Eva Joly: ‘Don’t sacrifice development aid’

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EU leaders who meet today (7 February) to work on the 2014-2020 budget are expected to cut spending for development aid up to 13%, says MEP Eva Joly, chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development. She calls on EU leaders not to sacrifice development aid, which she calls “peace insurance for Europe”. 

MEP Eva Joly (Green-EFA group, France) , born in Norway, was elected as a French member of the European Parliament in 2009. She was the Europe Écologie candidate in the 2012 French presidential elections, winning 2.3% in the first round.

She spoke to EURACTIV Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

We speak just ahead of the EU summit which is expected to agree the Union’s budget for 2014-2020. It’s a time of crisis for Europe and we hear rumours about cutting substantially the aid budget. What do you think will happen?

What I hear is that the development aid budget will suffer the highest cut in the EU budget which could be from a level of 11% to 13%. This means that proportionally development aid would be cut much more than the proposed overall reduction of 7.5% to other budget headings. And this happens because there is a self-proclaimed assumption among EU leaders that development aid is not a priority.

This is a paradox, given the fact that European humanitarian and development aid is not only more needed than ever but it is also deemed to be one of the most efficient, impactful and transparent sources of funding in the world according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, governments, independent think tanks and civil society organisations.

When you say it is not seen as a priority any longer, what do you mean?

Look at Germany. This country has no real budget problems, doesn’t live to its commitments. The same could be said about the Netherlands, about Denmark, have reduced their contributions to development aid, disregarding the terrible consequences of this decision for the poorest in the world.

But when EU leaders meet, like for a G8 summit, they appear to put a lot of emphasis to development aid. And reportedly Commission President José Manuel Barroso is championing development aid at such summits…

Development aid enjoys popular support. According to a Eurobarometer survey released last month, 85% of EU citizens believe Europe should continue helping developing countries despite the economic crisis, and 61% are in favour of increasing aid. The European citizens like the idea that we contribute to alleviate the suffering of the poorest and to give them a chance for a better future.

European leaders know that. But where they made a mistake is that they considered that under the circumstances of the crisis, development aid was the area where they could make economies in spending. Only because this doesn’t cause too much trouble internally.

At the same time EU leaders agree to keep on subsidising fishing fleets that deplete the species and jeopardise our common future. This is because EU states behave egoistically and have a short-term approach. France for instance doesn’t support a reasonable fishing policy. And France would not accept cuts to the fisheries funds, as it would not accept cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy, two policies which currently are not led by the common interest for a better food, a better environment, for fair and shared revenues for all farmers and fishermen.

Yet if a few billions are missing for those policies, they will find them from the development aid funding. And they would do the same and cut policies oriented towards the future: research, funds for the youth. What is being sacrificed is not only our future but also peace on Earth, stability and security which are promoted by aid flows. All this because of our national egoisms, and because of a misunderstanding of what is in our interest.

You mentioned France, the country where you were elected as MEP and where you were a candidate for the presidency, in a very negative context. But France is also the country which says that a substantial part of the financial transaction tax should be set aside for development aid…

The fact that France is in the forefront for implementing the financial transaction tax is very positive. We would wish, and I mean we as Green parties, that this tax be devoted to development aid, and also for financing the new expenditures relative to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

However, most member countries would prefer to use the resource to fill their national coffers. France has promised to allocate part of the FTT resource to development aid, which is very positive, and I thank our Development Minister Pascal Canfin who fights a lot with this aim.

What is new for the Committee for Development of the European Parliament? What are your priorities?

As you know, the parliament controls, influences and amend the action of the Commission, we don’t initiate law projects but can force the Commission to do so. Since I became the chair of this committee, we have put in the centre of the debates the fight against tax heavens and tax evasion, with the purpose of allowing the developing countries to have a better access to their resources, to obtain a just share of what is being extracted from their soil.

This has been the red thread of all our debates. We consider that if developing countries would receive a fair share from the exploitation of their resources, they would need far less development aid.

I’m sure you have in mind concrete examples of extraction of minerals in developing countries which are extremely unfair?

I have actually a concrete and current example in mind: Mali, a country where a gold mine has been exploited since many years by a Canadian company. Their dealings are very opaque, and it is very difficult to ascertain what the Canadian company earns from exploiting this gold mine.

What we know is that what Mali receives in return is very insignificant. Some $50 million was the last figure I saw. Without any doubt, the contracts have been very badly negotiated, and the control of the mining activity is very difficult. But I’m also thinking of similar examples in Zambia, in Tanzania, where the contracts for the extraction of copper in Zambia and of gold in Tanzania don’t in any way leave to those countries a fair share.

Is it all about corruption?

It’s more than that. It’s because multinationals never declare all their profits. And since in contracts it is foreseen that countries get a percentage of the profit, as there is no profit, or very little, countries get peanuts. Also, the multinationals use the tax heavens to artificially create expenditure, with the aim of reducing the taxable income. That’s why we consider that the best way to deal with the problem is to fight the tax heavens and make sure the multinationals have a transparent accountancy. We would like to know where they earn their money, country by country, how much tax they pay and how many people do they employ.

Which are the pressure groups who would help achieve that?

It’s firstly the European Parliament. The Commission has promised a new regulation against corporate tax avoidance through tax heavens for this year. And also the Commission should no longer rely on the list of the tax heavens released by the OECD whose standards are too weak. I think that our work, which has partly been made in cooperation with the Commission, starts to bring fruit.

While you have travelled abroad as MEP, did you get first hand impressions of what you described?

Yes, in Zambia, I was able to see for myself how bad the contacts were, and that these companies didn’t have any respect. Neither for accountancy, nor for labour rights. The working conditions are appalling, with an environmental pollution the consequences of which will be very difficult to deal with.

And you can see such examples in many places. In Mexico, Coca-Cola empties the water reserves of the Indian population, leaves behind heavy metals. And today it is impossible to know what the benefits are. We suspect there is none for the Indians, but probably there is none for Mexico either. If we would oblige Coca-Cola to do a reporting country-by-country where they operate, we would be a little more advanced. Happily enough Barack Obama took engagements, and in 2013 a law in that sense which would apply to any American company no matter where its activities take place would come into force.

What are the big decisions yet to come in terms of development aid?

The bottom line is that the fate of the developing countries would depend more on the international financial regulation than of development aid. We should be able to include those rules in the new European banking and financial institutions. Banks should be obliged to declare their subsidiaries in the financial heavens. This would greatly help the developing countries. Also, there is a potential in the better coordination of European aid.

Developing countries are exposed to climate change. Which was created not by their emissions, but by ours. So we have a debt. Adapting to climate change will require new resources.

What would you like to say to EU leaders before the summit?

Don’t sacrifice development aid! This would be to shoot ourselves in the foot. Because development aid is also a peace insurance for Europe. 

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