4. Belgium’s structure and systems

The DGD of the Federal Public Service (FPS) Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation is responsible for development co-operation. It develops strategies according to political orientations and the legal framework, grants funding and monitors the co-operation programme. Under the responsibility of the Minister for Co-operation, its main strategic orientations are approved in a biannual administration contract signed between the FPS and the Minister, which is regularly monitored (FPS Foreign Affairs, 2016[1]). The DGD shares accountability to parliament with the Office of the Special Evaluator, whose mandate is not limited to DGD-controlled actions but covers all Belgian official development assistance (ODA) (Chapter 6).

The DGD is only administratively directly responsible for 56% of the ODA budget that it grants to its implementing partners (Figure 4.1). The remaining 44% of ODA is largely out of its remit, in particular because it corresponds to disbursements and contributions to multilateral organisations under the responsibility of other FPSs (such as Finance) or that fall within the jurisdiction of the regions and communities, and is therefore independent of federal orientations and policies (4%). However, almost half of this 44% consists of Belgium's contribution to the European Commission’s ODA via the EU budget. Although this contribution is granted administratively by the FPS Finance, it is steered politically by the DGD. Furthermore, the Directorate-General’s authority was strengthened in 2016 when it gained competence for overseeing the regional banks in Africa, and also assumed joint responsibility with the FPS Finance for monitoring the World Bank. This change in the DGD’s competences strengthens its authority over the direction of multilateral ODA.

To rationalise its efforts and increase programme flexibility, and as recommended in the previous peer review (OECD, 2015[3]), the Belgian administration is engaged in a series of reforms that have modified its internal organisation and strengthened the autonomy of its partners (Chapter 5). Internally, the DGD has created, reorganised or merged directorates to organise them around the key themes of Belgian co-operation (Annex C).1 Externally, the role of the DGD has changed from one of strategic and technical driver to one of strategic driver and partner co-ordinator. In particular, the administration has consolidated the portfolio of non-government actors (NGAs) around common objectives (Chapter 5) and reviewed the mandate of Enabel (the implementing agency) to increase its autonomy (Box 4.1).

The DGD’s authority over its public partners is set out in the management contracts signed every five years with Enabel and BIO (Belgian Investment Company for Developing Countries, its development finance institution) (Kingdom of Belgium, 2017[4]), (Kingdom of Belgium, 2018[5]). These contracts specify the missions, values, principles, strategic priorities and intervention modalities of the two institutions, while preserving their decision-making and operational independence. In this spirit of preserving independence and autonomy, the DGD sits on their respective boards of directors, but only as an observer.2

A period of institutional stability is now needed to enable Belgium to benefit from the reforms and for the DGD to develop management and co-ordination instruments tailored to its new role: taking a stronger strategic lead and being less involved in operations. The DGD’s ability to fulfil this role will depend on its strategic positioning and on the capacity of its staff to take ownership.

The review period has seen significant ministerial involvement in the DGD’s activity, not only through the introduction of new priorities (Chapter 2), but also in programming (next section), making the directorate’s authority over its partners less clear. As the DGD is considering updating its strategy notes, in particular to highlight its contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the themes selected will influence its readiness and capacity to act as a strategic driver vis-à-vis the government and implementing actors (Chapter 2).

However, despite ongoing efforts to exploit the knowledge produced by its implementing partners, the DGD is not yet adequately equipped to extract strategic rather than operational information, or to consolidate this information in a way that enables genuine steering, both at country and global level (Chapter 6). Institutional learning efforts (Chapter 6), the current merging of the geographical units in charge of government and non-government aid, and restructuring of the organisational chart around thematic priorities should make it possible to consolidate geographical monitoring, thematic steering and co-ordination for field support, in keeping with a logic of coherence, responsiveness and foresight.

Whole-of-government co-ordination mechanisms are primarily part of the “comprehensive approach” developed to address fragility issues (Chapter 7). Stemming from the 3D-LO approach,3 this approach brings together the various federal departments (Foreign Affairs, International Development, Defence, Justice and Internal Affairs) into thematic or geographic taskforces (Box 7.1). As there is no other co-ordination structure, whole-of-government co-ordination outside of the comprehensive approach is primarily focused on advocacy issues.4 Thus, although comprehensive approach taskforces are mainly ad hoc, they could serve as an example for a more systematic whole-of-government approach to the key topics of Belgian co-operation.

Belgium has also sought to broaden co-ordination between Enabel and BIO beyond purely government bodies, with BIO systematically participating in preparatory missions for any new direct bilateral co-operation. These efforts have led to better integration of the private sector perspective in context analyses (Chapter 5), but have not resulted in operational co-ordination. The differences in Enabel and BIO’s operating methods, alongside the autonomy of implementing actors, do not make co-ordination easy to achieve.

Enabel’s reform, and its new capacity to work directly with international organisations, also raises the question of strengthening co-ordination of the multilateral portfolio to ensure overall coherence. Since the various FPSs have not yet fully identified Enabel as being responsible for extra-budgetary funding, the flow of information between the FPSs that finance multilateral organisations and the agency is still limited.

Co-ordination of government co-operation in the field has been strengthened by the introduction of a “one-roof” policy. Gradually, Enabel’s offices have been hosted by embassies – which are now present in all partner countries and territories – while maintaining their functional autonomy. This physical merger into a single team, Team Belgium, has strengthened interaction between heads of co-operation and local representatives, and facilitated the division of tasks to ensure representation and engagement with partner governments and development co-operation providers.

Enabel can now directly be mandated by other FPSs and draw on their expertise, which should help strengthen this co-ordination in the field. For example, the agency mobilises and closely co-ordinates at the operational level with the Ministry of Defence and the FPS Justice in fragile contexts (Chapter 7).

Despite the ambition to decentralise decision making to the field by strengthening Enabel’s autonomy (Box 4.1), the drafting of the agency’s first country portfolios revealed significant involvement by the central administration and the minister in the orientations chosen. Numerous exchanges took place between Enabel and the DGD and between the field and Brussels, missing the opportunity for enhanced involvement from partner countries and territories5 (Chapter 5), and resulting in significant internal co-ordination costs. Moreover, some staff members consider the current practice of referring numerous decisions to the agency’s board of directors for approval to be sub-optimal.6 Furthermore, although embassies play an active role in providing advice and consultation, they do not have decision-making power or a budget for co-operation interventions. With Enabel’s new management contract and more decentralised work by its experts, embassies have noted a decrease in the technical support provided by the agency, particularly for sectoral policy dialogue. This could be detrimental to the effectiveness and quality of co-ordination in the field and to exchanges with partners.

The current drafting of joint guidance for embassies and the agency is an opportunity to reflect on the administration’s degree of decentralisation, and on the interactions between administration and government, between the agency and the FPS, and within the agency itself. Formalising operating procedures should make it possible to how and when to consult in the field more precisely and to reduce the administrative burden on staff who are already under stress.

Belgium has strong processes and mechanisms in place to manage its aid. Following the 2015 peer review and analyses from the Court of audits (Cour des comptes, 2015[6]), the DGD has developed an action plan to better structure its internal audit, strengthen the management and monitoring of grants (Chapter 5), and ensure high-quality interventions. Some procedures remain administratively cumbersome, both for the administration and for its partners, and the challenge remains to improve performance without increasing workloads. Enabel, for its part, is engaged in a “Strat & Go” reform strategy to make its operations more agile, effective and efficient. Table 4.1 summarises the state of play of Belgium’s development co-operation systems.

Risk management and financial and moral integrity are at the heart of the Belgian agenda (Box 4.2). The Belgian administration has evolved from a risk-averse approach to a more comprehensive, proactive and multidimensional approach that aims to identify and manage the risks associated with achieving development outcomes rather than avoiding the risks altogether. This change goes hand in hand with the focus on fragile contexts and local private sector development.

Human resources management remains a major challenge for the DGD; the 2015 peer review recommendation remains valid (OECD, 2015[3]). Despite pressure on FPS staff as a whole (and in particular the DGD up until 2016), high staff turnover and the general tightening of budgetary resources in the Belgian civil service, the DGD has managed to stabilise its staff numbers over the last three years thanks to mechanisms of exchanges of officials, internal mobility and secondment. However, the humanitarian team has been downsized while funding has increased significantly, which, combined with high staff turnover, increases fiduciary and reputational risks. In addition, development co-operation positions in the embassy network have been drastically reduced – from 54 in 2014 to 28 in 2020 – yet embassies must now actively participate in monitoring priority multilateral partners (Chapter 2).

Moreover, successive reforms, carried out with little consultation, have contributed to a loss of momentum and reference points for staff in their new roles. Thus, the DGD in general and the humanitarian team in particular is facing a high turnover rate and long-term absences, especially due to increased stress.7 Combined with the integration of former international co-operation attachés into a single career, this rotation complicates knowledge management. In this context, restoring staff motivation would make it possible to stabilise the teams and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the reform, in particular by introducing a proactive policy to prevent psychosocial risks and a collective definition of the DGD’s new functions. Greater staff mobility between the humanitarian and development sectors would diversify the pool of expertise in the humanitarian field and reduce the burden within the team.

The reforms mean that the DGD must reflect on the type of expertise it needs to prepare strategic guidelines and monitor Belgian co-operation policy. Staff must be able to engage in financial bodies, have an overview of new complex issues and draw on technical expertise from autonomous partners. This will allow them to develop or provide an informed opinion on programming or development strategies, while playing a role in co-ordination and dialogue with implementing partners in Belgium or in the field.

An inventory of needs and available skills, both within the administration, Enabel and BIO, would enable the DGD to draw up an action plan to reconcile needs and resources and to become fully involved in workforce planning and forecasting. This plan could include the means and modalities for investing in staff training, an adapted recruitment policy, reinforced mobility and secondment arrangements – whether intra-departmental or with other co-operation actors – and a knowledge management strategy to reduce the loss of institutional memory and to systematise learning (Chapter 6). A joint analysis with Belgian development co-operation’s key implementing partners would maximise the relevance of these efforts.

In line with its decentralisation policy, Enabel has 184 employees at headquarters and 1 302 staff in the field. For the first time in 20 years, the recent reform has provided its staff with a legal system that allows human resources procedures between headquarters and the field to be harmonised. Enabel’s human resources management is rooted in the principles of diversity; a strong local presence; accountability; sustained self-evaluation efforts; and improved forward planning including short, medium and long-term visions. In these efforts, Enabel must ensure that it promotes the expertise and professional development of its staff, some of whom are facing great pressure and uncertainty in a context of rapid budget growth and shifts in the expertise required to meet Belgian co-operation priorities. The identification and implementation of the “Strat & Go” reform, which aims to outline Enabel’s ten-year strategy, is an opportunity to address these issues and strengthen change management support for teams. This process may gain relevance if it is conducted jointly with the DGD and informed by the considerations and challenges it faces in terms of human resources and expertise.

Enabel has a broad understanding of expertise. To respond flexibly to field requirements, it proactively and inclusively mobilises its own staff and experts from the various FPSs or from the pool of experts available through its 62 partners and independent consultants. However, in its constant effort to improve, Enabel is reflecting on how to better match sources of expertise, the mobilisation modalities available and its needs. Enabel’s stated objective is to increase the representation of women among the expatriates and technical experts mobilised during interventions (women currently account for 23% and 27% of these actors respectively). This objective is part of a broader strategy to develop a more inclusive human resources policy, particularly in management positions, also taking into account age and nationality, among others.


[8] (n.a.) (2018), Charte d’intégrité, https://cdn.webdoos.io/vliruos/884cf91fea25f6a8e2a4ed982bc9220b.pdf.

[6] Cour des comptes (2015), ’Evaluation du contrôle interne de la DGD du SPF Affaires étrangères“ [in French], Cour des comptes, Brussels, https://www.ccrek.be/docs/2015_30_EvalControleInterneDGD.pdf.

[9] Deloitte (2019), “Guide pour la gestion des plaintes liées aux atteintes à l’intégrité” [Guide to Managing Integrity Complaints], Deloitte, Brussels.

[10] Deloitte (2019), “Processus d’analyse de l’intégrité lié aux partenaires de mise en œuvre” [Integrity Analysis Process Related to Implementing Partners], Deloitte, Brussels.

[1] FPS Foreign Affairs (2016), “Contrat d’administration relatif au fonctionnement du service public fédéral Affaires étrangères, Commerce extérieur et Coopération au développement 2016-18” [in French], Kingdom of Belgium, Brussels, https://diplomatie.belgium.be/sites/default/files/downloads/2016-2018_contrat_administration.pdf.

[5] Kingdom of Belgium (2018), Arrêté royal portant approbation du deuxième contrat de gestion entre l’État belge et la société anonyme de droit public “Société belge d’investissement pour les pays en développement” (BIO SA) [in French], http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/mopdf/2019/01/02_1.pdf#Page4.

[4] Kingdom of Belgium (2017), Arrêté royal portant approbation du premier contrat de gestion entre l’Etat fédéral et la société anonyme de droit public à finalité sociale Enabel, Agence belge de développement [in French], http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/mopdf/2017/12/22_1.pdf#Page19.

[2] OECD (2020), “Belgium”, in Development Co-operation Profiles, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/2dcf1367-en.

[7] OECD (2019), DAC Peer Review Reference Guide, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/dac/peer-reviews/DAC-peer-review-reference-guide.pdf.

[12] OECD (2019), DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/publicdisplaydocumentpdf/?cote=DCD/DAC(2019)31/FINAL&docLanguage=En.

[11] OECD (2016), OECD Recommendation of the Council for Development Co-operation Actors on Managing the Risk of Corruption, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/corruption/oecd-recommendation-for-development-cooperation-actors-on-managing-risks-of-corruption.htm.

[3] OECD (2015), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: Belgium 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264239906-en.


← 1. Changes to the organisational chart were structured around the key themes of Belgian co-operation, namely: Climate and Environment (MD8); Migration (D0); Humanitarian Aid and Transition (D5); Results (D0.1); Private Sector Development (D2.4); and, more recently, bringing together the monitoring of Governmental and Non-governmental Co-operation (D-GEO).

← 2. BIO’s Board of Directors comprises ten independent directors, one observer (the DGD Director-General) and two government commissioners, one appointed by the Minister for Development Co-operation, the other by the Budget Minister. Enabel’s Board of Directors is composed of 12 members appointed by the Council of Ministers based on their knowledge of international co-operation or management. They have a renewable term of four years. The DGD Director-General is a member but does not have voting rights.

← 3. Diplomacy, defence, development, law and order

← 4. The merger of the DGD’s climate division and multilateral division, and strong dialogue with Belgium’s FPS Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, makes it easier to determine positioning in international forums.

← 5. For government co-operation, country strategies and intervention portfolios are approved at the ministerial level. The same applies to applications for accreditation and grants for non-government co-operation.

← 6. Third-party mandates are approved by the minister’s notice of no objection if they are not on the list of priority countries and territories; otherwise they are approved by Enabel’s Board of Directors. Country agencies can reallocate 15% of the budget within country portfolios without seeking approval from the board of directors. Mobilisation of the 10% reserve is systematically decided by the board of directors.

← 7. Over the 2015-20 period, 12.7% of DGD staff members were absent for periods of a few weeks to several months on medical grounds. The increased pressure on the humanitarian team is due in part to a combination of reduced staffing, budget increases and emergency time pressures.

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