NDICI: the European Parliament raises the bar on EU’s development cooperation

The European Commission has proposed the creation of a new instrument to unify all EU external policies. Known as NDICI, the original proposal of this instrument was lacking many elements central to the labour movement. The European Parliament recently approved a revision of the Commission’s proposal, which addresses most of these shortcomings.

In June 2018, the European Commission (EC) presented a series of proposals for the next seven-year budget of the European Union: the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027. Regarding external action of the EU, the EC proposed to create a new instrument called the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). This new instrument represents a radical change in the financing set-up of the EU as it merges most of the existing instruments for external action. In practice, this means merging crucial areas –and interests- of EU’s work, such as development, international cooperation, neighbourhood policies and blending instruments.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have been jointly following this process and promoting the labour movement’s key asks to ensure the EU’s values and principles are preserved, as well as its commitment to an ambitious development cooperation policy.

After months of negotiations, on 27 March 2019, the European Parliament adopted its legislative resolution on the NDICI proposal. To trade unions, this resolution represents a significant step forward in terms of objectives, priorities and governance.


Get the objectives right

Trade unions support a streamlined architecture of the EU External Financing Instruments, as long as it clearly respects the objectives of the EU’s underlying policies and it enhances accountability, efficiency and coherence. In this sense, the Commission’s proposal of NDICI seemed very focused on the EU’s urgency to safeguard its own interests, both geographically (focusing on the EU Neighbourhood and Africa) and thematically (emphasising security and migration).

However, the Parliament has reoriented the discussion in its resolution by referring explicitly to poverty eradication and the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals as key objectives of the NDICI. In addition, the Parliament has also raised the level of ambition in terms of key percentages: the ODA target is increased from 92 per cent to 95, and at least 85 per cent of it “shall have gender equality as principal or significant objective”. Equally important, the Parliament also has increased the amount of NDICI funds focusing on climate objectives from 25 per cent to 45 per cent. Finally, the Parliament has made explicit reference to adhering the overall NDICI framework to the Paris Agreement.


Reorient priorities (and budget)

While the EC’s proposal clearly prioritises geographic approaches (76 per cent of the budget allocation) over thematic ones (8 per cent of the budget allocation), the Parliament proposes a more balanced distribution between the two as well as a stronger emphasis on their complementarity. In trade unions’ view, the increased allocation for the thematic programmes is crucial to address properly global and transnational challenges, including those related to the shrinking civil space for civil society organisations (CSO). The correspondent decrease of the “emerging challenges and priorities cushion” and rapid response actions is welcome too, as well as the inclusion of the “geographic and thematic programmes scope” in the body of the NDICI proposal.

Stronger governance

Given their scope and complexity, the achievement of NDICI objectives depends on solid governance mechanisms. In this sense, the European Parliament’s revision of the programming, execution, monitoring and evaluation process goes in the right direction. It better balances flexibility and accountability, by strengthening the right of scrutiny of the European Parliament and by enhancing multi-stakeholder and inclusive policy dialogue with CSOs, from the programming until the evaluation of projects. Finally, it provides more precise information on the performance indicators, by stating that the “Commission shall make available information on development cooperation through recognised international standards, including those of the International Labour Organization” (AM 291).

Hold business accountable

In the resolution, the European Parliament also includes stronger accountability mechanisms in the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+) and the External Action Guarantee. This is highly welcomed by the labour movement, especially as it includes specific reference to comply with international labour standards, fiscal and environmental rules, and instruments granting responsible business conduct, as well as the improved governance of such instruments.

Trade unions are in favour of clear rules to ensure private sector alignment with the SDGs and the Decent Work Agenda. In this sense, the ITUC and ETUC particularly welcome the Parliament’s inclusion of such amendements (AM) as “Promoting decent job creation in compliance with relevant ILO standards among the priority areas of EFSD+” (AM 234 and 526), and “full respect for international human rights law as well as internationally agreed guidelines, principles and conventions, including the…UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises…International Labour Organization conventions and standards” (AM 253).


More Decent Work Agenda

The Parliament has expanded the reference to the Decent Work Agenda in the areas of cooperation of both the geographic and thematic programmes. Indeed, key components of decent work are now explicit in the text, such as the full application of ILO labour standards, social dialogue, living wages for all, fighting child labour, sustainable social protection systems and fiscal reforms. The resolution also makes explicit references to promoting women’s labour, economic, social and political rights, and to promoting youth access to skills, decent jobs through education, vocational and technical training.

The recognition of trade unions as human rights related stakeholders (AM 434) is also very important, as a condition for support of social partners in policy dialogue on development policies. Coherently, support for capacity building and institutional strengthening for CSOs is now included in the NDICI’s thematic programme on CSOs, in order for CSOs to effectively engage in development processes.


Human rights first (migrants included)

Compared to the European Commission’s proposal, the European Parliament’s resolution better mainstreams human rights as founding principles of NDICI. For example, the Parliament asks for “ex-ante human rights, gender, social and labour impact assessments” to be conducted before the adoption of NDICI action plans (AM 211). In addition, the Parliament increases the budget allocation for the Human Rights and Democracy Programme and foresees the possibility to suspend assistance to a given country in cases of persistent violations of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Such approach applies to migration policies too, where “dignity” becomes a key word and the “right of every individual to leave his or her country of origin” is recognised as a human right (AM 126). Coherently, not only “cooperation in this area shall comply with international and Union law and human rights obligations”, but also the allocation of development aid to third countries cannot be conditioned to cooperation on migration management. Moreover, access to decent jobs is now included as a measure to support the inclusion of forcibly displaced persons in the economic and social life of host countries.



The Parliament’s resolution provides an important input in shaping the future of EU’s development cooperation, which trade unions hope will inspire the current negotiations in the Council of the European Union. Indeed, the SDGs set a high bar for countries both inside and outside the EU, for which we need ambitious development cooperation policies. Now it is Council’s turn to keep the bar high and face the challenge of leaving no one behind.



For more information on this topic, contact:
Giulia Massobrio, Advocacy Officer with the ITUC