Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

In this age of austerity, the forces of frugality are powerful; so is the temptation to defend national self-interest. The negotiations on the next 7-year budget of the EU are a case in point. And the biggest casualty of EU financial squabbles may well be humanitarian and development aid.

Given the existing divergence of views between member states, a bit of a battering is still expected at the next EU Summit in February before they find a compromise.

While there is a general agreement that the future EU budget should be a budget for the benefit of European citizens. Yet, it should also provide the Union with the means to live up to its ambitions and commitments as a global player. EU aid is not only morally right; it’s an economically sound investment.

EU humanitarian and development aid is deemed to be one of the most efficient, impactful and transparent sources of funding in the world. This has been reiterated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, governments, independent think tanks and civil society organisations. It delivers significant and concrete results to alleviate poverty and works to promote peace and stability for 930 million people, mostly in Africa.

EU aid has stopped 50 million people in more than 50 countries from going hungry in the last three years; it has provided access to primary education for more than 9 million children and has ensured 4 million more births have been attended by health personnel since 2004. Let’s be clear: cutting lifesaving aid is not in the EU’s interest.

Beyond the difference EU aid makes in the daily lives of the world’s poorest people – the worst hit by the economic crisis – it is also a smart and strategic investment in our common future. Aid flows increase trade and promote stability and security. What’s more, EU aid actually promotes growth within Europe itself. Recent research by the Overseas Development Institute and ONE showed that EU aid could yield a net gain in EU GDP of €11.5 billion by 2020. Few investments can provide such a rapid and far-reaching impact for such little money. EU aid costs less than the cost of a cup of coffee per person per week.

So the question is, why attempt to balance the EU budget on the backs of the world’s poorest at the expense of our common interest and commitments as a Union? Short-sighted cuts to the proposals tabled so far disproportionately target EU external spending, with a potential €6.1bn in reduced development aid to the world’s poorest and over a billion less in humanitarian aid compared to the European Commission proposal, which should be considered ‘the bare minimum’, as emphasised by the European Parliament.

It cannot be right to intend to cut humanitarian and development aid by 12%, while the proposed cut to the overall budget is 7%. Why is the overwhelming support of 85% of European citizens to continue helping developing countries and providing humanitarian aid, despite the economic crisis, falling on deaf ears?

How, having just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, can we send such a message to our citizens and to our partners in the world?

The next negotiations must correct this wrong and show the rest of the world that the EU –even in a time of economic crisis– still has ambitions to remain a leader in the fight against poverty and in emergency response to humanitarian disasters. To do so, the EU aid budget must be protected from the hard bargaining over the EU’s long term budget. Protecting EU aid to the world’s most vulnerable is vital to our values and interests.

Natalia Alonso is head of Oxfam’s International EU Office, Tim Roosen is Action for Global Health’s coordinator, Karen Schroh is head of Plan’s EU Office and Eloise Todd is Brussels director for the ONE Campaign.

Originally published in Euractiv on 29/01/13

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