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The European Union as an International Donor: Perceptions from Latin America and the Caribbean


In an era of doing development differently, it is highly important to analyse how priorities of partner countries around the world reinforce or contradict how donors conceive themselves. Based on an elite survey and fifty elite interviews, the current research analyses the connection between the agenda-setting and policy implementation stages in international development. In particular, by looking at the Latin American and Caribbean perceptions of the European Union as an international donor, the analysis finds misalignment between the stated objectives of the EU and the metrics of success that Latin American and Caribbean partners use to judge donors as influential and helpful. The paper shows that this misalignment can explain the limitations of EU potential entrepreneurship in international development through both agenda-setting and policy implementation. Moreover, the analysis finds that Nordic countries outrank the EU in terms of both perceived influence and perceived helpfulness in Latin America and the Caribbean, as do other non-European donors like the United States.


À l'ère où l’on cherche à changer la façon dont l’aide au développement est mise en œuvre, il est d’une importance capitale analyser la façon dont les priorités des pays partenaires du monde entier s’alignent sur—ou contredisent—l’image que les bailleurs de financement ont d’eux-mêmes. En se fondant sur une enquête auprès des élites et sur cinquante entretiens avec des personnes issues de l’élite, cette étude analyse le lien entre l’étape de la définition de l'agenda et celle de la mise en œuvre des politiques dans le cadre du développement international. En examinant plus particulièrement les perceptions que l'Amérique latine et les Caraïbes ont de l'Union européenne en tant que bailleur international, l'analyse révèle un décalage entre les objectifs déclarés de l'UE et les indicateurs de succès que les partenaires d'Amérique latine et des Caraïbes utilisent pour juger les bailleurs comme influents et utiles. L’étude montre que ce désalignement peut expliquer les limites de l'esprit d'entreprise potentiel de l'UE dans le développement international à la fois par la définition de l'agenda et la mise en œuvre des politiques. En outre, l'analyse révèle que les pays nordiques dépassent l'UE à la fois en termes d'influence et d'utilité perçues en Amérique latine et dans les Caraïbes, et la même chose s'applique aux autres bailleurs non européens tels que les États-Unis.

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Fig. 1

Source: The calculations are based on the AidData (2018) survey data

Fig. 2

Source: Donors are ranked according to their scores in the AidData (2018) survey data

Fig. 3

Source: The calculations are based on the AidData (2018) survey data

Fig. 4

Source: Donors are ranked according to their scores in the AidData (2018) survey data


  1. 1.

    Different from measuring perceptions of helpfulness during the implementation stage, measuring policy success involves different indicators, dealing with the final results of a specific programme, such as the number of approved legislative initiatives, number of schools or kilometres of road that were constructed.

  2. 2.

    Listening to Leaders Survey data has previously been used to evaluate the influence of many other donors, including the World Bank (see Knack et al., 2020).

  3. 3.

    Unlike traditional elite surveys that are based on convenience sampling (where a population of interest is not identified, and sample representativeness cannot be evaluated), the Listening to Leaders Survey first identified the populations of interest in 126 low-income and middle-income countries and carefully constructed sampling frames for each of these countries in a consistent and comparable manner. The population of interest includes those individuals with direct knowledge of how government policies and programs were prioritised, designed and implemented in low and lower-middle income countries.


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The authors are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. The corresponding author is also grateful to the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science for the postdoctoral fellowship at Waseda University.

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Correspondence to Ileana Daniela Serban.

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Serban, I.D., Harutyunyan, A. The European Union as an International Donor: Perceptions from Latin America and the Caribbean. Eur J Dev Res (2020).

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  • European Union
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Perceptions
  • International development
  • Entrepreneurship