European Union External Action

EU-Afghanistan relations, factsheet

Bruxelles, 29/11/2017 - 08:45, UNIQUE ID: 160929_01

The European Union has a long-term partnership with Afghanistan. In close coordination with Afghanistan's international partners, the European Union is engaged with the Afghan Government to fight corruption, improve oversight, enable economic growth, reduce poverty and strengthen democratic institutions.

The European Union's partnership with Afghanistan includes a results-oriented dialogue on human rights, especially the rights of women and children, as well as a dialogue on migration.

At the October 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan co-chaired by the EU and Afghanistan, which confirmed sustained political and financial support to peace, state-building and development in Afghanistan by the international community, the European Union and its Member States pledged €5 billion (USD 5.6 billion) out of a total €13.6 billion (USD 15.2 billion) in support for the period 2016-2020. This now makes the European Union, as a whole, the largest development cooperation partner of Afghanistan. This is an exceptional level of funding which ensures that Afghanistan will remain on a firm path to political and economic stability, state-building and development.

Gender mainstreaming is a crucial component of the EU's assistance: 53% of EU programmes have gender equality as a significant objective. The European Union also strongly supports regional cooperation and economic integration as key elements of sustainable inclusive economic development, inter-connectivity and stability.


The EU believes that actions of all regional actors play a crucial role for lasting peace; without their active support neither Afghanistan nor the region will be able to stabilise. At the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan the EU joined regional stakeholders and the international community in reaffirming the commitment to a political process towards lasting peace and reconciliation. The emerging consensus can be further expanded together with key international and regional players. This consensus includes the conviction that the only way to a durable end to conflict in Afghanistan is through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive political process in respect of Afghanistan’s constitution. To achieve this, the Afghan Government needs to continue to be ready to engage with all armed groups, including the Taliban, in a political process without preconditions.

The Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development (CAPD), which has been signed in the margins of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday 18 February by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the Minister of Finance of Afghanistan, Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, in the presence of the President Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, formalised the existing cooperation between the EU and Afghanistan in a contractual relationship. The Agreement reflects the principles and conditions on which the EU-Afghanistan future partnership will be based. Emphasis will be placed on holding regular political dialogue, including on human rights issues, in particular the rights of women and children, which are defined as essential elements of this agreement. The Agreement will provide the basis for developing a mutually beneficial relationship in an increasing range of economic and political areas such as rule of law, health, rural development, education, science and technology, as well as actions to combat corruption, money laundering, terrorist financing, organised crime and narcotics. It also foresees cooperation on migration. The Cooperation Agreement will also enable the EU and Afghanistan to jointly address global questions of common concern, such as nuclear security, non-proliferation and climate change.

Today, Afghanistan is in far better shape in terms of human development than it was in 2001:

  • Access to primary healthcare has increased from 9% of the population to more than 57%;
  • Life expectancy has increased from 44 to 60 years;
  • School enrolment has increased 10 times since 2001, with over 8 million students enrolled in schools, 39% of whom are girls.
  • Women hold 27% of seats in parliament;
  • The country's public financial management system is regarded as stronger than other fragile states and many low-income countries;

GDP per capita reached USD 590, from USD 120 in 2001, and current revenue represents 10.5% of GDP, from 3.3% in 2001, according to the World Bank (2016).

Many challenges, however, remain. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), GDP growth has declined from an average of 10,5% over the period 2002-2012 to an estimated 2.2% for 2016. Aid dependency has not reduced substantially. The Government's own revenues stand at around USD 2 billion per annum (10,5% of GDP), while international funding for the security sector remains at USD 5 billion per annum and development aid at around USD 4 billion per annum. In 2015, Afghans were the second largest group of migrants arriving in Europe (267,000 irregular arrivals). Poverty rates and unemployment have also risen recently, with more than 39% of the population living in poverty and unemployment standing at 39%.

The European Union's development agenda is guided by aid effectiveness principles. Close coordination of development assistance and improving national capacities to deliver public services are clear priorities. Beyond providing technical and financial assistance, the European Union engages in strategic policy dialogue with the Afghan Government around the reform agenda as outlined in the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANDPF) and ten National Priority Programmes NPPs focused on women's empowerment, agriculture, infrastructure development, urban development, among others. As a highlight of the recent Brussels Conference, the EU and the Government of Afghanistan signed a first State Building Contract (SBC) for EUR 200 million, providing critical resources to the Afghan government's budget to ensure performance of state functions and basic service delivery, with the EU focusing on strategic policy dialogue around the reform agenda with Government, civil society, private sector and oversight institutions such as Parliament.

Overall, the European Union will provide up to EUR 300 million a year in funding until 2020, above and beyond the EUR 200 million development funding per year that was committed at the Tokyo Conference in 2012. This also includes assistance in response to the migration crisis and humanitarian aid.

The European Union's partnership with Afghanistan includes a results-oriented dialogue on human rights, especially the rights of women and children, as well as a dialogue on migration. In close coordination with Afghanistan's international partners, the European Union is engaged with the Afghan Government to fight corruption, promote economic growth and jobs and reduce poverty. Mutual accountability is a key principle for Government's efforts to implement sound reforms and for the international community to improve levels of aid efficiency; its principles and benchmarks are monitored through the Self-Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework, agreed at the Brussels Conference.

In October 2014, the European Commission presented its Multiannual Indicative Programme for Afghanistan (MIP 2014-2020), outlining new development funding of EUR 1.4 billion for the period 2014-2020, i.e. the EUR 200 million per year mentioned above. The European Union focuses on agriculture and rural development, which are vital for employment and growth, health, security for citizens through the professionalisation of civilian policing and application of the rule of law, and State accountability through democratisation. A mid-term review of the MIP is currently being carried out and will lead to a stronger linkage of our development assistance to the Afghan reform programme (ANPDF). Gender mainstreaming is a crucial component of the EU's assistance: 53% of EU programmes have gender equality as a significant objective.

Table 1: EU aid to Afghanistan 2002 – 2016 (EUR million)[1]

[1] Source: Annual reports, European Commission. In addition to bilateral funds (CSPs, MIPs). It includes funds from thematic programmes (e.g. support to CSOs and NGOs; European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights); CFSP, ECHO.  

The European Union aims to deliver its assistance in an effective and flexible way by making use of country systems. At the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, the EU signed a EUR 200 million State-Building Contract with the Government and will thus provide direct budget support in addition to the high portion of aid delivered 'on-budget' through trust funds. The State-Building Contract aims to increase resources for development priorities such as generating economic growth and reducing poverty. The State-Building Contract will support more effective budgetary management and fighting corruption. Disbursements will be conditional on benchmarks in four areas (public policy, macro-economic framework, public financial management, and transparency and oversight). 

Agriculture is a source of income for more than half the population of Afghanistan but only generates one quarter of GDP. The result is food insecurity, unemployment, an unstable socio-economic environment, and a large illicit economy. The European Union's support to agriculture and rural development is aligned with Afghan national strategies, with the main objectives being to improve food security, promote sustainable agriculture and natural resources management, reduce rural households' dependence on poppy cultivation, and to strengthen services related to agriculture and rural development. Since 2001, the EU has invested EUR 321 million in agricultural development and EUR 224.33 million in rural development (water and natural resources management, animal health, seeds, horticulture, and development of rural communities). 

Despite considerable improvements since 2001, Afghanistan's health indicators remain near the bottom of international tables. Life expectancy is low and infant under-five and maternal mortality are very high. There is an extremely high prevalence of chronic malnutrition, poor sanitation, micronutrient deficiency diseases and other diseases, from malaria and tuberculosis to mental health conditions. The European Union is among the lead donors in the health sector in Afghanistan and supports country-wide provision of health services (EUR 421 million from 2001-2015). The European Union's support focuses on health care for the very poor, women and children, as well as vulnerable minorities. Support is also provided for disability services and mental health care, improving nutrition and strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Public Health. 

Support from the European Union for policing amounts to over EUR 510 million since 2002 and promotes the development of an Afghan National Police that is professional and delivers essential services for improved public trust, safety and security. Supporting measures contribute to enhancing the fiscal and political sustainability of the police (public finance reforms, anti-corruption, ministerial reform and accountability) as well as a shift towards a civilian-oriented policing model. Particular attention is given to female policing, internal and external oversight and complaints mechanisms and transparency.

The European Union also assists Afghanistan in establishing a functioning rule of law system, including revision of the Penal Code and comprehensive justice sector reform. Further support includes funding legal information centres, computerised case management, training prosecutors and judges, legal awareness, provincial justice reform, and the provision of infrastructure and equipment.

The European Union contributes to strengthening democratic institutions and accountability mechanisms that are critical for ensuring popular support for state-building in Afghanistan:

  • Electoral assistance: The European Union provides electoral assistance and supports electoral reform, transparency and credibility. EU aid has contributed to reinforcing the capacity of electoral bodies, including all elections since 2001.
  • Capacity Building for Results (CBR): The EU supports Public Administration Reform and improving the capacity and performance of select line ministries.
  • Subnational governance: The EU supports initiatives to improve land management and revenue collection capacities for municipalities, as well as better service delivery and accountability at provincial level.
  • Civil Society and accountable governance: The EU supports capacity development for civil society actors, community based monitoring systems, local "integrity champions", and strengthening civil society's participation in policy-making and advocacy. 

The European Union and Afghanistan are engaged in a constructive dialogue on migration, aimed at building a long-term partnership in this area in a spirit of solidarity. The EU provides international protection to many Afghans who have been forced to flee the country, while it is also working closely with the Afghan Government to develop cooperation on return and readmission of irregular migrants. In October 2016 the EU and Afghanistan agreed on the Joint Way Forward on migration issues, which is a joint commitment to step-up cooperation on migration.

There are many projects funded or under preparation by the EU in Afghanistan that contribute to addressing the root causes of migration, or improve migration management, thus contributing to the overall development of the country.

The EU is also supporting uprooted Afghans with a regional intervention focussing on protection and successful reintegration of displaced people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Since 2002 the EU has allocated about €51.8 million to the Aid to Uprooted People programme to support sustainable integration and increased resilience of the target populations through measures dealing with land tenure recognition, settlement upgrading, education, vocational training, income generation and legal assistance.

Furthermore, in 2016 the Commission developed a major operation to improve the reintegration of returnees in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan promptly mobilizing approx. €92 million (of which €78 million earmarked for Afghanistan) for the period 2016-2020. The aim of the programme is (i) to ensure that those who return will be equipped with the necessary resources, skills and knowledge to achieve a decent standard of living and contribute to the long-term development of their communities and (ii) to improve the national migration management systems and policies.

Since 1994, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department has provided humanitarian aid worth €725.5 million to those most affected by conflicts in Afghanistan. This aid has supported emergency health services, shelter, water and sanitation, food assistance, protection and education to the most vulnerable, many of them children. In 2016, €32 million in EU humanitarian aid assistance was provided.  

Decades of conflict have led to large-scale displacement within the country and to Iran and Pakistan. There were over 600,000 newly displaced people inside Afghanistan in 2016 and 2.5 million registered refugees and some 2-3 million "undocumented" Afghans in Iran and Pakistan. Around 600,000 of the Afghans living in Pakistan have returned to Afghanistan in 2016. EU humanitarian aid supported the most vulnerable the returnees.

A regular EU-Afghanistan high-level dialogue on human rights was launched in 2015 and focuses on key reforms to improve the human rights situation. The EU and its Member States engage with Government, Parliament, civil society and the international community on issues such as women's and children's rights, civil society and human rights defenders, torture and abuse, freedom of expression, religion and/or belief, the death penalty and access to justice.

Since 2003, the EU has provided €578 million in grants to non-state actors operating in Afghanistan including for providing basic services to the population. Support for CSOs also aims to strengthen local civil society capacity to carry out its oversight and anti-corruption roles, and a stronger voice for women in political processes. Human rights, with a particular focus on the rights of women, and women's participation in society and in the peace process remain key aspects of the EU's engagement with civil society. In 2015-2016, the EU supported 21 individual Human Rights Defenders (HRD) cases. 15 projects with a total budget of over €12 million are currently supporting communities around Afghanistan through gender-specific actions.

As a Least Developed Country (LDC), Afghanistan benefits from the most favourable regime available under the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), namely the Everything But Arms (EBA) arrangement. EBA grants the 48 LDCs – including Afghanistan – duty free, quota free access to the EU for exports of all products, except arms and ammunition.

The European Union strongly supports regional cooperation and economic integration as key elements of sustainable inclusive economic development, inter-connectivity and stability. Since 2004, EU support to regional cooperation amounts to more than €100 million. Key areas of intervention include border management and trade facilitation, capacity building for regional cooperation and railways, as well strengthening the capacities of trade-related institutions. The EU also supports a regional UNODC programme on counter-narcotics.

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