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At a vantage point in the European Commission: Team Europe to strengthen the EU’s leadership in development cooperation

Ministry for Foreign Affairs
12.11.2020 15.35
News item

The European Union — with its Member States — is the world’s largest funder of public development cooperation. However, this work is not always familiar to Finns. In this article series, we will introduce the EU development policy objectives and the Finns implementing them.

Heli Mikkola has been working for the European Commission’s future Team Europe in Brussels since last summer. The new unit will officially start its operations in mid-January 2021.

Mikkola has worked as a national expert, sent by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development since January 2019.

Heli Mikkola believes that Finnish operators have a lot to offer and cooperation possibilities to gain from the EU’s development cooperation Photo: Sari Mikkola

The Directorate-General is led by the Finnish Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, who is responsible for the EU’s development policy and international partnerships. Due to an organisational reform, at the turn of the year, the name of the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development will be changed to the Directorate-General for International Partnerships.

This reform of the Directorate-General and the name of the functions of Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen – international partnerships – illustrate the EU’s wish to see relationships with developing countries in a way that is more diverse than the traditional development cooperation perspective. At the same time, this reform responds to the EU’s policy priorities, such as green development, digital preparedness, sustainable economic development and, naturally, the sustainable development goals of the UN.

Team Europe is a brand that coordinates

The EU published the Team Europe approach in April in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The aim is to support in a coordinated manner the developing countries that have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences.

Team Europe consists of EU institutions, its Member States, national development cooperation agencies, development financing institutions and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Almost EUR 37 billion of funding has been collected by the beginning of November for coronavirus measures in the partner countries. Finland’s share was EUR 44,7 million.

Finland and the EU are together implementing an extensive water resource management project in the western regions of Nepal. Bimala Maday at her school’s hand-washing station in the Dola village in November 2019. Photo: Hanna Päivärinta/MFA

The tasks of the Team Europe unit, which will start its operations in January, include the coordination, preparation and monitoring of the EU development policy in terms of the Team Europe approach and aid efficiency.  The unit is responsible for strengthening the connections between the Member States, the EU and financial institutions as well as for supporting the implementation of the Team Europe approach at the national level, such as through the joint programming of the Member States.

The task of the EU embassies in the partner countries is to coordinate, manage and monitor the development cooperation implemented by the EU together with the partner country and other possible operators. The development cooperation programmes and projects may be implemented, for example, by the Member States, international organisations (such as the UN) and international development cooperation financing institutions as well as non-governmental organisations.

This new way of operating is not limited to the period of the coronavirus pandemic only. The goal is to also use the same Team Europe approach in the EU’s development cooperation after the pandemic.

Good results already achieved

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic will reach far into the future. In the acute phase, the need for support in the availability of health services is especially great in the developing countries. On the other hand, the economic decline will make the situation with the livelihood of people in poor countries even worse and threaten food security.

The EU has used the Team Europe approach while supporting the health care systems in, for example, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. In Ghana and Gambia, the aid has been used to mitigate the social and financial impacts of the pandemic.

“When tackling the coronavirus, Team Europe cooperated more closely than perhaps ever before. We have received excellent feedback concerning this approach, which we can learn from when further boosting the cooperation in the years to come. The EU has been seen as a unified, efficient and strong operator at the national and international levels,” says Heli Mikkola.

Team Europe increases the visibility of the EU

The EU’s multiannual financial framework or budget for 2021–2027 has not yet been finally approved. In the budget, the structure of the funding of external operations has been simplified when compared to the current structure. Development cooperation was included as part of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).

In the future funding instrument for external relations, the primary method of implementing the EU development policy in the partner countries is the joint programming of the European Commission and the Member States. The joint programming means in practice that Team Europe agrees, for each country on the basis of a shared analysis, on the strategic focal points of the cooperation, mutual distribution of work, required resources and implementation measures. The aim is to improve the efficiency of the cooperation with the partner country.

Team Europe is about strengthening the EU’s role and improving its visibility in the partner countries and globally. The commitment of Member States to the cooperation plays a significant role. 

“The goal is to increase the impact of the EU’s development cooperation by coordinating transformational proposals well, increasing the strategic visibility of the EU and strengthening the EU’s role as a unified operator and primary cooperation partner,” says Mikkola.

Hanna Päivärinta

The author is a Communications Officer at the Department for Communications in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

Who and which task?

Heli Mikkola, national expert at the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development

Work in practice: The task includes the integration of the UN’s sustainable development goals as part of the Directorate-General’s operations, monitoring and reporting, especially in the development funding programming for 2021–2027. After the organisational reform, the task is to coordinate and instruct the Team Europe approach and proposals as well as develop the concept. The work includes communication between the Member States and the Commission as well as coordination between her own Directorate-General, the European External Action Service and other Directorate-Generals of the Commission.

Work experience prior to the EU: More than 12 years as the Senior Adviser for Development Policy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and in the UN departments of Development Issues and Financing for Development and Private Sector Partnership. Before this, 10 years employed by Unicef in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Irak, Vietnam and the headquarters in New York.

What interested her about development cooperation: Interest in international tasks that reflect her own values.



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