A Typology of Political Conditionality Beyond Aid: Conceptual Horizons Based on Lessons from the European Union

Svea Koch


This paper asks how political conditionality needs to be conceptualised and researched to reflect global changes. It argues that a diversification of political conditionality “beyond aid” is now taking place. Political conditionality reaches across different external policy fields and includes cooperative and punitive measures. It has also moved from political rights toward social and environmental rights. To capture this diversification conceptually, the article presents an ideal–typical typology that is then refined based on the example of the European Union (EU). A review of the literature on EU political conditionality reveals a gap in studying the interaction of different political conditionality instruments.

This paper argues that the decreasing importance of aid – and the increasing importance of other external policies – requires a new research agenda on political conditionality that (i) studies the various sources and influence mechanisms of different political conditionality instruments “beyond aid” and (ii) analyses these instruments more holistically, with a focus on the relationship and the interaction between different political conditionality instruments.

The paper starts off with a conceptual discussion of political conditionality, leading to the development of a typology that identifies four different ideal–typical mechanisms of political conditionality. In the third part, the typology is applied to the case of the EU and an optimised, refined typology is presented. The fourth part applies the refined typology to different strands of research on EU political conditionality to identify research gaps. The last section concludes and highlights elements of a future research agenda on political conditionality “beyond aid.”

Key Findings:

  • The concept of political conditionality has not lost its relevance in an era when foreign aid and traditional relationships between the developed and developing worlds are undergoing dramatic shifts.
  • Political conditionality has to be conceptualized differently in order to capture the various leverage mechanisms and objectives that have emerged in development policy, but also in foreign, security, and trade policy.
  • Research continues to focus mainly on the “traditional” types of political conditionality, leaving open significant potential notably for studying positive measures and the connection of trade policy to issues of human rights. The largest gap in the literature, however, relates to the division between different bodies of research and lack of transfer of theoretical and empirical insights from one strand of research to another.
  • By studying different types of political conditionalities separately, the potential for mutual learning and more comprehensive theorizing of how and when different types of political conditionality work remains underdeveloped.
  • Due to the gulf between different conditionality research strands, very little is known about the interaction of the various conditionality instruments.


So far, too little is known about the extent to which the EU has developed consistent and coherent political conditionality strategies in response to the changed international landscape. In this new landscape, developing countries are becoming more assertive and have alternative partners as well as more domestic resources allowing them to follow their own development paths. Political conditionality has not yet disappeared, but both researchers and policy makers will need to adopt an integrative framework of political conditionality across policy fields. Only by adopting such a holistic approach can they assess the potential of the various instruments for promoting the ambitious agenda of holding governments accountable for their performance regarding democracy, human rights, and sustainable development.


Koch, S. (2015). A Typology of Political Conditionality Beyond Aid: Conceptual Horizons Based on Lessons from the European Union. World Development, in press.