European Parliament demands more ambitious aid budget

The building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Photo by: REUTERS / Vincent Kessler

BRUSSELS — The European Parliament called for more aid money and for refocusing it on the Sustainable Development Goals Wednesday as it agreed its position on the European Commission’s proposed 2021-2027 budget for overseas spending.

Last summer, the commission proposed uniting the European Union’s development funding streams into a single instrument worth €89.2 billion ($100.3 billion). But NGOs worried that poverty eradication did not feature among the instrument’s objectives — while plans to address migration did.

Under the parliament’s proposed amendments, the first goal of the instrument would be “to contribute to the achievement of the international commitments and objectives that the [European] Union has agreed to, in particular the 2030 Agenda, the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.”

“The consensus among [civil society organizations] is that this proposal is the best we can expect out of the parliament.”

— Anonymous civil society staffer

The plenary vote in Strasbourg France, passed with 420 votes in favor, 146 against, and 102 abstentions. It means the next parliament, to be elected in May, will take this position into budget negotiations with member states and the commission, expected to start before the end of the year. A parliament official said the newly elected deputies could diverge from the agreed position but would need to ensure majority support as parliament must vote to approve the outcome.

Other proposals include increasing the budget for the new single instrument — the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument, or NDICI — by almost €4 billion; beefed-up powers to suspend EU funding for countries that violate human rights; stronger language in support of sexual and reproductive health rights; raising the target for climate and environment-related spending from 25 percent to 45 percent; having gender equality as a significant objective in 85 percent of aid programs; and increasing the funds eligible to be counted as official development assistance from 92 percent to 95 percent.

Speaking in Strasbourg Tuesday however, Neven Mimica, the commission’s top development representative, said that a 95 percent target “may not be realistic. Indeed, it is important to keep a sufficient degree of flexibility to fulfill the European Union’s ambitions in the areas of conflict prevention and peace, or in the cooperation with industrialized countries.”

Mimica also opposed parliament’s push for a greater say in how EU development money is allocated. Members of the European Parliament are trying to secure an equal footing with member states in deciding how and where funds are spent, through the use of so-called "delegated acts.”

But Alexei Jones, a senior policy officer at the European Center for Development Policy Management think tank, said neither the commission nor member states support the idea. “This has already been a hard-fought battle in the previous [seven-year budget] negotiations back in 2013, and a compromise solution had been found at the time by installing a strategic dialogue between the commission and the parliament,” Jones said. “But the parliament was not happy about that. It hasn’t worked to the level of expectation.”

Mimica said the commission was open to “frank and substantive dialogue” with the parliament, “in full respect of the interinstitutional balance.” But, he added, “creating additional layers of institutional control and making excessive use of delegated acts will not achieve that objective. Instead, it would make the functioning of the instrument too complex. Keeping sufficient flexibility is key.”

Civil society welcomed the parliament’s position, with the ONE Campaign saying deputies had shown “a clear commitment to achieve results that will lift thousands of people out of poverty.”

European NGO confederation CONCORD said allocating 10 percent of NDICI to tackling migration, as proposed by the commission and retained by parliament, remained “excessive,” but it welcomed amendments to better link migration management with human rights. Jonathan Beger, director of EU advocacy at World Vision EU, said aside from the migration issue, “we pretty much won everything we wanted in the parliament amendments.”

One NGO source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said: “The consensus among [civil society organizations] is that this proposal is the best we can expect out of the parliament. With the prospect of less friendly groups coming in after the elections, we thought it would be better to support an imperfect but workable proposal that’s on the table now, rather than whatever might come up in the future.”

Attention now turns to member states in the Council of the EU, who are aiming to have a joint position on the commission’s budget proposal by October.

To hasten progress, national representatives have parked major sticking points until later in the year. These include possibly splitting funds earmarked for the EU’s neighbors into a separate instrument, and whether to bring the €30.5 billion European Development Fund into the EU budget. The parliament has long supported the latter move as a means to increase its oversight, but some countries are opposed.

About the author

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    Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.