Development NGOs were united in criticising the European Commission’s proposed changes to the bloc’s external spending on Wednesday (2 May), warning that it effectively downgraded aid policy.
The Commission has proposed a budget of €123 billion to cover all of the EU’s external priorities as part of the draft seven-year budget for 2020-2027 announced on Wednesday. That represents an increase on the €100 billion figure that had been mooted by the EU executive in February. However, it remains unclear how much of this will be allocated to development policy.
“If EU countries are serious about meeting the international 0.7% aid target, and continue to channel approximately 20% of their aid through the EU’s budget, there could be an additional €40 billion available for development over the next 7 years,” said Emily Wigens, Interim Brussels Director of ONE.
“The devil will be in the detail and we will only see exactly how much EU aid is being allocated to the most vulnerable countries when we see the complete package in June,” she added.
Others expressed concern that the high percentage of unallocated funds in the budget heading “Neighbourhood and the World” increased the risk of funds being used to carry out short-term EU interests, despite the dedicated heading on “Migration and border management”.
“The fact that migration is set as a priority confirms our concern of development policy being progressively re-oriented toward EU self-interests,” said Karine Sohet of CONCORD, the European confederation of development NGOs.
The EU has been seeking to curb African migration for several years, and has set up a series of instruments including the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and European Fund for Sustainable Investment which are aimed at targeting ‘the root cause of migration’.
As expected, the EU executive wants to merge the twelve existing external policy instruments into one. The Commission says this will simplify its external spending.
However, campaigners fear it will mean that development policy is lumped in with the EU’s foreign policy objective and will lead to an increased use of Overseas Development Aid (ODA) for the domestic costs incurred by EU countries such as accommodating refugees.
“Instead of entitling the EU to blur development cooperation with foreign policy and crisis management, the new budget should prioritise long-standing development objectives,” said Sohet.
That sentiment was echoed across the sector.
“The proposal shows that the EU is abandoning its ambition to be the global leader in international development. The EU is more concerned with pushing its own agenda than delivering on its commitments to the sustainable development goals,” said Oxfam’s policy advisor Hanna Saarinen.
“Despite increasing the amount of funds allocated to foreign policy, when it comes to development aid, it seems impossible for the EU to reach its collective target of 0.7% gross national income,” she added.
Full coverage of the EU’s proposed long-term budget can be found here.