A place for children in the EU’s budget

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

"Europe’s politicians and technicians would do well to remember that in seven years, the children of today will be workers and voters, shaping the EU of tomorrow" [Save the Children]

Last week, the Commission announced a budget that ‘’protects, empowers and defends’’. But who exactly are we protecting empowering and defending? Not Europe’s children nor their counterparts in the developing world. Children are not even mentioned in this proposal.

Ester Asin Martinez is the director & EU representative at the Save the Children EU Advocacy Office. She has been working on EU development and humanitarian aid policies for nearly 15 years, mostly with Civil Society Organisations, but also with the European Commission in a Delegation in West Africa.

Investing in children makes sense

Yet the EU budget could have a transformative impact on the next generation: seven years is a long time in a child’s life. It is good that ‘’youth’’ are a priority, but the EU is missing a trick in failing to invest in children.

For many children, experiences in their formative years will be key to who they become, and what they can achieve. We know that the earlier we invest, the better returns we get on our investment. If we target the EU budget to empower children in their early years along with those in vulnerable situations to ensure they thrive, we stand the greatest chance of creating more stable, fair, and prosperous societies.

Europe’s politicians and technicians would do well to remember that in seven years, the children of today will be workers and voters, shaping the EU of tomorrow. Just like today’s youth will fondly remember their free interrail passes, many of the children of tomorrow will remember seeing the European flag on the programmes they attend, and the principles and values represented there.

Child poverty – Europe’s next big crisis?

The Commission’s plan contains positive elements which can deliver for children – the doubling of the Erasmus + programme and the intention to make it more inclusive. Additional funding for humanitarian aid is also welcome, given that children are among the most affected populations across all the world’s crises and conflicts.

Europe’s leaders point to the existential ‘crises’ posed by migration, populism and Brexit. However, child poverty is another growing crisis facing many children in Europe. It remains at unacceptable levels following austerity and rising inequality: more than 25 million children experience poverty and exclusion. While the EU average is around 27%, more than 40% of children in Romania and Bulgaria live in poverty or social exclusion and a third of children in Spain and Italy are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The EU budget should firmly commit to tackling child poverty as a priority.

Protecting children on the move

Children on the move and those living in developing countries should have their rights protected. As the global torchbearer for human rights, the EU stands to lose a great deal in dismantling its standards and re-enforcing fortress Europe.

Short-termism will not deliver solutions. Investing in health and education of migrant and refugee children gives them a sense of belonging and ensures they become active and engaged participants in European society. Legal pathways ensure children don’t undertake dangerous journeys on their own. These are investments in long-term viable solutions.

Delivering for children abroad

Development aid is also a long-term solution, and one backed by European citizens. 89% think development aid is important according to the Eurobarometer. And rightly so. During the last 7-year budget, the EU delivered incredible results for children in developing countries. EU support meant 53 million children were educated in primary and secondary schools. The EU ensured that nearly 12 million children under the age of one were immunised against diseases like polio.

Yet this EU budget proposal makes a clear political choice to merge tried and tested external instruments into a proposal for a single fund – ‘the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument’ – with competing objectives. The danger is that the European Commission will allow short-term foreign policy interests and a preoccupation with stemming migration to endanger its influence, its reputation, and the life-saving work achieved by current development spending.

Beyond short-termism

Existing global commitments intended to save the planet and deliver a brighter future for all are also at risk. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement should be at the heart of the EU budget. In this proposal, they are relegated to mere secondary objectives.

What we really need is a committed Sustainable Development Fund, based on the SDGs, with priority given to Least Developed Countries and to human development sectors that impact children such as health, education and social protection.

The EU budget should be a long-term investment plan. In 2016, President Juncker promised to ensure that children were empowered, protected and defended in Europe. There is still time to deliver on this promise.

As negotiations move ahead with the member states and members of the European Parliament, Save the Children calls on all actors to move away from short-termism and invest in a budget that truly delivers for children and our collective futures.

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