Schulz: Development aid is a success story the EU can be proud of

Martin Schulz_0.jpg

The EU budget heading ‘Global Europe’, which allows the EU to be a player on the global stage, may suffer more than other spending areas, because development aid and humanitarian action don't have the advocates among member states like agriculture and regional aid do, European Parliament President Martin Schulz tells EURACTIV.

Martin Schulz started his political career at 19, when he joined the German Social Democrats. A member of the European Parliament since 1994, he was elected leader of the group of Socialists and Democrats in 2004 and president of the European Parliament on 17 January 2012.

He responded in writing to questions from EURACTIV’s Georgi Gotev. This was his first interview with a Brussels-based news organisation in 2013.

Are you worried that in the course of the negotiations for the EU budget for 2014-2020 the spending category number four (‘Global Europe’) could be slashed, and that in particular, development aid could be substantially reduced?

I am deeply worried by demands of member states to cut the MFF for 2014-2020 substantially from the level proposed by the European Commission. If you request cuts of €100 billion or more, all headings, that is spending categories, will suffer severely.

Heading 4 may suffer more than other spending areas since regional aid in the EU and farm spending have strong advocates among the member states. The Commission's proposals for Global Europe and development in particular are the bare minimum. Cuts in these areas would weaken the EU's role and weight as a player on the global stage and its ability to promote its values and interests.

I am aware that we live in the time of crisis, so we need to be prudent on what we spend our funds. But let us remember, for example, that humanitarian aid represents just 0.62% of the EU budget. At the same time it is a highly responsive and visible instrument of the EU's external actions.

Over the last five years, EU humanitarian aid reached about 120 million people in need a year on average. But cuts in humanitarian aid might indeed happen if the overall level of the MFF is decreased; this is what the European Parliament is fighting to avoid. Development policy is a success story we can be proud of.

What leverage has Parliament in the time remaining to make its case for a EU budget, adequate to the Union's ambitions, and to its responsibilities vis-à-vis the least prosperous and most troubled parts of the world?

The European Parliament will have a final say on the multi-annual financial framework [or MFF, the EU budget for 2014-2020], once the member states have come to an agreement. We are not involved in their internal negotiations for figures but we have made our position clear: If the cuts go too deep, the Parliament will quite likely reject the MFF. This is fully supported by the main political groups. This possibility is foreseen by the Treaty. In case the Parliament refuses its consent, the MFF ceiling of 2013, the last year of the current period, will continue to apply. This means that if we reject a bad deal, we will still have an MFF ceiling in place in 2014.

Nevertheless, during the ongoing internal negotiation phase among member states, the Parliament's budget negotiators and I personally are doing our utmost to convince them to avoid reducing the size of the budget in the areas vital for growth and jobs. The EU's budget is a powerful investment vehicle, which represents only about 1% of the EU's economic output. Of that, 94% is invested.

We give priority to measures to bolster economic growth and create jobs, but we do not disregard the importance of humanitarian aid and our global commitments. Here, I am also worried by plans to reduce flexibility in this area. This would limit the EU's ability to act in unforeseen humanitarian disasters. Let's try to imagine how the EU would have been perceived by the affected people, if we could not extend our aid rapidly to tackle such crises as in Haiti, Horn of Africa or Libya.

I also remind governments that the EU and its member states have commitments to achieve certain humanitarian spending levels under the projects of the Official Development Assistance and the Millennium Development Goals.

But on the other hand, the EU should not help dictators stay in power. Should there be a stronger human right conditionality for countries receiving development aid? How can parliament exercise oversight?

The EU does not help dictators. It helps people in poverty. The EU has a big role to play in promoting peace, democracy, stability and poverty reduction. The EU does not grant aid without any conditions, like for example China. We take into account respect for human rights and the Parliament will make full use of its oversight granted to it by the treaties.

Generally, I believe that the performance-driven ‘more for more’ approach should drive the relations of the EU with all third countries. The EU should only grant partner countries the advanced status, which usually means more financial assistance, if they meet human rights and democracy requirements. We should not hesitate to freeze this status should these requirements no longer be fulfilled.

While helping developing countries, can Parliament help ensure that agriculture funding is not used for biofuels? Should there also be a stronger conditionality for environmental performance?

Biofuels should be treated with caution. They should be used if they genuinely contribute to lowering CO2 emissions while not leading to higher food prices or land grabs, notably in the countries that receive EU aid. The European Commission has acknowledged just that by proposing recently new rules for the use of biofuels. The Parliament is examining them.

I agree that public subsidies for biofuels should be phased out, perhaps with the exception of cases in which they allow to substantially limit greenhouse gases production. There are strong doubts about biodiesel and bioethanol, which are produced from edible farm products. But there are also the so-called second-generation biofuels, also known as advanced biofuels, that can be manufactured from various types of biomass. These are worth examining.

EurActiv launched today (9 January) its new Development Policy section. To subscribe to the Development Policy newsletter, please click here

Subscribe to our newsletters