The European Parliament yesterday (4 December) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a proposal to provide a
€1 billion food aid facility
to help developing countries deal with soaring food prices.
The adoption of a report, which was effectively a compromise between MEPs, the European Council and the European Commission, paves the way for the EU to provide a total of 1 billion euro to an Emergency Food Aid Facility over the period 2008–2010. The funds will address food shortages in developing countries.
The money will target farmers in poor countries to help them cope with hikes in global food prices by buying fertiliser and seed and providing emergency food aid.
The original Commission proposal foresaw the allocation of funding from the EU’s agricultural surplus, which is particularly high this year due to food price rises. But this plan was vehemently opposed by several member states amid the financial turmoil.
The deal struck in the end provides €760 million of ‘fresh’ money for food aid, made available via the bloc’s flexibility instrument and Emergency Aid Reserve. Another €240 million will come from the redeployment of funds not earmarked for any specific purpose.
Irish centre-right MEP Gay Mitchell, author of the Parliament’s report, deplored the fact that plans to tap into unused agricultural monies to provide wholly additional funding for the existing development budget had been blocked by “both Council and Parliament sources”.
“The manner in which some had to be dragged to agreement contrasts with the ability of the Council to find billions to bail out banks,” he said, adding that the billion meant the Commission had committed itself to helping developing countries “in an entirely different form than that originally envisaged”.
The compromise extended the deployment of the instrument over three budgetary years, but the Commission and Parliament had hoped for faster dispersal of the monies over just two years.
“It was the best deal we could do in these circumstances,” Mitchell said.
International aid agencies have voiced concerns that EU states would simply draw the new funds from their national development aid reserves, which would completely dilute the added value of the facility.
“While we have secured additionality of €760 million for the Food Facility, this will only truly be fresh money if member states do not raid their development aid budgets to fund the facility or reduce their ODA commitments,” commented Fiona Hall, shadow rapporteur for the liberal democrats (ALDE) in the Parliament’s development committee. Hall urged member states to provide genuine extra funding for the facility.