The Dutch have a special responsibility with the Global Goals

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Inaugural ceremony of the Dutch Presidency, 6 January [Commission]

The Dutch are in the unique position to both begin and end the EU’s path towards the fulfilment of the Global Goals, writes Tamira Gunzburg.

Tamira Gunzburg is Director of ONE Brussel. She contributed this op-ed exclusively to EURACTIV.

In 2015, the world made the biggest ever promise to itself. World leaders adopted the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development that will help us tackle problems like extreme poverty, hunger and climate change. The deadline they set themselves is the year 2030.

Now, as 2016 gets underway, the question can no longer be postponed. How will we go about implementing these goals, which apply to North and South alike? The only way to hit the ambitious deadline is to start full throttle.

To anyone who has had anything to do with the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, the constraint of limited time and the need to hit the ground running will not be new. Least of all for those who just kicked off their 12th Presidency for the next six months. But there is another reason why the Dutch would do well to waste no time in charting the path for the Global Goals. Their next Presidency will most probably be around 2030, when the final appraisal will be made on whether or not the world has managed to end extreme poverty and hunger, as our current leaders have set out to do.

In order to ensure that they, and all of us, can shine at that moment, here are a few priorities the Dutch Presidency can act upon right now.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

The list of 17 Global Goals may seem overwhelming, but they best way to forge ahead is to break it down into concrete actions that are within our reach.

For instance, this year, the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will launch an appeal for new funding. So far the Global Fund has saved 17 million lives since its creation. What better way to get ahead on Global Goal 3 – which includes a target to end the epidemics of killer diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria – than to ensure that the Global Fund gets the resources it needs to continue its lifesaving programmes?

Or take malnutrition, which kills almost half of the 6.3 million children under 5 that still die every year. Less than 0.3% of EU donor aid goes to programmes specifically designed to improve nutrition. To reach Global Goal 2 – eradicate hunger – that has to change, and fast. Thankfully there is a summit planned on nutrition this summer to coincide with the Brazil Olympics – the perfect moment to step up our investments in time to speed towards 2030.

The Dutch, who have said that aid and trade are priorities, can use their position to spur their fellow EU Member States into action on these golden opportunities of 2016. They should also make sure that the European Commission takes its leading position on issues like nutrition to the next level.

Don’t take your eye off the ball

Europe is facing the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, due to protracted insecurity and destitution in Syria and across parts of Africa and Asia. The influx is projected to continue to rise into 2016. With the political distance between certain European Member States still wide, the Presidency will have to work hard to build a strong EU position that transcends domestic interests. The Dutch government has rightly identified migration and international security as one of the key priorities of their Presidency.

Refugees must be afforded protection and their needs and rights met as a matter of urgency. Yet, several Member States are yielding to the temptation to finance these costs by raiding their aid budgets. Others are even trying to pass off more security, military and intelligence operations as aid. And we are already seeing aid shift away from the poorest countries: in 2014, global aid to the least developed countries fell by 4.6% compared to 2013. That’s a decrease of €1.45 billion to those who need it most.

It is neither fair nor sustainable to pass the bill on to the world’s poorest. The best way to prevent such crises from perpetually recurring is to make good on the promise of creating a more just and prosperous world in 2030 by nailing the Global Goals. That means continuing the fight against extreme poverty in spite of pressures at home.

The Dutch Presidency will need to keep its eye on the prize and ensure that Member States protect refugees without diverting international aid. The EU has already shown that it is possible to do both: its 2016 budget increased funding for both the refugee crisis and development aid simultaneously. This is the kind of leadership the Dutch should take forward.

Follow the money

Of course, it is not all about aid. On average, overseas development aid is a small flow compared to developing countries’ domestic resources. However, these countries still lose at least $1 trillion every year through illicit financial flows, including tax evasion. Stopping this haemorrhage could unleash unprecedented funds for development and reduce pressure on donor countries’ squeezed budgets.

Transparency is key here. Shining a light on the payments between companies and governments and on companies’ tax practices would allow citizens in poor countries to follow the money and ensure their governments spend it responsibly. The EU has already passed ground-breaking legislation to oblige oil and mining companies to publish payments they have made to governments abroad, and transparency in this sector has led to increased social spending in a number of cases. Banks, too, have started reporting their taxes on a country-by-country basis.

The Netherlands was central to passing that legislation back in 2013, and now finds itself chairing the very institution that is scheduled to examine several proposals over the coming months that aim to do the same, but this time for other economic sectors. Obliging large multinationals to confidentially report their tax information per country is already happening. By pushing for the information to be made available to the public, the Presidency can ensure developing countries also benefit.

In a world where the Global Goals will not be met with aid alone, unlocking funds with this win-win legislation is precisely the kind of innovative manoeuvre the Dutch should lead on.

Coming full circle

The Dutch are in the unique position to both begin and end the EU’s path towards the fulfilment of the Global Goals. As a nation that has implemented severe cuts in its own overseas aid programmes, this is a chance for the Dutch to demonstrate that they can still play a leadership role in the development arena. In the fields of development and corporate transparency there are plenty of opportunities that are ripe for exploitation in the first half of 2016. If the Dutch Presidency takes the lead on this, they will set the EU up for success down the path towards a world free from extreme poverty and hunger. 

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