BRUSSELS — The European Union’s 2018 budget is set to include more money for humanitarian aid, but less development spending than the year before, angering nongovernmental organizations that say Brussels has fallen into short-term “tunnel vision” over the issue of migration.
Closed-door negotiations between the European Parliament and member states in the European Council ended Saturday with a spending commitment on “Global Europe” — a budget category that covers aid and some others costs — of 9.6 billion euros ($11.3 billion) for the coming year, down from 10.4 billion euros ($12.2 billion) in 2017.
That includes an almost 15 percent year-on-year increase in humanitarian spending to 1.08 billion euros ($1.3 billion), but a 6 percent drop in allocations to the Development Cooperation Instrument, one of the bloc’s main development instruments.
Märt Kivine, Estonia’s deputy finance minister and member states’ representative, said the budget, which the parliament and council must approve within two weeks, focuses on “economic growth and job creation, strengthening security and addressing the challenges posed by migration.”
But Hilary Jeune, EU policy advisor at Oxfam, said “[The EU] has adopted tunnel vision and is looking only at its own security priorities as it cuts funds that help people get out of poverty and recover from crises.”
Save the Children described the outcome as a “retreat to regionalism,” while Plan International said it was a move away “from the poorest and most marginalised in order to fulfil the EU’s misplaced migration control measures.”
Both the commission and Siegfried Mureșan, the centre-right Romanian MEP representing the European Parliament in the budget talks, attributed the drop in development funding to the higher-than-usual allocation in 2017, due to the migration crisis.
“The EU is the world's leader on development and is committed to maintaining this role,” an EU spokesperson said. “In 2016 alone, the EU collectively provided 75.5 billion euros ($88.7 billion) of official development assistance, with around 13 billion euros ($15.3 billion) by the commission.”
The budget negotiations did not cover the European Development Fund, which is paid for by member states on a voluntary basis outside the official EU budget.
POLITICO reported that some countries, including France, Germany, and the Nordic states, sought a lower budget to preserve money for the renewal of the 3 billion euro deal between the EU and Ankara, designed to fund refugee camps in Turkey and reduce irregular migration to Europe.
The result was 256 million euros ($300 million) below the maximum spending allowed on global issues under the EU’s seven-year financial framework, prompting Valentina Barbagallo, policy and advocacy manager at the ONE Campaign, to say the institutions had put neighborhood interests ahead of development goals.
“Refugees should absolutely be provided for, but that can’t come at the expense of the world’s poorest and long-term thinking,” Barbagallo said. “Otherwise you are just focusing on the short-term fixes and putting out fires, but you aren’t preventing the next fire from happening.” She was also disappointed that the parliament’s effort to earmark 10 million euros ($11.7 million) for education in emergencies was ignored.
But Mureșan said the parliament successfully stopped member states from cutting another 20 million euros of development spending from the commission’s draft. And he said parliament won another 20 million euros for the DCI, on top of the commission proposal.
Barbagallo singled out the parliament’s addition of 12.5 million euros for human development on health and education (for a total of 206 million euros) as particularly welcome. She also expects a funding increase for agriculture, food security, and nutrition, to 217 million euros.
The EU’s annual budget must be below a preset ceiling, and includes both commitments (spending obligations that could be signed during the year) and payments (expenditure due to be paid out during the year). Under Saturday’s deal, the three institutions agreed to set total commitments for 2018 at 160.1 billion euros, up from 157.9 billion euros for 2017. Payments totalled 144.7 billion euros, up from 134.5 billion euros.
“Of course more can be done on the ground and the EU must remain a frontrunner of efforts to eradicate poverty worldwide,” Mureșan said. “But under the current budgetary framework and resistance of member states to do more, funding it is very difficult.”
Read more Devex coverage on EU aid.