Director at CONCORD Europe
Inequalities between people and countries have reached staggering heights. The social contract is under unprecedented pressure, as witnessed by the multiplication of protests, marches and social unrest against austerity, inequalities and injustice all over the world. From the Occupy Wallstreet movement back in 2011, to the Gilets Jaunes in France, to recent protests in Latin America against the neoliberal model, and not forgetting the Extinction Rebellion Movement or the Ghanaian protests against Chinese investment in pristine rainforest in October 2019, these protests all have something in common. That something is a profound unease with ‘the system’. A system which makes the rich get even richer and leaves the poor further and further behind, while tapping the planet for all it is worth. But the good news is: this can be rectified.
So what is it about the principle of “Leaving No One Behind” that our leaders have not understood? This principle requires decision-makers to take on the (nonetheless complex) task of changing the systems we live in, be they economic, financial, social or political, so that everyone benefits from now on, but especially the most marginalised. It needs them to monitor closely the well-being of all people and the planet in order to be able to take the best possible decisions, in the interests of all. And it demands that they adopt strong redistributive policies. It also implies that in any assistance they offer to other countries, they prioritise reaching the furthest behind.
Where does the EU stand in that regard? Our 2019 AidWatch report is looking at EU aid as a concrete tool to bring people out of poverty and stop leaving them behind. But the conclusion is dreadful: we are way off the mark! EU aid has been progressively perceived as an investment on which donors should receive some returns, either in terms of financial interests or in foreign policy objectives. Solidarity was not the basis on which the EU-Turkey Deal was negotiated, nor was the EU Trust Fund for Africa. But both came from EU aid. As a consequence of the “value for money” approach adopted by EU donors, a shift in recipient countries has been observed, to the detriment of those left further behind. Today, in the top 10 EU aid recipients, only 2 are among the countries consistently identified as furthest behind in international studies. How can the EU justify this? Do we need to revisit the “value for money” mentality, rather than promote it as per the Mission Letter of the Commissioner-designate Jutta Urpilainen. How can leaders square the circle of creating value for money when needing to prioritise those who are furthest behind and hardest to reach.
Our recent report, ‘Inequalities unwrapped. An urgent call for systemic change’ and the 2019 AidWatch report are both calling for a change in the way we do business in order to respond to today’s soaring inequalities. We are happy to co-create solutions together with EU leaders, both during the High-level conference which we are organising tomorrow, and in the next five-year mandate. We hope to see the new EU leaders fostering inclusion, participation and equity in their policies, funding and diplomatic action.