12th May 2021

Outcry at EU plan to mix aid and foreign policy

  • EU humanitarian aid should be free from geopolitical manoeuvering, say NGOs (Photo: European Commission)

Discussions are under way for a potential merger between the EU's humanitarian aid and crisis management budgets after 2013, raising concerns among a number of NGOs and MEPs that EU aid could become increasingly politicised.

The commission's humanitarian aid budget in 2010 was €1.2 billion, administered by Bulgarian commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, while crisis management resources are being increasingly directed by the EU's new External Action Service under Italian official Agostino Miozzo, working for high representative Catherine Ashton.

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"There is an idea on the table [to merge the two budgets] which is being considered by some people," a commission official working in the humanitarian aid sector said on Thursday (10 February) on condition of anonymity. "It's not a formal proposal at the moment and it's not something we would support."

The commission is to come forward with a blueprint for the EU's next multi-annual budget in June this year.

But some MEPs are already warning they will not tolerate any transfer of humanitarian decision making, implied by the budget merger, to Catherine Ashton, who answers primarily to member states despite her official duties in the EU-centric commission.

"I don't know where the idea came from or how developed it is. It may be a wrongly interpreted idea of efficiency or part of the inter-institutional power politics currently going on," Dutch Socialist MEP Thijs Berman told this website.

"If it ends up in the June proposals I will fight it. Humanitarian aid needs to be impartial in order to ensure that all parties in a recipient country accept it as not favouring one side or the other. This is also crucial for the safety of humanitarian aid workers distributing support on the ground."

The issue of securing political goals through the distribution of aid has come to the fore recently, with UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggesting this week that money from the EU's neighbourhood policy instrument for Egypt could be cut if Cairo fails to implement desired reforms.

"We have spent billions of taxpayers' money in Egypt and neighbouring countries," Mr Cameron said on Monday. "But in Egypt, there has been little or no progress on torture, the judiciary, democracy or ending a 30-year-old state of emergency."

This, say NGOs, is precisely the kind of realpolitik that should not influence where the EU delivers money to those suffering from floods, earthquakes or political violence, for example.

"Scrapping the budget for humanitarian aid would be a fatal error. It would not only tarnish the excellent credentials of the commission as an outstanding humanitarian actor but also endanger millions of people," said Elise Ford, head of Oxfam Internationals EU office.

A report published by the NGO on Thursday entitled 'Whose Aid is it Anyway?' says the commission has so far managed to fight the global trend towards humanitarian and development aid being driven by political interests.

"Government humanitarian agencies in Canada, Spain and the European Commission, for example, have developed principled policies that allocate humanitarian aid according to transparent indices of global needs, to ensure that different crises and countries are not overlooked or over-funded," says the report.

"Undermining such progress, however, long-standing political and security biases have since 2001 being written formally into some donors' aid policies and practices, as in the USA and France," continues the document.

"Other donors, including Australia, the UK and the European Union, may be on the cusp of bringing aid budgets newly under the sway of such priorities."

Under a deal reached last year, the EU external action service will now make key decisions under the bloc's development policy, a decision which also faced much opposition.

First recovery euros could be paid out in July

Economy commissioner Paolo Gentoloni said the real challenge is whether member states can stick to their national plans and timelines. However, more than a dozen EU countries still need to ratify legislation to start the funding.

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