Channeling development aid through the EU means better coordination and more efficient management and it would be a grave error to make cuts when the money is needed more than ever.



olivierOlivier Consolo, director of CONCORD, talks about the impending challenges facing EU development aid.

Yesterday really does seem so far away in euro-austerity land. Just three years ago the European Union was increasing its development aid levels to help tackle global poverty. But fast forward to 2012, and EU leaders are in a mad scramble to cut what they can, even if it could cost jobs at home or lives overseas.

The latest item to be pounced on is on the common European aid budget that helps save millions of lives around the world. It is coordinated by the European Commission and acts as a common pot of development and humanitarian funding. It costs less than €0.50 a week and amounts to 0.04 per cent of European national wealth, making it a relatively small part of the EU budget that could easily be left untouched by the austerity knife.

But European leaders seem to favour it as a bargaining chip in crucial negotiations taking place in Brussels next week on the EU’s future budget for 2014 to 2020. Support to some of the poorest people in the world is under threat.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is the latest to attack aid this week, with a massive 11 per cent – more than €3bn – proposed cut to the European Development Fund, the largest part of the EU’s development aid budget that focuses mainly on African countries. This is a disproportionately large cut in comparison to other areas, which are more in the media spotlight.

There is a real danger of the EU pulling its humanitarian and development support. We are talking about people’s lives here. As results show, EU aid has a huge positive impact on the lives of millions of people in poor countries. In the last 10 years alone, EU aid has helped vaccinate 5.5 million children against life threatening diseases such as measles and enrolled more than 9 million in primary education, giving many families a chance to succeed for the first time.

And EU citizens seem to realise this. Despite the financial crisis, support for helping to tackle global poverty remains stubbornly strong at 85 per cent, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey released in October.

However, despite these positive figures member states have yet to form a ‘Friends of Development and Humanitarian Aid’ group, similar to that of the ‘Friends of Cohesion Policy’ or ‘Friends of Agricultural Policy’ in the negotiations. It has left the development commissioner Andris Piebalgs and his humanitarian aid counterpart Kristalina Georgieva fighting a lonely battle.

In contrary to media myths, the European Commission’s development programmes have recently been recognised as among the most efficient, impactful and transparent in the world by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the European Court of Auditors and independent organisations. Therefore it would be a grave political and humanitarian mistake to cut aid at a time when it is getting better.

We now need aid champions to come forward to save the EU’s aid budget. This is something that over 2,000 European development non-governmental organisation asked the leaders of Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Luxembourg for this week in a letter addressed to the four governments. They formally form a coalition of G0.7 countries.

In this letter, the governments were urged to support the commission proposal for the EU aid budget, that is, budget heading 4, the European Development Fund, and the humanitarian aid budget. They were also reminded that if the commission proposal is approved the EU will automatically be one step closer to reach the target of giving 0.7 per cent of our collective gross national income to aid by 2015.

As more and more European countries are cutting their own bilateral aid to developing countries, a strong EU collective aid budget is needed now more than ever. There are also more benefits of investing in a common European development budget, as by channeling aid through the EU, it is estimated that better coordination and more efficient management can result in annual savings of €5bn. The biggest casualty of the EU’s budget games should not be the world’s poorest people. Do not let them pay the highest price.

This piece originally appeared on Public Service Europe