Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

By Farah Karimi, Executive Director at Oxfam Novib

 

In 1952, The Netherlands showed courage when it joined other European countries and became one of the founding fathers of the European Union. More than 60 years later, the EU has come under immense internal and external pressures with economic, financial, security and democratic challenges linked to these. In this new context, we need the Dutch EU presidency to lead the direction for the Union once again, so it champions meaningful international cooperation as an answer to the challenges of our time.

The current challenges for the Union also have an important global dimension – our common fate is increasingly interconnected. The Dutch EU presidency has therefore to ensure that its work has a positive impact outside of the EU, too. Following last year’s series of big global agreements on development and climate change, 2016 must be a year of setting the EU’s course for delivery of these agreements. The Dutch EU presidency can play a central role in driving this process and pushing the EU on recent as well as long-standing promises.

In the light of this challenge, Oxfam has provided the Dutch EU presidency with recommendations on six areas for action. The full set of concrete actions can increase the positive impacts which the EU’s work has on marginalised people worldwide:

  • In September 2015, the international community adopted new global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set out in the Agenda 2030. The Dutch presidency needs to lead the EU to start implementing the SDGs; accountability and policy coherence should be central to that effort. The European Union has to ensure that all its new as well as its existing policies are in line with the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, with the Dutch presidency steering the Council towards a review of environmental, energy and climate, as well as fiscal and economic policies. Oxfam welcomes the presidency’s move to consider an EU wide monitoring framework on the SDG implementation.

 

  • Recent months have seen over a million people fleeing to Europe to escape violent conflict, persecution and extreme poverty. Aside from addressing the root causes of forced migration, the Presidency and EU member states must also work to protect the human rights and dignity of migrants and refugees in Europe and in third countries. A central concern is the dangerous and often deadly journey many refugees have to undertake to reach the EU. The Dutch presidency needs to anchor the establishment of safe and legal passages for refugees to Europe. The protection of human rights of migrants needs to be a core feature of migration management cooperation agreements with third countries.

 

  • Certain EU measures to address the refugee crisis have threatened development aid. Several EU member states have been turning to their aid budgets to finance in- country refugee costs. In fact, in 2015 several EU member states, including The Netherlands, used significant amounts of development aid at home. The European Union is the largest aid donor in the world and as such must champion the integrity of development aid. The Dutch presidency must defend EU aid as a key foreign and development policy tool and ensure aid reaches the poorest and most marginalised people.

 

  • The EU’s responsibility to safeguard human rights is further linked to its role in the global market place. With Global Value Chains still largely unchecked for their sustainability and international standards, the Dutch presidency can help the EU take global leadership in this area, building on the positive work it has started at national level. At the minute there is, for instance, still no EU Action Plan for the implementation of the ‘UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ in Global Value Chains – the initiation of such a plan would be a way to guide the EU’s work towards stable and binding rules and standards to be upheld by the Union, its member states, and European companies operating globally.

 

  • The EU has recently been shaken by large-scale tax avoidance schemes employed by many multinational companies and facilitated by several EU member states. In Europe and across the world, tax avoidance leaves governments without the funds vital for essential public services and policies. The Dutch presidency should leave its mark on the EU tax discourse in 2016 by backing an ambitious agenda on tax transparency. This should include public country-by-country reporting which requires multinational companies to report where they generate their profits and where they pay taxes.

 

  • One of the definite successes at the Paris climate summit in December 2015 was the great number of countries which rallied behind the new goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. For the EU, which led the effective High Ambition Coalition at the summit, this means decided actions need to follow suit. Its 2050 low carbon roadmap has to be comprehensively reviewed and the 2030 emissions cut targets have to be increased accordingly. The Dutch presidency should seize the post-Paris momentum to lead on this and kick-start a process of testing all EU policies for 1.5 degree credibility. Anything other than putting High Ambition into practice at home would be a kick in the teeth for the countries vulnerable to climate change that stood arm in arm with the EU in the closing days of Paris.

The extreme weather of the past months has caused devastation in Europe and across the world, with floods and droughts destroying livelihoods, exacerbating conflict and poverty, displacing populations and aggravating the refugee crisis. Millions of people depend on the EU to keep its promises and implement the progressive changes agreed in last year’s global deals.

The commitment of The Netherlands to involve civil society in its presidency work will further improve its ability to set the tone and outline the path of the EU for years to come. By incorporating Oxfam’s recommendations and including civil society into its strategy at large, the EU presidency will be better placed to drive the EU’s commitment to global justice in accordance with its democratic principles, and the standards of international cooperation and human rights.

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