Tanya Cox, Director at CONCORD Europe

Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic set the achievement of the SDGs back considerably, but, even before the pandemic, EU ODA dropped yet again. For the third year in a row. CONCORD has just released its annual AidWatch report and the picture is pretty gloomy. Not only is aid, as a proportion of GNI, falling, but genuine aid – so, removing the various elements that don’t actually reach a developing country – is at only at 0.4% of GNI. And now, on top of that, we have the enormous setback of COVID-19.

In fact, this begs the question whether EU Member States and EU institutions are really serious about their aid commitments. First, they happily put them back by 15 years with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, then they clearly show that this is not high on their priority list by failing – yet again – both collectively and for the most part individually, to keep their promises. According to our calculations – which you can find in our 2020 AidWatch report – the infamous 0.7% (genuine) ODA/GNI target now won’t be reached until 2070. Yes, 2070!

So, clearly, European donors have moved on to other political priorities. Aid is “old news”. However, this is a mistake. Because if there were one thing that the COVID-19 crisis has clearly shown, it’s that countries which had stronger systems in place before the crisis, coped better in dealing with it. That in turn shows that investing in public services and goods – like healthcare, education and social protection – is critical to cope with and prevent crises. And ODA is the best source of money that EU partner countries can rely on and use to support their systems. No blended finance or private sector investment will ensure in the same way that everyone benefits. And by ‘everyone’, I most particularly include the people who are the most marginalised and excluded in our societies.

And before anyone reminds me about Team Europe’s package of measures to respond to the pandemic, this was frankly, too little (especially for the countries most in need). And was only current money re-directed. What’s more, there is so little data available about how this money is being spent, that we cannot be sure it really is helping those in need.

So, as national governments are negotiating their budgets for 2021, we have one strong message: please learn the lessons and prioritise what matters for people. No economy will function when people are on their knees. And we can’t say economic progress is made when inequalities intensify.

The development landscape is changing considerably. EU institutions don’t even want to use the term development cooperation any more – it has become “international partnerships”. That is all well and good if it signals a move away from rich (donor) countries dominating the global policy and political space and imposing their (tried and failed) models on others. If it signals a move to honest and open dialogue, to consulting with the people who are impacted by decisions.

As we enter the Decade of Action for accomplishing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the EU must do more to ensure no one gets left behind. And, for that reason, ODA matters.