Advocates call EU crisis response lacking

School children in the Democratic Republic of Congo receive assistance from ActionAid International. The anti-poverty group is one of several NGOs that have criticized the European Commission's moves to implement funding pledges made at last week's G-20 summit in London. Photo by: ActionAid

The European Commission said Wednesday that it was proud to be the first to act on funding pledges made earlier this month at the G-20 summit in London. But aid advocates caution that the pat on the back is a little premature.

The E.U. adopted a raft of actions on April 8 to help developing nations deal with the global economic downturn by front-loading aid, focusing existing commitments on the most vulnerable, and making existing aid more effective.

“Europe has taken the lead in ensuring that the G-20 lays foundations for a fair and sustainable recovery for all, including developing countries,” José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said that day.

Louis Michel, European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, noted: “We know what we must do: meet our aid targets, advance our money to have an impact when it is most needed, refocus our existing programs to tackle the crisis and then make every euro count.”

Some aid advocates aren’t optimistic.

While Europe’s commitment was commendable, it offered little in terms of solutions on issues such as trade, ActionAid argued in a media release.

“We have not seen any useful ideas coming out of this package on how to support developing countries in dealing with climate change, on stopping tax evasion or on coping with the effects of trade policies,” the anti-poverty group said.

ActionAid is headquartered in Johannesburg and works in more than 40 countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe to help developing nations secure their rights and eradicate poverty and injustice.

“The announced aid-for-trade is not additional to existing developments funds and will not quell the concerns of developing countries being pushed into trade deals with the E.U.,” the group said.

Last year, Europe spent 49 billion euros (US$64.9 billion) on official development assistance, which amounts to 0.4 percent of its gross national income. As promised during the 2005 G-8 summit in Gleneagles, the bloc has vowed to raise its international assistance to 69 billion euros (US$91.4 billion) by 2010, or 0.56 percent of its gross national income.

All in all, front-loaded E.U. resources will add up to 4.3 billion euros (US$5.7 billion) this year. About 3 billion euros ($4 billion) - or 72 percent of its projected budget support to African, Pacific and Caribbean nations - will be front-loaded to ensure that social spending will not be a casualty of the crisis. Some 800 million euros (US$1.06 billion) of a 1 billion euro (US$1.3 billion) “food facility” program will also be released this year.

ActionAid said there was merit in the food facility’s goal to provide emergency relief to people struggling with high food prices. But the organization stressed that Europe’s actions so far did not address the underlying causes of the crisis.

“It is not a development response as the Commission is describing it. It is rather a band-aid response to a long-term crisis,” the group stressed.

Other aid groups agree that Europe needs to take bolder action.

“We fear that with no new money, poor countries will suffer in years to come, when aid dries up,” Hetty Kovach, Oxfam International policy advisor on aid, told Agence France-Presse. “Europe needs to dig deep to help prevent this crisis from becoming a humanitarian disaster.”

Ester Asin Martinez, policy officer with the European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development, or Concord, shares Kovach’s views.

“Less than one week after the G-20, the E.U. has produced a strategy that fails to address the underlying flaws in the system that we know fuel poverty in developing countries,” Asin Martinez told AFP. “Whilst we welcome the E.U.’s efforts to be the first to act on international development after the G-20, this falls far short of what is needed.”

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    Josefa Cagoco

    Sef Cagoco served as one of Devex's international development correspondent from mid-2008 to mid-2009. Her writing focused on social entrepreneurship and multilateral agencies such as the U.N. and Asian Development Bank. She previously worked as senior reporter for the national daily BusinessWorld and a production journalist for the Financial Times.