European Parliament pushes to protect aid spending in 2018

Members of the European Parliament vote during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Photo by: © European Union 2017 - European Parliament / CC BY-NC-ND

BRUSSELS — The European Parliament voted Wednesday to try to boost European Union spending on development and humanitarian aid for 2018 ahead of final budget negotiations next month.

The plenary session in Strasbourg, France, agreed the parliament’s position on the EU’s spending priorities by a margin of 414 votes to 163. The bloc’s three main bodies — including the European Parliament, European Commission, and Council of the European Union — will now take their positions into closed-door talks, with an outcome expected in mid-November.

The EU institutions are the world’s fourth largest donor of bilateral aid, according to OECD data. For 2018, the European Commission — the body responsible for implementing policy — had initially proposed a budget of 9.6 billion euros under the banner of “Global Europe,” including a 6.7 percent cut in 2017 aid spending, although that figure does not cover the European Development Fund, which is paid for by member states on a voluntary basis outside of the official EU budget.

But in July, the EU Council — which includes representatives of each member country — proposed removing a further 90 million euros from the Global Europe allocation, saying they favored a more “frugal approach” to the budget. Valentina Barbagallo, EU policy manager for the ONE Campaign, noted that the council’s position traditionally comes in lower than that of the commission and parliament, and described the proposed cuts as “cosmetic.”

“It’s not like you save a lot of money,” she added.

Parliament is the last of the three institutions to set its position. It voted against the council’s additional cuts on Wednesday, and also pushed for more funds for human development, food and nutrition security, and humanitarian aid. While the commission already proposed lifting spending on human development, such as health and education, by 26 percent to 193 million euros, the parliament wants to better that by a further 12.5 million euros.

Linda McAvan, chair of the parliament’s development committee, said the group would like to see part of the increase spent on women and girls to reflect the funding threat posed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s expansion of the global gag rule.

The British member of parliament added that more humanitarian aid is necessary “in a period where crises are mounting and where the EU's humanitarian arm has had to call for additional funds every year.”

Barbagallo also welcomed the parliament’s attempt to increase humanitarian aid to 1.1 billion euros (178 million euros more than the year before, and 38 million euros more than the commission’s target). She especially praised the 10 million euros earmarked for providing education in emergency situations if required.

But NGOs reiterated their call for EU development money to target poverty eradication, rather than migration control and border protection, amid concern that aid priorities are shifting.

In addition, this year likely represents the last budget where U.K. contributions will be taken into account, with the country leaving the EU no later than March 2019.

“Next year will be a lot of cutting and negotiating,” said Hilary Jeune, policy advisor at Oxfam International. “That’s where I would be worried about [spending on Global Europe]. This year I’m not so worried.”

The EU’s final budget must come in below a preset ceiling, and will include both commitments (spending obligations that could be signed during the year, including contracts and grants) and payments (expenditure due to be paid out during the year).

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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.