Aid and the next EU budget

Aid and the next EU budget

The development of the next Multiannual Financial Framework is an opportunity for the European Union and its Member States to agree on how to implement a global vision for development cooperation that is rooted in European values. 

Róisín Hinds of Oxfam Ireland appearing before Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade with Suzanne Keatinge of Dóchas and Trócaire’s Niamh Garvey. Photo: Oireachtas TV

Brexit might be dominating headlines across the European Union – but it’s not the only show in town. The EU’s development assistance and humanitarian cooperation instruments will be undergoing a fundamental shift in the coming months, with the development of the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The MFF will set out the EU’s budget for the seven years from 2021 to 2027. Not only will it lock down the EU’s priorities in terms of financial allocations and the instruments used to implement them, it will help set the EU’s future trajectory in a range of policy areas, including development cooperation, humanitarian assistance, human rights and foreign policy. Last month, Oxfam Ireland appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade with our colleagues in Dóchas to discuss the future of EU aid and Ireland’s role in its development.

Ireland’s aid programme, which is not only an important feature of the country’s foreign policy, also demonstrates its commitment to human rights. During the recent launch of the public consultation for Irish Aid’s new policy, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that Ireland’s “development programme last year reached over 120 countries. It is recognised as one of the best in the world and its good reputation opens doors for Ireland everywhere… The effectiveness of Ireland’s development cooperation programme amplifies Ireland’s voice within the UN. It will be a significant asset in our tough race to win a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022”.

Ireland has always been recognised as a donor which “excels” in delivering effective aid. Consecutive OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer reviews have praised the quality of Ireland’s aid programme, including its focus on the poorest and most vulnerable countries and the commitment to untied aid. The added value for Ireland working with the EU in development and humanitarian action is clear and acknowledged – cooperation provides economies of scale, efficiency and can enable a stronger impact. With EU aid instruments comprising 46 percent of Ireland’s multilateral aid spend in 2017, it is critical that the Irish government plays a leading role in the development of the new MFF to ensure that EU aid is being used for the intended purposes to alleviate poverty and reduce vulnerability.

A streamlined architecture: flexible but not accountable

In May this year, the European Commission (EC) presented its plans to overhaul the EU’s budget, with the MFF proposal identifying the priorities, budget and architecture for 2021 to 2027. The title of the EU’s budget proposal, “Neighbourhood and the World”, encompasses all EU external actions, including development cooperation. Presenting the proposal, the EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, stated that it is “first and foremost a political statement in favour of a stronger European Union in international affairs”.

The most substantial change in the proposal is the creation of a broad single instrument, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), which merges 12 external funding instruments – including the European Development Fund – into one. Civil society has long advocated for the simplification of EU funding instruments to avoid fragmentation and support flexibility. However, the EC’s proposal puts varied development and foreign policy objectives under the same umbrella and fails to achieve balance by reconciling different policy areas. As Europe’s political environment becomes increasingly insular, oversimplification risks promoting short-term EU domestic interests – particularly on migration and security – at the expense of international cooperation and development.  

As it currently stands, the NDICI’s objectives are overwhelmingly focused on foreign and security policy. Poverty eradication, which should be the primary focus of the instrument, is not explicitly mentioned in its aims (Article 3). The policy framework (Article 7) and the general principles (Article 8) of the regulation are vague and would benefit from strengthened language and an increased focus on alleviating poverty and reducing vulnerability. 

The commitment to spend 0.7 percent of collective EU Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA), as well as the benchmarking of 0.2 percent to the least developed countries, are welcome and should be defended. However, Oxfam would like to see these commitments included in the main body of regulation text – and not just in the introduction, which is not legally binding. While we welcome the Commission’s proposal to keep a separate humanitarian instrument, we recommend that the budget is increased by a further €2 billion annually to address and complexity and scale of humanitarian need. The MFF will not only determine the role the EU can play as a leading humanitarian aid donor, it will also shape the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of the aid that humanitarian partners are able to deliver.

Migration, aid and short-sighted priorities

While the Commission’s proposal includes several positive elements on migration and displacement, such as focusing support on “human rights-based migration policies, including protection programmes” [Annex II, section 3(f)], and “development-based solutions for forcibly displaced persons and their host communities” [Annex II, section 3(i)], the overall approach to migration is not in line with the EU’s global strategy or OECD DAC definitions of Official Development Assistance. The proposed regulation includes an ambition to stem irregular migration to Europe, with references to “fighting”, “mitigating” or “tackling” the root causes of irregular migration. There is also a 10 percent financial envelope set aside for partner countries based on their performance in several areas, including cooperation on migration. This raises series concerns around the conditionality of aid. In addition, the budget includes a €10.2 billion “emerging challenges and priorities cushion”, with little detail on what this is for, how it will be spent and how it will be governed. In the current political context, the risk is that it will be used for short-term EU political interests, rather than long-term development which is based on development effectiveness principles.

Migration has been well-established as a powerful poverty reduction tool for migrants, their families and wider communities, and as having an important role in contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While several SDGs recognise the economic value of migration, Target 10.7 specifically calls for the facilitation of “safe, regular and responsible migration” and the implementation of “well-managed policies”. The use of NDICI funds to stem irregular migration puts the EU’s long-term objectives of building resilience and sustainable development at risk and may even lead to a destabilisation in conflict-affected regions.

Analysis of the EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and other programmes designed to prevent migration reveals that efforts to reduce cross-border movement between African countries has resulted in some communities losing access to livelihoods, for example, by restricting access to local markets across the nearest border or by reducing intra-continental migration. Oxfam analysis of the EUTF’s migration management projects also finds that 97 percent of the budget has gone to containment and deterrence and only 3 percent has been allocated to making migration routes safer and cheaper. This illustrates donors’ disproportionate focus on reinforcing borders and blocking mobility over long-term development and human rights-based solutions.

 

Maintaining the integrity of aid

As Ireland looks to expand global presence and meet the international commitment to 0.7 percent spending, it is critical that we play an active role in the development of the new MFF. Ireland must stand against the instrumentalisation of aid for migration control, ensure respect for development effectiveness principles and preserve development objectives, which by their nature, should remain autonomous from foreign policy interests. In the next MFF, aid must only be used for its intended purposes of alleviating poverty and reducing vulnerability; for programmes that address the needs of displaced people and host communities and to increase the development benefits of migration – not to contribute to the EU’s short-term foreign policy ambitions to prevent migration.

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