Aid campaigners put pressure on MEPs ahead of budget vote

ONE "Youth Ambassadors" campaigners and MEPs. [Georgi Gotev]

Ahead of the European Parliament’s vote on the EU’s draft 2018 general budget next Wednesday (26 October), campaigners have put pressure on MEPs not to reduce the EU’s development aid.

On 30 May, Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger presented the draft EU budget for 2018, acknowledging decision-making difficulties. Development and humanitarian organisations Plan International, ONE, Oxfam and Save the Children denounced what they said was a €90 million cut from the originally planned development aid budget, a decrease of 6.5% compared to 2017.

NGOs denounce cuts, tweaks to 2018 EU budget for development aid

EU member countries decided yesterday (12 July) to cut the proposed EU budget for 2018 by €1.2 billion. The European Parliament deplored this “mechanical” cut, while NGO’s denounced the decrease of development aid and its re-directing to combat immigration.

The European Parliament report’s draft resolution calls for allocating additional financial resources, recalling that support for Sub-Saharan Africa is key because a significant number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea are coming from this region.

The Parliament’s Development Committee has tabled a number of suggestions, warning that the UK’s contribution amounts to 15 % of the EU’s development aid budget and that, in the light of Brexit, the issue needs to be addressed in future budget talks.

Before next Wednesday’s vote, the ONE Campaign organised a high-profile event with 200 young activists, called “Youth Ambassadors”, who came to the European Parliament on Tuesday (17 October) to ask MEPs to increase aid spending in the 2018 EU budget.

The activists represent 33 nationalities, and their visit coincided with the International Day to Eradicate Poverty. The ONE Campaign is a policy and advocacy organisation of more than eight million people, taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. It was co-founded by Bono, the frontman of U2.

MEP Kati Piri (S&D, Netherlands) spoke to the young activists and told them the wealthy West could not be isolated from its neighbourhood. She said she had witnessed tension in the Hague directly stemming from the 2014 Gaza war (also known as Operation Protective Edge Gaza).

Another example was the Malaysia flight MH17, downed in Eastern Ukraine also in 2014, which had carried three people she knew. A third example she gave was the Syria war and the ensuing refugee crisis.

Piri said she could not imagine that her group would vote in favour of cutting development budget but she invited the young activists to check how MEPs would vote and advised them not to be afraid of “naming and shaming” those who are in favour of aid budget cuts.

MEP Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP, Czech Republic) deplored that media were neglecting the development policy. He said that when he mentioned development aid in his home country, people were saying “Why do you speak about development in distant countries, we need the money in the Czech Republic”.

Zdechovský said the Czechs think of themselves as poor but have no idea what poverty really means. Piri, however, seemed to disagree. She said she had witnessed terrible poverty in several countries in Central and Eastern Europe, among the Roma population.

MEP Urmas Paet (ALDE, Estonia) argued that lack of education was a major reason for poverty and other problems. He recounted his experience from a visit to Afghanistan, when he witnessed the case of a young boy who had been caught with a belt bomb which he didn’t manage to blow up. When interrogated, the boy said he had done that because he was promised to get a smartphone and a motorcycle.

“You can see what kind of things the lack of education can create,” Paet told the young audience. Another example from Afghanistan was in a school, where he visited a class of 8-9-year olds. A boy was asked to give his schoolbook to the guest but he started crying because he didn’t want to give up the schoolbook, not even for a minute.

“I never saw in Estonia, in another European country, such an emotional desire, such a willingness to learn”, he said.

The “Youth ambassadors” also met with EU40, a network of 96 MEPs under the age of 40 and smaller groups of youth activists met a number of MEPs from different political groups.