First clues for post-Brexit aid cooperation between EU and UK

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator. Photo by: Francois Walschaerts / EU

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters at a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday that the United Kingdom would have to look at the EU’s existing arrangements with nonmember countries such as Switzerland and Norway to determine what kind of relationship it will have after its exit from the European Union.

These models offer some clues about how Brexit will affect U.K.’s contribution to EU development cooperation. The country is the largest contributor to the EU’s $62 billion budget for official development assistance, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“It’s up to the U.K. to determine what kind of Brexit it wants,” Barnier said. “In the case of Norway for instance, there is access to the single market but this is accompanied by predetermined and very specific contributions to the EU budget. That’s one of the models that already exist, and that’s really one of the closest models that exists to the EU without being a member,” Barnier said.

Speaking about the EU’s proposal for a new consensus on development, one commission official told Devex it was likely that nonmember countries and aid “actors” would be able and encouraged to opt into the policy document, after EU members endorse it.

“The situation of the U.K. of course is a little bit particular,” the source told Devex at a meeting with commission officials, speaking on condition that they not be named. “We’ve had some requests from current member states that after the agreement is endorsed, we open the consensus for endorsement of other actors,” he said.

The consensus, which will set out the priorities for the EU’s aid strategy from 2017-2020, will serve both as a road map for the EU’s development instruments as well as an “overarching framework for the policy development” of individual countries, he said, meaning signatories would ideally “adapt their instruments to this as well.”

Non-EU member states such as Norway choose on a case-by-case basis whether to opt into various commission agendas and funds. For example, both the governments of Norway and Switzerland plan to contribute to the EU External Investment Plan and the $3 billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, both efforts by the EU to use development tactics to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. The two donors also contribute to various other EU aid instruments, mostly related to migration and EU neighboring regions such as North Africa, according to Norway’s strategy for cooperation with the EU. Notably, these countries opted out of the previous EU Consensus agreed in 2005, and do not contribute to the EU’s main development instrument, the European Development Fund, which derives its $45 billion budget from EU member state fees, according to a Comission spokesperson.

Some analysts have read the U.K.’s recent rhetoric — including around using aid to stem the flow of migrants and combat security threats at home and abroad — as an indication that the country may seek an arrangement similar to Norway’s or Switzerland’s. On the question of aid specifically, Barnier insisted on Tuesday that there would be “no cherry-picking” of benefits allowed to EU access. The U.K. could then follow the lead of other non-EU members such as Iceland, Switzerland and Norway, for which contributions are based on gross domestic product.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.