A further blow to the poor
Development aid may be a casualty of EU budget talks – an unjustifiable prospect and a cut that the EU would rue.
Last week, a press release from the European Commission announced that the EU’s Nobel Peace Prize money of around €1 million would be given to projects supporting children affected by war and conflicts. That decision should be welcomed. But coming in the same week that Herman Van Rompuy proposed to slash over €3 billion from the European Development Fund and over €6bn from Heading 4 of the long-term budget, it feels as if the EU has got its priorities badly wrong.
The ongoing political machinations surrounding the budget negotiations have not shown Europe in its best light, to put it mildly. But there is something particularly disturbing about the decision to impose the deepest cuts of all on the development budget.
The European Development Fund, which mainly targets the world’s poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, would be slashed by 11% under Van Rompuy’s plan. ‘Heading 4’ of the European Commission’s budget blueprint, which includes the ‘development co-operation instrument’, faces a cut of 9%. In percentage terms, no other part of the budget is facing such deep cuts.
The decision to cut aid so drastically is hard to justify for three reasons. Firstly, EU aid works. Between 2004 and 2009, it helped enrol more than nine million children in primary education, vaccinate five and a half million children against measles, and connect more than 31 million people to clean water. The positive results and effectiveness of EU aid have been cited by many independent reports.
The UK government’s multi-lateral aid review, published in March last year, rated the European development fund, as “critical to UK development objectives”. Other reviews by respected institutions – including the center for global development and Brookings institution, and the organisation for economic co-operation and development (OECD) – have also ranked EU aid well. Publish What You Fund’s 2012 aid transparency index ranked the European Commission’s department for development and co-operation (DG Devco) fifth out of 72 aid organisations across 43 indicators.
The European Court of Auditors, in its annual report on the 2011 EU budget, found that ‘external relations, aid and enlargement’ was one of only two ‘policy groups’ free from material error. All in all, EU aid is money well spent.
Secondly, development aid still has wide public support, despite the difficult economic times. A Eurobarometer survey published in October found that 85% of people in Europe still support aid spending. Just 18% said it should be cut, while the majority said it should be increased. Even in Spain, facing an unprecedented economic downturn, support remained stable. In Ireland, support has increased.
Times are tough in Europe, but there is still a sense of solidarity amongst Europeans for those in the poorest countries, where this spending could mean the difference between getting your child vaccinated, having access to clean drinking water or receiving life-saving anti-retroviral treatments.
But this message does not appear to be getting through to EU leaders, as they bicker loudly about freezes, rebates and vetoes. Some governments have been whispering in support of EU aid – but they now need to speak up.
France’s finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, said last month that the EU should “conserve” the levels of development aid, and that budget negotiations should not “interfere with this goal”.
Justine Greening, the UK’s new secretary of state for international development, told a conference in London last month that the development agenda is a priority for the UK government and “we will be making the case for it” as part of the EU budget negotiations.
But it was Denmark’s development minister, Christian Friis Bach, who perhaps put it in the most compelling political terms. Speaking at the recent EU Development Days conference in Brussels, he said: “If Europe now shies away from the world…it’s going to be to the detriment of Europe as well. We know Africa will be the fastest-growing continent now in the next years. Investing in Africa and reducing poverty in Africa is also creating jobs and opportunities in Europe.”
A report by the overseas development institute, the national institute of economic and social research and ONE, published last week, proved this very point. The researchers found that development spending under the Development Co-operation Instrument and the European Development Fund would not only boost GDP in sub-Saharan Africa by 2.5% by 2020, it would also boost the EU economy by around €11.5bn. And that’s after the €51bn cost of those two funds is recouped by taxpayers.
So EU aid works, it is widely supported, and it more than pays for itself. There is just no good reason to cut it. When prime ministers and presidents get their red pens out at this week’s summit, we’re counting on them to remember these facts as well as something more fundamental: cuts to development aid will cost lives.