EU aid budget to jump 35% in 2016

Die Türkei will alle Flüchtlinge aus Griechenland zurücknehmen - und erhält dafür 6 Milliarden Euro Hilfen bis 2018 [michael_swan/Flickr]

The refugee crisis has forced the EU to drastically increase its international aid budget for 2016. But NGOs fear this will result in cuts in 2017. EURACTIV France reports.

European development assistance and humanitarian aid will increase drastically in 2016, with a 35% increase in payment appropriations for the EU’s Global Europe budget.

The European Commission’s initial proposal for 2016 had presented a development and humanitarian aid budget unaltered from the previous year. The Council had then even tried to cut €500 million from the budget.

Refugee crisis

But the acceleration of the refugee crisis turned this trend around, and the EU’s budgetary negotiations ended last November with a 35% increase in payment appropriations (€10.15 billion) and a 5.2% increase in commitment appropriations (€9.16 billion).

“This is unprecedented. It is the first budget increase in years,” said Hilary Jeune from Oxfam. As a rule, the European budget never exceeds the initial proposal of the European Commission.

Budgetary discussions often end up in a tug of war between the member states, which want to limit spending, and the Commission and Parliament, which fight to maintain it.

>>Read: International aid efforts dwarfed by scale of refugee crisis

Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, said, “Next year we will have a record budget due to the extremely high demand. The EU will continue to play a role in responding to the needs of the most vulnerable and can be proud to remain among the biggest donors of humanitarian aid in the world in 2016. But I do call on the other donors to increase their commitments. From the refugee crisis to natural disasters, the world needs a strong response.”

Humanitarian aid

This budgetary largesse will be most strongly felt in the EU’s humanitarian aid efforts. With an increase of 16% on 2015, the EU will this year boast a humanitarian aid budget of €1.1 billion.

>>Read: Aid programmes hit hard by EU budget woes

With its action focused on the refugee crisis in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and the Balkans, the EU will also provide humanitarian aid to the conflict zones of South Sudan and Ukraine.

And according to the Commission, the 2016 humanitarian aid budget could even be bolstered by targeted transfers during the year.

“Given these unprecedented humanitarian crises, it is high time the EU increased its funding for development, but this measure will most likely not last long. This money must be spent intelligently and without hesitation on the fight against poverty,” said Natalia Alonso, the head of Oxfam’s European Union office.

Phantom funding?

But if the EU appears committed to action in 2016, the source of the additional funds has raised concern among civil society representatives.

“The main unanswered question is where this money will come from. The Commission is making more and more commitments, but without specifying the source of the funds,” Jeune said.

In order to honour its promises for this year, the Commission may tap into the budget for 2017. “I am worried about the 2017 budget, which could suffer as a result of the extra commitments for 2016,” Jeune added.

>>Read: Commission laments EU development aid cuts

The Commission’s many financial promises to countries affected by the migratory crisis are another source of uncertainty: the EU’s €1.8 billion emergency trust fund for Africa and the €3 billion promised to Turkey in return for stemming the flow of refugees will both come from the EU budget.

>>Read: EU and Turkey agree on €3 billion refugee deal

Member states are supposed to foot the bill for these commitments through their national contributions. But the money is proving hard to extract from national capitals.

“For the aid promised to Turkey, the Commission has increased its share from €500 million to €1 billion. But will it provide more if member states refuse to do their part? That is the question,” Jeune concluded. 

The European Union is the world's number one donor of humanitarian and development aid.

In the face of budgetary restrictions, member states are trying to bring down their annual contributions to the EU, even if this means slashing certain priority programmes like, cohesion policy, Erasmus or humanitarian and development aid.

But the refugee crisis that has rocked Europe since 2015 has forced the EU to prioritise the development and humanitarian aid budgets for 2016. 

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