How will the EU commit to financing development? 2019 has seen progress towards a sustainable, human rights-based approach to spending our money where it is most needed. Now it’s time to recap.

What is this about?

The importance of the European Union’s long-term budgeting is only overshadowed by its complexity. Before going into details, let us quickly remind ourselves what exactly we are talking about here: the EU determines its budget spending for at least five years, referring to this long-term budget as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The current MFF period of 2014-2020 is coming to an end – which is why they are busy negotiating the next MFF, determining the EU’s budget for seven years from 2021 to 2027.

As the European NGO Confederation for relief and development, CONCORD is concerned with the budget for external relations (Heading 6) and especially, its external instrument called – attention, another acronym ahead! – “Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument” (otherwise, helpfully abbreviated to NDICI!) In the first proposal laid out by the European Commission in 2018, the NDICI makes up 6% of the total EU budget, meaning € 89 billion. This proposal was met with skepticism by CONCORD: we feared that the heading risks prioritising the EU’s self-interests in its foreign policy over poverty reduction and sustainable development.

The Parliament’s Path to Financing for Sustainable Development

Now, in early 2019, it was time for the European Parliament to arrive at its position on the NDICI. During January and February 2019, co-rapporteurs laid out amendments to significantly improve the NDICI. These amendments were put to a vote in the Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation committees in the European Parliament on March 4 2019. Prior to the vote, CONCORD voiced its concerns and ideas.

The joint-committee vote endorsed these amendments, with CONCORD welcoming the decision as a “win for sustainable development” and a “step in the right direction.”

But, of course – we were not there yet. As the Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation committees agreed on this improved version of the NDICI, it still needed to be approved by the European Parliament in plenary. This decisive approval was voted on March 27 2019, with Parliament passing all proposed amendments. In its first reaction, CONCORD saw the decision as a “commitment to the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, human rights, and gender equality.”

CONCORD’s Voices

So what are the significant improvements in the Parliament’s version of the next external instrument? First, the NDICI’s budget should be increased by € 4 billion from the Commission’s plan of €89 billion. Within this budget, we see a significant rise in climate and environment spending, a stronger focus on human rights and development, 85% gender mainstreamed programmes and supportive language of sexual and reproductive health and rights throughout the text.

But let’s have our experts on migration, climate and the role of the private sector in sustainable development break down the details for you!

The European Parliament’s debate led to an NDICI report that still puts too much emphasis on migration but CONCORD welcomes the cap on the 10% spending target as well as the development approach to migration and the new language on forced displacement. We find it crucial that the EU’s external action be guided by aid effectiveness principles and follow the agenda of the sustainable development goals which envisage spending on migration but in order to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration, create sustainable solutions for source and transit countries, protect the rights of people on the move with special attention to persons in need of international protection and create a rights-based international migration governance system. CONCORD strongly urges decision makers to avoid language that portrays migration as a global challenge, a crisis to be mitigated and which fails to emphasise the development benefits of migration and the contribution of migrants to countries of source and residence.

Fanni Bihari

Policy Officer, Refugees and Migration, ActAlliance

With its vote, MEPs acknowledge the urgent need for the EU to step up efforts in fighting climate change and environmental degradation as a precondition for achieving sustainable development. We particularly welcome the adoption of an ambitious 45% target for climate and environment spending – this will boost investments in the protection, restoration and sustainable management of natural resources with massive benefits for climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as  job creation, food security, health and human wellbeing. MEPs also took the wise decision to exclude fossil fuel related investments and any action that would cause environmental harm.

Magherita Solca

Senior EU Development Policy and Funding Officer, WFF

The amendments coming from the European Parliament go a long way in addressing and mitigating concerns raised by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). We see this in the changes to the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+), the new private sector focused instrument proposed in the NDICI. In a 10 point statement, CSO groups outlined serious problems that need to be dealt with for this instrument to be successful in achieving sustainable development impact. Our voices were heard by the European Parliament and most of our issues addressed. As called for, the instrument envisioned by the parliament will target support to the local private sector of partner countries, embed development effectiveness, human rights and labour rights in everything it does, actively tackle climate change, and give voice to poor and marginalised people. It will not support companies or investors that avoid taxes or harm the environment and it will hold its partners to account. It is now up to the European Member States to meet and hopefully surpass the bar set by the parliament.

Jeroen Kwakkenbos

Senior Aid Policy and Development Finance Advisor, Oxfam

What’s next?

We are not at the end of the road yet! In fact, we’re only half-way. As Parliament has confirmed its stand on the NDICI, it is now up to the Council to formalise its position in order to  enter into trialogue negotiations between Commission, Parliament and Council in the autumn. These trialogues will determine the final version of the instrument. CONCORD’s Director Tanya Cox:

Parliament has done a lot to improve on the Commission’s initial proposal. As much as this is a win for us as development and relief NGOs, we must not stop here. We now urge Member States to take these improvements as a very clear sign of the direction they need to follow in their negotiations of the instrument. We call on the Council to ensure that the NDICI is dedicated to global solidarity and achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Tanya Cox

Director, CONCORD Europe