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Exclusive Interview with Ambassador Chantal Hebberecht, Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Ethiopia

The year 2014 marks the end of the 10th EDF (European Development Fund) and the beginning of the 11th EDF that is scheduled to last until 2020. The 11th EDF has already made available some €745 million for EU funded projects in Ethiopia, up from the €644 million initial budget made through the 10th EDF, and was eventually raised to €730 million.  But the EU is a lot more to Ethiopia than the largest development partner it is. Our Editor-in-Chief Tsedale Lemma interviewed Chantal Hebberecht on the multifaceted relationship between the EU and the government in Ethiopia raising issues such as human rights concerns in Ethiopia, Ethiopia’s upcoming election and the role of the EU, and Ethiopia’s restrictive Charities and Societies proclamation among others. Excerpts:

ASThrough the 10th  EDF the EU made about €644 million available to Ethiopia to finance projects including, but not limited to, decentralized social services, transport, rural development and gender. Now the 11th EDF is kicking off this year and will last until 2020.  What sort of change do we expect both in terms of finance and the diversity of projects the EU is financing in Ethiopia during this period?  


Ambassador Chantal Hebberecht   –Thank you very much for your question. But I would like to emphasize that the total envelop of the 10th EDF is not €644 million. The final allocation is €730. One of the characteristics of the EDF is the fact that it is a fund jointly managed by the government and the EU; we have an initial envelope, and we could increase this envelop after mid-term review and final review in reaction to some specific situations. Here in Ethiopia we have increased the 10th EDF, for example, for the shared program supporting the resilience of vulnerable people with an additional €45 million and another specific program to try to reduce the maternal mortality in the country with additional €40 million. Now we are starting a new cooperation agreement covering the period of 2014 – 2020 with the 11th EDF. The new initial allocation was increased to €745 million. We will continue to support the sustainable agriculture and food security because it is one of the most important sector to support in this country but with a little bit different way – we will support agricultural productivity but we will also focus on supporting conservation of natural resources, it will be a continuation of what we did during the 10th EDF. We will also continue to support the infrastructure projects we started with the 10th EDF but with an emphasis to energy with a focus on green energy and our support to the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) through our program of Civil SocietyS fund (CSF).

Speaking of EU’s support to infrastructure projects in Ethiopia, during the 26th ACP-EU parliamentary meeting in November last year here in Addis Ababa EU’s development commissioner Andris Piebalgs said the EU was no longer funding some road projects such as the Ethio-Djibouti road project because of transparency issues. How challenging is the issue of lack of transparency surrounding the projects the EU wants to finance? 

Transparency is always a challenge everywhere in the world during the use of cooperation funds. The EU support here for the roads and transport sector is through the budget support. We are quite happy with the public finance management of the Ethiopian government because to implement budget support there is some preconditions. Through this budget support it is always possible to improve transparency of public finance management. We are also supporting the government to improve the transparency of the public funds because it is included in this budget support. But the switch to energy is not because of this reason; it is one priority, new development strategy of the EU agenda for change.

You mentioned about EU’s financing in Ethiopia to CSOs using the CSF. I understand it is a joint initiative by the EU and the government in Ethiopia.  The sole aim of this program is increasing the role of CSOs in the “development and democratization” process in Ethiopia. But Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies proclamation greatly limits the ability of CSOs to participate in the democratization process. What justifies the existence of your support to the CSOs under the existing circumstances?

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First of all I would like to say that one characteristics of the EU cooperation is the fact that we are working with the government but also with international organizations, civil society organizations and associations; we also have a dialogue with all components of the society and one of the characteristics is the diversity of partners and the diversity of the modalities of implementation. I think that here in this country it is important to work not only with the government but also to try to engage with the civil society in complete harmonization with the government’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP). I was reading the GTP and I would like to read one extract which says, “one of the objectives of the country is to become a country where democratic rule, good governance and social justice reigns… with the support of the civil society.”  It is true that this societies and charities law is creating some limitation for the local civil society organizations and for this reason in agreement and with the support of the government we created the civil society working group which is co-chaired by the EU and the minister of Federal Affairs Dr. Shiferaw [Teklemariam]. It is a very privileged working group where we have a dialogue between the government and the civil society organizations – there are three different representatives from CSOs and the donors.  The objective of this group is to discuss about the implementation of this proclamation and to find a way to allow the civil society to continue to be efficient. 

The CSF I was implemented between 2006 and 2012 in two different phases for a total of €10 million. But since the enactment in 2009 of Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies proclamation, most of the CSF funding is becoming less for civil society organizations and more for government driven projects. This is so while the dialogue that you said with the government is happening. Isn’t that too late to change the course?

Ambassador Chantal 128

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No I don’t think so. You are right that there was the first phase which was launched in 2006 as EU-Ethiopia CSOs initiative to support the civil society in democracy, human right maters and development issues; it has always had these two pillars. In thesecond phase of the CSF which was launched in the end of 2012 we have identified 18 new projects and about half of them were in support of Ethiopian charities working on governance and human rights issues. But there was no interference by the government of the choices we made. It is based on a call for proposal; we define the framework after which the CSOs send their own proposals. This is followed by an evaluation of the proposals and a decision to finance these proposals.

The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) was created by the European Parliament in 1994. The European Consensus on Development considers the participation of civil society as one of the major principles on which the European Union’s development policy is based. And yet in the last few years the EU has funded a mere 30 projects designed to promote and protect Human Rights and strengthen Democracy in Ethiopia. Are these projects designed to meet the demands of the people or that of the government?

I am surprised by your question because clearly, as I said, these projects are proposed by the civil society and not at all designed to respond to the demands of the government. Since the start of the CSF in 2006 we have supported about 30 of such projects and spent about €12 million, and in the upcoming 11th EDF this amount will increase to about €16 million. It is clear to us that one of the characteristics of CSOs is the fact that they have the freedom to propose their own projects. It could not be linked with the specific demands of the government and the government knows what kind of projects we are financing; there is a dialogue between the EU and the government on why it is in this sense because we have this direct cooperation with the government through the EDF Cotonou partnership. But we also have the flexibility and the possibility to finance the CSOs directly.

Speaking of the Cotonou Agreement, Art. 9.3 calls for an open dialogue with Government authorities and Non state actors on development cooperation issues in all areas of Ethiopia-EU cooperation. It also defines good governance as: “The transparent and accountable management of human, natural, economic and financial resources for the purposes of equitable and sustainable development, in the context of a political and institutional environment that upholds human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law.” Do you see Ethiopia as that ideal partner that binds itself by this article? 

Yes I can tell you that we are applying Art. 8 of the Cotonou Agreement related with the political dialogue between the EU and its member states and the government. Some weeks ago we held this political dialogue with Prime Minister Hailemariam [Desalegn] and may be next week or a week after we will have this political dialog with Foreign Minister Dr. Tedros [Adnahom] but it is not a public dialogue, it is a bilateral dialogue between the EU and the government. It’s really frank and direct dialogue in line of the objectives of Art. 8 of the Cotonou Agreement. It is true that we may have some disagreements but it is very important to speak about freedom of expression, freedom of association; to speak about the application of the anti terrorism law, about the charity and society proclamation and about human right issues. We are very happy by the fact that in October last year the government has launched a national action plan on human right. I think that it is a good signal from the government to take into account the problems related to respect to human right in this country. In our discussion with the government we made a proposal to allow the UN special representatives on human right to come to the country and assess the situation as it is the case in many other countries including in Europe.      

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Ethiopia is hosting general election in about one year time and yet many believe EU’s involvement as election monitoring partner and also in following up events leading up to the election during the last election in 2010 as have been significantly reduced owing to the unfortunate events in post 2005 election. Will that be the same this time around? How do you see the role of the EU in this election?

EU’s involvement until now was always to listen to everyone about elections; to the government, to [opposition] political parties, and to the civil society because it is very important to have knowledge about what is going on. We always try to be open & listen to the people. We believe the objective of the government is to have a fair and transparent election and it is very important that the results of elections will be accepted officially by everyone in this country.  It is true that in 2005 and 2010 the EU was participating in the monitoring of the elections with the EU election observation mission. But for the 2015 election there is no decision from the EU so far because we could always have an election observation mission to Ethiopia only if it is requested by the government. 

You have not been requested so far?

No it has not been requested so far and this is a decision that should be coming from the government; this is not a decision by the EU.

What is your previous experience? When do you receive the request from the government?

Both in 2005 and 2010 elections we received the invitation in the month of October. What we did in the past was to support through the UN the National Electoral Board (NEB) to organize a free and fair election because technically it not easy.

Many believe that the events in post 2005 have led development partners such as the EU to purposely ignore their roles as partners in democratization process and focus on factors of economic development and stability. Do you agree with that?

I don’t agree with that. First of all I would like to say that who has to improve the democratization process in this country are the people of the country; it is the role of the Ethiopian population. What we could do as development partners is to try to support this democratization process and it is what we are doing. It is true that we are also trying to support the economic development in this country; the EU has a very active role in supporting the private sector but the concern of the democratization process in this country is always a concern for the EU, maybe it is not that public. We have this dialogue with the government and we are speaking about sensitive issues. Our objective is to try to help in the democratization process but we also respect the policies of the government. But most importantly we believe that should be the role of the people of the country. 

I know that you have been here for only a few months. But what do you expect to be the best case scenario for the election both in terms of the government’s commitment to make the election free and fair and the ability and capacity of the opposition parties to participate in the election?


The best case scenario is to have a free and fair election. But before that from the government to have openness, to allow freedom of expression and to have some public debate with the opposition; it is very important to create an open environment before the election. And on the ability and the capacity of the opposition I know that you have so many opposition parties both in the region and the federal level; it is very impressive. But it is very important that the opposition parties get more capacity to define their program and to define what they would like to achieve in this country. What is missing here in this country is the culture of dialogue and the culture of compromise between the different opposition parties, between the opposition parties and the government, and between different civil society organizations and the government. The political culture has to improve.  But I really think this country has a great potential – historical heritage, cultural heritage and diversity of population. And I would like to say that for me this country has a real future and it is a country where we can have a hope that it will be a middle income country and a hope that it will become a democratic country. There is a real dynamism and this dynamism is extremely important for the future of the country.


Born in 1953, Ambassador Chantal Hebberecht is a Belgian diplomat who is the current Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Ethiopia. Prior to that Ambassador Chantal has served as Head of Delegation of the EU to the Kyrgyz Republic in Central Asia. In her 25 years of experience in foreign affairs and development cooperation, Ambassador Chantal also served at EC directorate general EuropeAid as head of Unit for African Union and African Peace Facility (APF) in which she was responsible for the management of crisis and post-crisis situation including food crisis, and management of food aid and food security budget lines.

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