Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

By Hilary Jeune and Jan Mayrhofer

The world finds itself in a multitude of crises. Climate change and increasing conflicts led to increasing global displacement where 65 million people were forced to flee their homes. At the same time, 20 million people are at risk of starvation as hunger crises are multiplying. With inequality rising and more than 750 million people still living in extreme poverty, the need for life saving aid is greater than ever before.

On the surface, EU donors have grasped these complexities and the need for development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. This can be seen by the agreement of the sustainable development goals in 2015 and currently by the discussions in Brussels to renew the European Consensus on Development which should set out how the EU – the European Commission and EU member states – do their development cooperation collectively as well as individually in line with the Agenda 2030.

More and more development aid never leaves rich countries

To make this policy talk reality, donors need to assign money from their budgets to do this. But today as the OECD DAC published its statistics on how much development aid was spent in 2016, we can see that just five EU member states have spent at least 0.7% of their GNI on aid. Theoretically, 15 EU member states have committed to spending at least 0.7%.

This commitment was set in 1970s, when Richard Nixon was President of the United States and the Beatles were topping the charts. Instead of making this a reality, donors continue to hold pledging conferences, announce new commitments, and they announce new programmes and agreements with partner countries.

Donors will dismiss the concerns of civil society and engaged citizens, showing that the total development aid has slightly increased in 2016. ODA from the twenty DAC countries that are EU members was USD 81.3 billion in 2016, representing an increase of 13.1% in real terms. This amounted to 0.51% of their combined GNI. But the overall figure masks a concerning trend: more and more aid never leaves the donor countries (USD 11.8 billion in 2016 representing 14.5% of total net ODA of DAC-EU countries) instead of being spent in places where it is really needed.

Several countries are diverting their aid budgets to cover the cost of receiving refugees in Europe. For instance, Germany has, for the first time, reached the 0.7% goal, but this is largely due to the doubling of in-donor refugee costs compared to 2015. In Austria, in-donor refugee costs accounted for 37.7% of total ODA last year. Let’s be clear – EU countries have the responsibility and moral obligation of supporting refugees arriving at their borders. But this should not come at the expense of those most in need abroad.

EU aid is becoming a tool to enforce EU foreign policy goals

It is counter-productive if less development assistance reaches people in need in the developing world, since aid spent well can help to tackle many of the factors that drive forced migration.

At the same time, several EU member states are steering the EU to change development cooperation forever, by linking the giving of aid to containment, stopping migrants from getting to the EU.

The shifting discourse is most clearly reflected in the revision of the European Consensus on Development. The latest draft by the Maltese Presidency, seen by Oxfam, shows that to win the third-country cooperation necessary to organise returns and readmission of migrants, the EU is departing from some of its long-standing principles. It seems the EU is ready to abandon the main objective of development cooperation as set in the Lisbon Treaty – poverty eradication – and is ready to instrumentalise the development aid it gives to reach other objectives, namely some of its foreign policy goals.

In other words: development aid is not anymore about supporting people who are in need, but about propelling governments to cooperate with the EU.

This is in stark contrast to the values of peace, freedom, tolerance and solidarity on which the European Union was built 60 years ago. Donors, instead of safeguarding aid as a privileged tool for solidarity over nationalism and isolationism, are preying on aid budgets to serve areas of strategic interest to them.

This has to stop: we cannot allow the current arrivals of forcefully displaced people looking for protection to lead to a defensive and inward-looking Europe. Current global trends mean Europe’s positive influence is needed more than ever.

EU needs to make a clear statement: the new EU development framework would be the right tool

The new European Consensus represents a litmus test not only for the future of Europe’s development cooperation, but also for Europe’s role in the world. It is now or never for European decision-makers to lead by example for the dignity and well-being of all people. A clear statement is needed: aid money must be used to eradicate poverty, not to stop refugees.





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