One of the key premises of the INSPIRED approach is that most of the time policy dialogue is based on some form of conditionality. Indeed, the intervention logic of policy dialogue cannot be explained – and policy dialogue is unlikely to succeed – without factoring in, and building on, the different sets of incentives that donors can offer to partner governments.
Such an assertion may not be politically correct, but it would be dangerously naïf to overlook one of the basic features of the relationship between donors and partner governments. This can also be framed in terms of “partnership” (as in the Council Conclusions of 2009 and the whole body of international agreements and literature related to Aid Effectiveness) but everybody knows that whenever there is a contractual relation between partners, there are also obligations, expectations, interests and trade-offs.
The irruption of new players with their methods, strategies and rules of the game has brought to the light that conditionality is not good or bad in itself, but rather depends on the fairness of the conditions that are being agreed and the balance of power between both sides. Actually, fair conditionality can be seen as a matter of mutual responsibility, as it ensures that incumbent governments remain accountable to their constituents.
Furthermore, conditionality can have strong positive effects when it comes to supporting democratic transformation and promoting human-rights standards, as in many cases power-holders beneﬁtting from the status quo end up conducting the necessary reforms partly due to this sort of external pressure. A good example of this dynamic is the GSP+, the EU trade scheme that provides a number of countries with preferential access to the Single Market under the condition of ratifying and implementing a number of UN Conventions on human rights, labour rights and environmental sustainability.
It is within this framework that the INSPIRED+ programme unfolded in the nine countries included in the GSP+ (Bolivia, Paraguay, Cabo Verde, Georgia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Mongolia and the Philippines), where the respective nine INSPIRED dialogue processes addressed concrete concerns raised by the monitoring bodies of the UN and ILO conventions associated to the preferential trade scheme. The logic was quite simple, at least in theory: if countries wanted to beneﬁt from trade advantages, they were to comply with the obligations that they had undertaken when ratifying those international conventions, whose main purpose is to protect their own citizens. In practice, however, things usually get more complicated, as governments may be willing to conduct reforms but lack the resources or capacity to do so.
So beyond the simplistic game of the carrot and the stick, conditionality directly relates to the kind of leverage or soft power that the EU exerts in its external relations. One thing is clear: without the EU sponsorship most of our INSPIRED dialogue processes, if not all, would not have gathered the kind of attention that they did and would have hardly raised interest and achieved the levels of sustained engagement by the most powerful stakeholders. In many ways, the EU leverage determined the scope and ambition of the topics that could be realistically addressed through dialogue, as the underlying system of incentives didn’t always have the necessary appeal to counter other sorts of pressure. As one Kyrgyz oﬃcial put it: “GSP+ is like a star, big and bright but too distant for us”. In such cases, policy dialogue can still succeed, but it will need to focus on issues that are less contentious and strive to ﬁnd other incentives to mobilise key players and overcome their resistance to change.
While leaving the centre stage to domestic stakeholders, there are ﬁve key roles for donors to play in an INSPIRED dialogue process. If well played, such roles allow the donor to ensure that the dialogue process is (a) inclusive and participatory, and (b) policy-oriented, process-oriented and partnership-oriented.