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21st Jan 2022

Opinion

EU budget must not fortify Europe at expense of peace

  • An EU-funded project in Senegal. In recent years the Commission has focussed funding towards preventing 'the roots causes of migration'

The European Commission released its proposal for the new EU Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 on 2 May.

It proposed heavy investments in migration, border management and security, which are further steps down a worrisome road in which the EU is abandoning a sustainable and principled approach to security that supports human rights and conflict prevention, in favour of a more hard-nosed and counter-productive model.

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  • Critics say the EU is keen to promote 'Fortress Europe' (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

Migration and border management are areas in which the commission foresees the most significant funding increase, from the current €12.4bn to around €33bn over the 2021-2027 period.

Huge injections of funds to strengthen EU borders seem set to reinforce the short-sighted migration policies adopted by several EU states.

While the commission has often acknowledged that migration management requires long-term thinking, the focus on border control underlying its proposal for the next MFF points in the opposite direction.

The cost of constructing 'Fortress Europe' diverts important resources away from long-term interventions that support peace, justice, inclusion and prosperity for all, and that address the drivers at the heart of forced migration and displacement.

The commission has also proposed ramping up security, defence and military mobility spending.

Given "external threats that no member state can meet on its own", €27bn would be set aside to "enhance the [EU's] strategic autonomy" and step up its security and defence capacities, including via the European Defence Fund.

In addition, the commission proposes creating a 'European Peace Facility', an off-budget instrument slated to receive €10bn over the 2021-2027 period.

Despite its name, the facility would aim to support military operations and capacity building under the Common Security and Defence Policy.

Faced with complex challenges, these investments in defence and security highlight how the EU increasingly prioritises short-term, hard security approaches despite huge questions over their efficacy.

Progress can only be made by doubling down in two areas: coherent, assertive diplomatic engagement; and more long-term conflict prevention and peace-building investments.

Redesign of EU external action

The commission also proposes merging existing funding instruments into a single Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).

This would include the European Development Fund (EDF), which currently sits outside the EU budget.

The NDICI would have three main pillars – geographic, thematic and rapid response, which would include training and equipping militaries as part of 'capacity building for security and development' measures.

The proposal also sets out a flexibility cushion to address "migratory pressures, as well as stability and security needs, and unforeseen events".

While the proposal stresses support for democracy, rule of law, peace, governance and human rights, it raises several concerns.

First, migration is identified as "a priority which will be identified and addressed across the instrument and in the different pillars".

Counter-productive

But this is counter-productive in a range of contexts. As we, at the Saferworld NGO, were told in Lebanon: "[Seeing] refugees as a security threat generates further segregation of communities and discrimination leading to weaker social cohesion".

In places like Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan as well as Turkey and the Sahel, Saferworld and others have identified that the focus on keeping migrants out of Europe has undermined the EU and its member states' work on human rights, governance and conflict prevention.

Instead of building the capacities of governments which often share responsibility for causing conflict or perpetuating poor treatment of people in or passing though their territory, the EU must do all it can to encourage authorities to be more responsive to community needs and deliver services in an accountable, transparent and legitimate way.

'Train and equip' support to security forces (as provided through the Khartoum Process in the Horn of Africa) cannot achieve quick wins, and needs to take a back seat.

Instead, the hallmark of EU responses should be to take the longer view.

The EU's best course is to understand the demands of each context, and focus on human security and human rights challenges in both source and transit countries through support for public and civil society efforts to push for rights, development and human security.

To ensure this, the future external action instrument must foresee funding mechanisms that enable civil society and grassroots organisations, including women's and youth organisations, to access EU funds and support community needs and rights.

It must also maximise young people's potential to create change by funding more creative and sometimes riskier grassroots initiatives.

Although the commission's proposal identifies gender as a cross-cutting priority which will be integrated throughout the funding instrument, our partners working on peace and women's rights in contexts like Libya and Yemen have lamented the lack of funding for their work.

They are often funded to support international security agendas (such as countering violent extremism), which exposes them to risks and undermines their ability to do what their contexts demand.

If women are to "create transformation that will benefit all", the EU must provide them with the financial autonomy and sustainability to do so.

The most significant evaluation of EU peace and conflict prevention efforts stressed the need to move from reactive approaches towards longer-term, preventive approaches.

This goes against the proposed NDICI classification of conflict prevention and resilience building as "rapid response interventions".

Long-term mechanisms with flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing contexts are crucial.

Prevention costs far less than the cure, especially when it comes to conflict. It also has huge benefits for economic and social development and poverty reduction.

The proposed framework aims to restructure the EU's external action instruments to be more coherent and effective, but it is important that this works in favour of the EU's peace commitments.

Only by promoting sustainable peace beyond its borders will the EU be able to ensure its own security.

Kloe Tricot O'Farrell is EU policy and advocacy coordinator and Luca Venchiarutti is policy and advocacy assistant at Saferworld, an international peace NGO

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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