agreement provides funding for €79 462 billion.[7]

The new NDICI-Global Europe instrument was created taking into consideration the reviews of the instruments adopted for the 2014-2020 MFF. The evaluation documents said that the instruments at the time were generally fit for purpose and that positive trends could be observed. Despite these instruments have been useful, the limited resources and inflexibility impacted their outcomes. The main problems were the limited financial flexibility and the complexity of the architecture, but the reviews showed that there was the need for more financial resources devolved to the external instruments, since they have been stretched to their financial limit.

As reported in the reviews, the 2014-2020 instruments had modest efficiency gains in comparison with 2007-2013 MFF instruments. During the implementation phase it was difficult to act swiftly because of the rigidity of the instruments.  Moreover, there were some problems about the overlapping of programs due to the high number of instruments. That was mostly found in the interplay between thematic and geographic programs in which EU delegations had difficulties in exploiting the complementarities and creating synergies among different instruments. In other words, the EU was missing opportunities for the creation of a coordinated strategy for a given country or region.[8]

Some interested parties considered the implementation administratively burdensome. In fact, it was difficult to define the appropriate monitoring and evaluation systems at the instrument-level. The European Commission was deemed as being more focused on the process rather than on policy objectives and results. Moreover, during their implementation, the EU policy framework changed due to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, and the European Consensus on Development.

EU delegations said that managing and taking advantage of the complementarities and creating synergies between the instruments have been difficult. They thought that the EU was not exploiting the opportunities to create coordinated strategies for partners. After the feedback from the delegations, the European Commission noticed that the previous framework was too complex to be effective. Therefore, the new MFF for 2021-2027 needed to be able to adjust to an ever-changing environment and act accordingly. Thus, so flexibility was deemed as necessary on multiple levels: from budget, more substantial reserves, to multi-annual programming and greater simplification at the implementation level in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness. But for reaching those goals the number of instruments needed to be streamlined. [9]

Through the consultations with stakeholders, five main messages were received:

  1. Flexibility, because instruments should be able to react in front of unforeseeable challenges and have ability to move funds from one project to another if needed. But flexibility should not harm predictability and should not cause less country ownership and diminish the attention for long-term development objectives. In order to do so, instruments should have more sufficient reserves.
  2. Coherence between internal and external policies of the EU and external instruments themselves. There was the necessity to strengthen complementarity and synergies between geographic and thematic instruments. The UN Sustainable Development Goals were considered as the most appropriate basis for consistency between internal and external. Stakeholders recommended making the EU the lead role in improving complementarity among them, inside and outside the EU. They highlighted the risk of overlapping among instruments and called for clear delineation of them.
  3. Complementarity through combining geographical and thematic, which could result in positive outcomes.
  4. Simplification of the overall architecture of the instruments, due to the bulky administrative and financial procedures.
  5. Leverage of the instruments, because of the concerns about private sector priorities overriding poverty reduction objectives.[10]

After the proposal, due to the rising challenges in key countries for Europe, such as those of the Neighbourhood, the European Parliament had called for an increase of the funding in order to implement a ‘genuinely European rules-and values-based foreign policy’. In previous years more than once the European Parliament had demanded the integration of the European Development Fund (EDF) into the EU budget. For instance, in one resolution of April 2018, the European Parliament called for better integration of trust funds and facilities in the budget in order to increase transparency and democratic scrutiny of external financing. The European Parliament asked for restructuring the instrument so that the EU would have more accountability, efficiency, coherence and transparency in its external action, with also the construction of a new governance, which could allow political control. Furthermore, it could be strategy driven, inclusive and accountable.[11]

The Council approved the proposal of the Commission, however it did not accept it completely, because some Member States told the Commission to take more into consideration the “Leaders’ priorities in the area of migration.” There was not also a full agreement on the budgetisation of the EDF proposed by the Commission: in fact, some Member States proposed to maintain the possibility for third countries to participate in the funding.

Finally, after almost two years of negotiations in trilogues, the parts reached an agreement.[12]

The structure, the objectives and the functioning of the new instrument

The current NDICI-Global Europe is the merging of ten previous instruments, which were under the heading “Global Europe” of the 2014-2020 MFF. The instruments were:

  • Regulation (EU) 230/2014 establishing the Instrument contributing to stability and peace (IcSP) [ OJ L 77, 15.3.2014, p. 1–10];
  • Regulation (EU) 232/2014 establishing the European neighbourhood instrument (ENI) [OJ L 77, 15.3.2014, p. 27–43];
  • Regulation (EU) 233/2014 establishing the development cooperation instrument (DCI) [OJ L 77, 15.3.2014, p. 44–76];
  • Regulation (EU) 234/2014 establishing the partnership instrument for cooperation with third countries (PI) [OJ L 77, 15.3.2014, p. 77–84];
  • Regulation (EU) 235/2014 establishing the European instrument for democracy and human rights (EIDHR) [OJ L 77, 15.3.2014, p. 85–94];
  •  Regulation (EU) 236/2014 laying down common rules and procedures for the implementation of the Union’s instrument for financing external action (CIR) [OJ L 77, 15.3.2014, p. 95–108];
  • Regulation (EU) 2017/1601 establishing the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), the EFSD Guarantee and the EFSD Guarantee Fund [OJ L 249, 27.9.2017, p. 1–16];
  • Decision (EU) 2018/412 of 14 March 2018 amending Decision No 466/2014/EU granting an EU guarantee to the European Investment Bank against losses under financing operations supporting investment projects outside the Union (External Lending Mandate, ELM) [OJ L 76, 19.3.2018, p. 30–43];
  • Regulation (EU) 2018/409 amending Council Regulation 480/2009 establishing a Guarantee Fund for External Action (GFEA [OJ L 145, 10.6.2009, p. 10–14];
  • The European Development Fund (EDF) – including its African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) investment facility – as set up by an internal agreement between Member States of 24 June 2013 in accordance with the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement (the “Cotonou Agreement”) [OJ L 210, 6.8.2013].[13]  

The general objective of the new instrument is “to uphold and promote the Union’s values, principles and fundamental interests worldwide in order to pursue the objectives and principles of the Union’s external action.” The new instrument should ensure the consistency between the different areas of EU’s external action and other EU’s policies, promoting the respect of human rights law and international humanitarian law. Moreover, the primary objective of development cooperation should be the eradication of poverty and to foster sustainable economy, with social and environmental development of developing countries. At least 93% of the expenditure would fulfil the criteria for Official Development Assistance established by the OECD.

The new instrument pursues a global order based on rules and values, with the multilateralism as key principle and the UN at its core. All the programs funded through this new instrument should be in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. In fact, sustainable economic development and fight against climate change are the main themes of this new instrument.

As the Member States wanted, migration is another important theme in the NDICI-Global Europe: a new coordinated, holistic, structured approach for migration is introduced in the regulation. The provisional agreement plans the maximisation of synergies and comprehensive partnerships with countries of origin and transit.

The instrument sets as one of its most important objectives boosting gender equality and women’s rights in the partner countries.  

The aim of the new instrument is to make the EU’s external action more coherent and effective, thus improving the implementation of it.With this new regulation, the EU wants to move from crisis and containment response approach to a structural and long-term one. Therefore, the implementation should be guided by the five priorities of the “Global Strategy” of the EU and by the European Consensus of Development. As described before, the lack of flexibility was perceived as the main problem of the previous regulation. Through the merging and the simplification of procedures, the EU hopes to obtain a more flexible instrument to better achieve its goals in the global sphere. [14]

In order to pursue all these objectives, the EU will seek dialogue and participation of both national governments and local authorities to promote sustainable development and democracy. However, in case of degradation in democracy, human rights and rule of law in one of the partner countries the new instrument provides the possibility of suspension of assistance. Additionally, the engagement of civil society organisations is taken into consideration due to their role in the construction of democracy, as the EU wants to support them more.

Programming documents should provide a coherent framework of cooperation between EU and partner country, with clear targets and indicators. The programming part will be held with a dialogue with other donors, local authorities and civil society. The European Parliament and the Council will be informed of the outcome of the consultation.

Regarding the programming approach with the partner countries, in order to better achieve its goals, the EU wants to enhance joint programming between the EU and the Member States to increase their collective impact. EU and Member States should act in the promotion of complementarity and efficiency of their policies, by increasing cooperation and consultation between them.

In order to control the progress of the programmes, a clear monitoring and evaluation mechanisms will be created: it will be pre-defined, transparent, and country-specific, with the creation of measurable indicators when possible. The assessment will be done with the participation of other EU institutions and other stakeholders, including civil society organisations.[15]

Terrorism and organised crime are considered also in the provisional agreement. Moreover, the new frontier of conflict is considered: that of cybercrime and warfare. Actions can be taken under this new regulation to answer these new challenges. Provisions are included regarding the financial support to military actors and the funding of equipment. Those two actions are only permitted if they are in line with the principles and the scope of the regulation, thus they should be funded only for development and only if non-military actors are not able to adequately reach EU objectives. However, those actions must be carried out in accordance with international law and human rights law. The Commission must supervise the situation to prevent any violation.

It is worth to notice that the provisional agreement identifies precisely what cannot be funded with the EU support. First and foremost, the NDICI-Global Europe should not result in the violation of human rights, nor in investments towards fossil fuels or activities that are against the correct implementation of the Paris Agreement. The EU through this instrument cannot fund procurement of arms or ammunition, or operations having military or defence implications. [16]

The NDICI-Global Europe is divided in three programmes: the geographic programmes, the thematic programmes and the rapid response action. The total financial envelope for the implementation is € 79.462 billion in current prices.

The geographic programmes are the biggest part of the new regulation, with a financial envelope of € 60.388 billion and their action includes the European Neighbourhood, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Americas and Caribbean. Therefore, the geographic part includes all third countries, with the exception of candidates and potential candidates. The programming will be based on the dialogue among the EU, Member States and the partner countries, although with the participation of local authorities and representatives of the civil society.

The areas of cooperation covered by the geographic programmes are going to be: good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights; poverty eradication, fight against inequalities and human development; migration and mobility; environment and climate change; inclusive and sustainable growth and decent employment; security, stability and peace; partnership.[17]

The thematic programmes will cover: human rights and democracy, civil society organizations, peace, stability and conflict prevention, global challenges. The financial budget is € 6.358 billion.

Rapid response actions will have as objectives: contribution to peace, stability and conflict prevention in case of emergency or crisis, including migration and forced displacements; strengthening the resilience of states, societies communities and individuals linking humanitarian aid and development action and, where relevant, peacebuilding; address Union foreign policy needs and priorities. These actions do not require action plans and will have a financial envelope of € 3.182 billion.

Actions will be implemented mainly through geographic programmes; thematic programmes will be complementary to them and should mostly achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. They should be put into effect where there are not geographic programmes. Similarly, rapid response actions will be implemented in complementarity with the other two programmes.

In order to better answer any new unforeseen emerging challenge, there will be the allocation of funds for the “emerging challenges and priorities cushion”, for which activation the Commission should inform the European Parliament and take into consideration its remarks. This part of the NDICI-Global Europe should guarantee flexibility to the instrument, because there is the possibility of carryovers and re-commitments of funds. Emerging challenges and priorities cushion will have a financial envelope of €9.534 billion. [18]

The geographic programmes envelope should finance the European Fund for Sustainable Development plus (EFSD+) and the External Action Guarantee. External Action Guarantee shall support the EFSD+ covered by budgetary guarantees and macro-financial assistance and loans to third countries. The EFSD+ will have a strategic board, composed by members of the Commission, of Member States, of the HR/VP and of the European Investment Bank. The European Parliament will have an observer status. Its purpose will be to advise the Commission about the strategic orientation and priorities of the External Action Guarantee investments and control that they are in line with the EU interests, principles and policy. Furthermore, Western Balkans will have their own strategic board. Meetings will be held twice per year, opinions shall be given by consensus. The Commission shall report annually to the EFSD+ board for the implementation of EFSD+.

External Action Guarantee shall support the EFSD+, its priority is given to the operations maximising additionality and development impact. Before taking any action, an ex-ante assessment of the environmental, financial and social aspects will be done. The latter will be used for covering for the following instruments for the partner countries: loans, guarantees, counter-guarantees, capital market instruments, any other form of funding or credit enhancement, insurance, and equity or quasi- equity participations.

Regarding these actions, the Commission has to inform European Parliament and the Council about the investment windows for region, partner countries or both covered by the External Action Guarantee and how they comply to EU regulations, priorities and principles. The European Investment Bank (EIB) will implement a specific investment window which will cover a comprehensive risk cover for sovereign and non-commercial sub sovereign operations with an indicative minimum amount of €11 billion and it will have the exclusivity for it. Two additional dedicated windows are envisaged. The first one is a non-exclusive comprehensive risk cover for operations with commercial sub- sovereign counterparts. The second ones are non-exclusive operations for the promotion of foreign direct investment, trade and the internationalisation of partner countries’ economies, providing a political risk cover for private sector operations. When managing those funds, the EIB will be under the scrutiny of the strategic boards. The two overmentioned institutions, the EIB and the Commission, will conclude the agreements regarding the External Action Guarantee. [19]

The European Parliament definitely obtained an enhanced role in the definition of the main strategic choices through delegated act on the specific objectives and priority areas of cooperation per sub-region. Another instrument for the European Parliament to influence the external action will be the compulsory mid-term review. Moreover, now the Commission has the political commitment to inform the European Parliament before using the emerging challenges and priorities cushion and has to take consideration European Parliament comments. Twice-yearly geopolitical dialogue will be held between the HR/VP, Commissioners which role is related to the implementation of the instrument and the European Parliament. The regular exchange of views between European Commission and the European Parliament is required.[20]

It is worth to notice that the European Parliament obtained a victory with the budgetisation of the EDF, a battle that it fought for years. In fact, the European Parliament encountered a hard and long resistance from the Member States, because they wanted to retain a certain power on it since they directly contributed to its funding. Although it can be considered as a victory, the EDF was a more flexible instrument, because on it the rule of the annuality, typical of EU instruments, did not apply. The annuality implies that funds are allocated and spent year by year, on the contrary the EDF worked more on a multi-annual basis.

The four European Parliament rapporteurs were quite satisfied with the results of the negotiations and the provisional agreement. One of the rapporteurs, Mrs Juknevičienė from the European People’s Party, said that she was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, even though the pandemic added more challenges. She thinks that this new regulation provides good basis for more effectiveness and transparency due to set of targets, better coherence, coordination, the policy first and Team Europe approaches and the Parliament’s involvement in scrutiny of the implementation. In her opinion the biggest issue during the negotiations was the role of the Parliament in programming, but she thinks that the solution of delegated acts was satisfactory. Moreover, the Parliament will have a regular geopolitical dialogue with the Commission and HR/VP Borrell to discuss strategic issues.    However, the Parliament did not obtain a clear and specific mechanism for blocking the funding in case of human rights violations, but it will closely monitor the situation during the implementation.

Member of European Parliament Juknevičienė expects that in June the Parliament will approve the regulation with a vast majority of votes.

The new instruments for some parts are certainly an improvement from the past, however in other parts it is not.

The most important progress in this new regulation is the possibility for the European Parliament to participate more in the definition of the European external action. The new regulation also takes into consideration the Paris Agreement and puts the fight against climate change and other environmental issues among its primary objectives, which is positive and completely coherent with the overall EU policy strategy for the next decades.

But for some issues the instrument has a great attention, for others not so much. Indeed, gender equality and women’s rights are defined as a priority, but in the overall document more focus is given to migration and how to prevent the arrival of migrants on European shores, even if it is written in more subtle and gentle words. Development is a word that we can find everywhere in the provisional agreement, but how will it be possible if the youngest part of the population is not considered? The youth is not mentioned in the provisional agreement, but it could be the driver for change and those who will implement a sustainable economic development. However, maybe specific programs for youth empowerment will be covered in the implementation phase. It is worth to notice that specific measures, aimed at helping the youngest part of the population, could also help with the migration issue, which is one of the main preoccupations of Member States’ governments. HR/VP Borrell and the German Federal Government representatives shared enthusiastic tones for the new provisional agreement, talking about power and the European influence in the global sphere. However, that will be seen in the next few years during the implementation phase, but precise indicators should be designed to really understand if there is an improvement. Another issue is the stop of funding in case of the violation of human rights: without a clear scheme it will be difficult to enforce it.     Efficiency, transparency, flexibility and coherence are the main principles of the instrument, but we will have to wait for the review to see if it really provided them or not. A factor that could prevent it from happening is the behaviour of the Member States: joint programming and consultations are required in many stages of the implementation, but if incoherent actions will follow them the regulation will not have a good outcome. A second factor that could prevent reaching those principles is the cut in the financial budget. In fact, during the negotiations the NDICI-Global Europe budget was cut of € 10 billion. The necessity for more resources was clearly stated in the reviews documents cited above, but this demand was not met because of the Member States unwillingness of giving more resources to this heading. Therefore, the new instrument has great ambitions and expectations, but it has not so great resources to accomplish them.


[1]Press release “European Commission welcomes political agreement on future €79.5 billion for a new instrument to finance the EU external action and lead the global recovery through international partnerships”, 18th December 2020, European Commission website: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_20_2453

[2]Press release “Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument: Coreper endorses provisional agreement with the European Parliament”, 18th December 2020, Council website: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/12/18/neighbourhood-development-and-international-cooperation-instrument-coreper-endorses-provisional-agreement-with-the-european-parliament/

[3] Statements by the HR/VP, “External action finance instruments in the next MFF: Remarks by HR/VP Josep Borrell at the press conference”, European External Action Service (EEAS) website: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/80234/external-action-finance-instruments-next-mff-remarks-hrvp-josep-borrell-press-conference_en

[4] Committee for Foreign Affairs

[5] Committee for Development

[6] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-new-boost-for-jobs-growth-and-investment/file-mff-ndici https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-foreign-affairs-afet/file-mff-ndici

[7] Briefing EU Legislation in Progress 2021-2027 MFF, “A new neighbourhood, development and international cooperation instrument – Global Europe”, European Parliament website: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2018)628251

[8] Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council establishing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument, COM(2018) 460 final, European Commission, 14th June 2018

[9] COM(2017) 720 final, Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and Council: Mid-term review report of the External Financing Instruments.

Briefing EU Legislation in Progress 2021-2027 MFF, “A new neighbourhood, development and international cooperation instrument – Global Europe”, European Parliament website: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2018)628251

[10] Proposal of a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council establishing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument, COM(2018) 460 final, European Commission, 14th June 2018

[11] Briefing EU Legislation in Progress 2021-2027 MFF, “A new neighbourhood, development and international cooperation instrument – Global Europe”, European Parliament website: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2018)628251

[12] Ibidem

[13] Ibidem

[14] Provisional Agreement resulting from interinstitutional negotiations, Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument, (COM(2018)0460 – C8-0275/2018 – 2018/0243(COD)).

[15]Ibidem

[16]Ibidem

[17]Ibidem

[18] Ibidem

[19] Ibidem

[20] Briefing EU Legislation in Progress 2021-2027 MFF, “A new neighbourhood, development and international cooperation instrument – Global Europe”, European Parliament website https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2018)628251

Lucrezia Lepri

I have a bachelor's degree in Political Sciences with a specialization in International Relations at the University of Florence, now I am enrolled in a master's degree in European Studies. I am particularly interested in the EU's external action, in its economic integration and in EU policies aimed at combating climate change.

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