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Mainstreaming ensures that specific issues or perspectives are systematically taken into consideration and integrated in all phases of EU interventions. These issues may be linked to a strategic priority, aimed at maximising the impact of an intervention or reducing its possible negative effects.

Some issues are always mainstreamed by default (gender, environmental sustainability). The context analysis will bring to light the need to mainstream specific issues (resilience, conflict sensitivity). The inclusion of other issues (youth, disability, digitalisation) is considered according to the specific intervention.
For each of the political priorities/cross-cutting issues, a set of supporting materials has been developed by INTPA.

Gender equality and woman empowerement

Gender equality and women's empowerment are at the core of EU values and are enshrined in its legal and political framework. In particular, the European Consensus for Development highlights that equality between women and men of all ages is critical for sustainable development and has a multiplier effect in achieving poverty eradication.

Despite women's key role as development and change agents, they continue to be deprived of rights, resources and voice. Promoting women's advancement and gender equality requires ensuring that a gender perspective is systematically mainstreamed across all actions.

Every intervention must be informed by a gender analysis with a view to identifying how it will contribute to gender equality and women's empowerment in line with the priorities set in the EU Gender Action Plan 2021-2025 (GAP III). Criteria established by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) for the gender marker must be fully considered throughout the intervention cycle.

According to GAP III, by 2020 at least 85 per cent of all new proposed actions should have a G-2 OECD DAC gender marker score (gender as a principal objective) or a G-1 score (gender as a significant objective). G-0 scores should always be justified.

Environmental sustainability and climate action

All interventions under EU development cooperation must integrate environmental protection (including climate change) requirements, as requested by Article 11 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. . This should be achieved not only by respecting the 'do no harm' principle, but also by proactively encouraging to 'do more good'. The European Green Deal reiterates this and gives a decisive impetus to the EU's commitment to mainstream environmental sustainability in all its policies. This mainstreaming should balance environmental, economic and social objectives and contribute to environmentally sustainable development. It should consider the needs of present generations without jeopardising the ability of future ones to meet their own needs.

This approach is essential for the EU in meeting its own policy goals and contributing to the Paris Agreement, Agenda 2030 and achievement of the SDGs. These objectives cannot be achieved through dedicated environmental and climate change sector projects alone. Rather, all sectors must contribute to the transition to environmental sustainability and climate neutrality. Opportunities must be identified for interventions to contribute to environmental sustainability and climate action through integration of these aspects in all interventions (e.g. identifying actions that contribute to implementation of nationally determined contributions, setting sustainability-oriented objectives, adding specific components/activities and related funding) and when assessing budget support eligibility criteria and identifying investment project pipelines. Environment and climate change mainstreaming contributes towards enhancing the quality, sustainability and resilience of EU cooperation action in line with EU international commitments. It is often essential to ensure an intervention's feasibility and sustainability, providing opportunities to support sectoral objectives such as job creation, economic growth, security and a healthy population.

To be effective, environment and climate change mainstreaming needs to start early in the intervention cycle, from policy dialogue and programming, and continue throughout all phases. The programming document should integrate specific environmental and climate change–related objectives, targets and actions. All interventions must be screened at the identification stage for their environmental and climate risks, indicating the need to undertake more detailed analyses.

Over the last 15 years, INTPA has developed a comprehensive approach for mainstreaming the environment and climate change in development cooperation. Summarised in Environment, Green Economy & Mainstreaming Guidelines – 2016. These guidelines are accompanied by a toolbox comprising the following:

  • The Country Environmental Profile provides an analysis of the country environment and climate change context.
  • Environment and climate change screening helps in identifying the need to undertake a more detailed analysis.
  • Strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is a process for evaluating the environmental implications of a proposed policy, plan or intervention.
  • Environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an analytical process that systematically examines possible environmental consequences when implementing an intervention.
  • Climate risk assessment (CRA) is an analytical process to evaluate if interventions are at risk of having an impact on climate and, if so, how this can be mitigated

Further support in the form of quick tips and guidance is available on specific sectors in order to support adequate “greening” of cooperation programmes and exploit opportunities to “do good” in line with the EU’s priorities in the Green Deal.

Resilience and conflict sensitivity

The concepts of fragility and resilience are relevant not only to conflict-affected, conflict-prone settings undergoing peace processes or post-conflict phases, but can also apply to relatively stable contexts that may be confronted with specific dimensions of fragility. The list of selected fragile and crisis- or conflict-affected countries for conducting Conflict Analyses is jointly defined by INTPA, EEAS and NEAR on a yearly base.

The EU and Member States have systematically committed to integrate conflict sensitivity in their external action and development work, as well as to support resilience at all levels.
Conflict sensitivity refers to the reactiveness to the potential impacts of interventions and the risks of doing harm by negatively affecting specific conflict dynamics or conflict risks (worsening violence, creating new conflicts or their resurgence, unduly benefiting conflict actors, etc.). Conflict sensitivity also entails maximising positive impacts, promoting conflict prevention and building positive peace, based on focused conflict analyses or conflict-sensitivity assessments.

The concept of resilience, as broadened in a 2017 Joint Communication, refers to the ability of an entity to withstand, adapt to and quickly recover from stresses, shocks and pressures. These can be across economic, political, social, environmental and security dimensions and range from conflicts and human-made and natural disasters to financial shocks and extreme weather events. Resilience is related to supporting and improving the adaptability and capacity of states, societies, communities and individuals to manage risks and opportunities in a peaceful way and restore basic functions and services.

The Guidelines for the programming of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument 2021-2027, issued in November 2020, inform about the proposed NDICI legal requirement for Conflict Analysis. For countries and regions in crisis or post-crisis, as well as for fragile and vulnerable situations, a conflict analysis will have to be conducted as part of the programming process (see details in Annex 5), to ensure that the programming is conflict sensitive. (see Guidance for conflict analysis and Guidance notes on conflict sensitivity in development cooperation )

Civil society

The 2012 Commission Communication “The roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe's engagement with Civil Society in external relations” recognises an empowered civil society as a crucial component of any democratic system and is an asset in its own right. It represents and fosters pluralism and can contribute to more effective policies, equitable and sustainable development and inclusive growth, and is an important player in fostering peace and in conflict resolution (COM(2012) 492).

The European Consensus on Development further highlights the role of the EU and Member States in promoting civil society space and supporting the capacity of CSOs. Echoing the 2030 Agenda, it also highlighted the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships, involving civil society. In its conclusions adopted in June 2017, the Council reaffirmed that the EU should apply a more strategic engagement with CSOs, and that civil society should be mainstreamed in all external instruments and programmes and in all areas of cooperation; (See EU engagement with civil society in external relations - Council conclusions (19 June 2017)

CSOs’ participation in dialogue and policymaking is strategic in bringing expertise from the ground and devising policies that meet people's needs, and thus vital to fulfil the central commitment of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind.  Civil society is also an important partner in service delivery, often able to reach and assist areas and people not attended to by national or local governments.

Mainstreaming civil society engagement consists in systematically consulting civil society in all sectors of interventions as well as in policy and public-private dialogue, and involving CSOs as partners in implementation. It extends civil society engagement from traditional sectors, such as governance or human rights, to all five Commission priorities, and for example in areas such as climate change and energy, digitalisation, employment and sustainable growth, migration, without forgetting health, of course. For detailed advice, please see  Mainstreaming Civil Society engagement into European Union cooperation and external relations in the post 2020 phase - Guidance note- (2020).


In 2017, the European Commission published a comprehensive framework for its development policy related to digital. This framework, the EU Digital for Development (D4D) approach,– in line with the new European Consensus on Development, celebrate the potential of digital technologies and services as powerful enablers for sustainable inclusive development and growth. The D4D approach promote mainstreaming digital  solutions and technologies in EU development policy. 

In its political guidelines 2019-2024, the European Commission has stressed the need to lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world. With digitalisation being a top priority  for the Commission, the initiatives and the channels to promote the European way to intend digital transformation are multiplying. The new EU Digital Strategy announced in February 2020, Shaping Europe digital future, includes policy priorities that can be followed at varying levels in partner countries.

The EU promotes a value-based and human-centric approach , leading to an inclusive and fair digital transformation while reducing the impact of the challenges and threats of digital transformation. This includes the promotion of the respect of human rights in an open, safe and free internet and the promotion of democratic principles and transparency in the use of digital technologies. In other words, ensuring that off-line rules and principles are effectively also applied online. 

With the new Digital Strategy, the EU aims at strengthening its global role towards building a Global Digital Cooperation Strategy, by: 

  • Becoming a global role model for the digital economy.
  • Supporting developing economies throughout digital transition.
  • Promoting its digital standards internationally.