The EU resumed its development aid programme for Mali last month (February 2013) in a move branded as "a new European development aid doctrine" by EU diplomats.
On 19 February, European countries officially re-opened political relations with Mali as the European Commission unblocked €250 million from the European Development Fund.
With the exception of humanitarian assistance, all EU funds to Mali were suspended due to a violent coup last year led by radical Islamist groups with al Qaeda links.
The EU resumed the aid last month following a French-led intervention in January, which helped expulse militants from the capital Bamako and drove Islamist insurgents out of the main northern towns into remote mountains near Algeria's border.
The re-establishment of ties between the Malian Government and the EU is branded as a new policy, as development funds are becoming available with fewer traditional strings attached, according to an EU diplomat who was briefing journalists in Brussels on condition of anonymity.
The diplomat stressed the need for "a huge reconstruction effort" in northern Mali, which was recently liberated from jihadist rule by French and Malian troops.
Speaking of a "new doctrine in European development aid," he explained that the EU could now provide specific budgetary support for crisis or post-crisis countries "to help rebuild a state."
"Part of the budget support will take the form of a contract for the reconstruction of the state," the diplomat explained, saying this was part of "new rules for aid to countries in crisis that was developed last year" and should "very useful” in the case of Mali.
The EU will allocate regular funding for various projects, including increased rule of law and state consolidation. These will be particularly targeted at organising and promoting the Malian elections in July 2013, which were a condition for unblocking the aid.
‘Fewer strings attached’
The EU budgetary support will cover the most immediate needs in Mali, the diplomat said, citing police, security and justice as well as the resumption of basic public services such as water, health and education.
An EU mission visited Bamako recently and identified priorities, "such as roads to open up areas" in the north of Mali and "anything that can help reconciliation between peoples," he said.
"What is very interesting is that this is not the traditional conditionality, which is quite political or idealistic. Here the conditionality and the resumption of EU aid is gradual but with attention to priority needs. So the new doctrine differs from the previous doctrine."
He said EU countries adopted the Council conclusions on budget support for crisis countries 6 or 7 months ago.
The first round of elections is scheduled for 7 July, meaning agencies will deliver part of the aid beforehand, and transfer another portion after the elections.
For Europeans the issue remains important as it empowers the Malian government to ensure its own security and poverty relief.
The EU designed more flexible assessment criteria for the new funding scheme than in the past. However, it has not yet formally defined the criteria. The process will also depend on how the Government of Mali handles the tasks involved in implementing the funding and how fast it moves in implementing democratic reforms.
In particular, the European agencies will closely monitor the establishment of national dialogue and reconciliation efforts, which should help reforge ties between the communities of Mali.