At next week's European Council, European leaders will decide how much money the EU will have in the next seven years and on which priorities it will be spent (“Van Rompuy calls budget summit in February”, 17-23 January).
As a European network of 82 humanitarian NGOs, we fully grasp that the current economic climate is particularly difficult. However, if EU leaders choose to cut the European Commission's budget proposal, these cuts have to be better divided across budget headings. The basis for next week's negotiations is a proposal put forward in November by Herman Van Rompuy, in which the European Council's president suggested a reduction of 13% to external action. This proposal is disproportionate and a major blow for such a small heading. Moreover, it stands in stark contrast to the Lisbon treaty, in which member states strongly committed themselves to strengthening the EU's external action, in line with the EU's global agenda. Furthermore, it is not in line with the opinion of European citizens, as 85% strongly support EU humanitarian and development aid.
Providing humanitarian aid, as well as advancing development, human rights and opportunities for poor countries and their populations will benefit Europe and its citizens in the long term. All these policies are financed from the external-action budget.
Over the coming years, humanitarian needs and the related costs will continue to increase due to factors such as climate change and population growth, which together lead to more devastating natural disasters and conflicts. These widely confirmed trends, combined with the strong track record of the EU in responding to emergencies, require the maintenance of the humanitarian-aid budget as well as the Emergency Aid Reserve. The flexibility of the reserve is crucial to the EU's ability to respond to humanitarian needs and emergencies. How would the EU be perceived by its citizens and what would be the effect on disaster-stricken populations if we were no longer able to respond to tomorrow's equivalents of Mali and Syria? This would be a tragedy for all as well as for perception of EU global solidarity.
The EU negotiations should not affect the most vulnerable people throughout the world who are unable to make themselves heard in these budgetary debates. With only 0.62% of the total EU budget, 150 million people are helped annually by EU humanitarian aid.