Sunday

5th Feb 2023

Opinion

Aid, migration and the next EU budget

  • NGOs like Oxfam have already called out the EU for diverting its foreign budget to pay for war-torn countries like Afghanistan to take back people who have fled (Photo: Flickr)

Long have we known the value of the European Union as an architect for peace and democracy, for global development and for solidarity between nations.

Decades of the EU's advocacy for human rights has fortified global rules since the Second World War.

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  • The negotiations on the next MFF will define the Union's priorities between 2021 and 2027 (Photo: European Commission)

I know this personally: as a refugee at 17 years of age fleeing to Europe from Uganda, I seized Europe's welcoming hand with a gratitude that remains deep within me.

Such a Europe is becoming increasingly difficult to recognise today. We have known for years that the global systems we trust to uphold our rights are becoming shakier. But it is deeply alarming that a retreat is taking place in Europe, a bastion for multilateralism.

Many of the Union's members are continuing to adopt regressive and isolationist policies. We must ask fundamental questions: how can the EU remain a global player while its own members turn inwards? What interventions and investments will sustain its future?

The EU's long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), can provide answers to this. It is the most pivotal opportunity to advance a vision for Europe rooted in human rights and that builds a Union that works for all its members.

The negotiations on the next MFF will define the Union's priorities between 2021 and 2027.

The next budget should fundamentally empower the EU to address the crisis of extreme inequality and its twin struggle for gender equality.

Ending poverty

Last year, the world's top one percent reaped 82 percent of all new wealth. That bottom half - who helped create the wealth - received nothing, while it is women who are trapped in the least secure and least-paid jobs. This is a challenge to be met within the EU, and in developing countries.

If the MFF puts the EU on the right track, it can help reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, which is vital to ending poverty, to social cohesion, and to tackling the barriers which rob too many societies of their scientists, doctors and artists of tomorrow – most of all talented young girls.

All of this requires visionary leadership from EU countries - and curbing short sighted self-interests for a common good, in solidarity with people in poverty and with countries around the world.

The most palpable example of how political acrimony threatens the foundations of the European project is the toxic debate we see from our political leaders on migration.

The sea arrivals of refugees and migrants to Europe remain manageable – accounting for just 0.3 percent of its citizens overall, since its peak in 2015.

Yet some EU leaders continue to use the situation as currency to bolster their own leadership by spreading fear.

The Europe I believe in

Flawed migration policies have wreaked suffering at Europe's borders, and beyond them. The Mediterranean has been turned most tragically into a graveyard under the sea, while European leaders continue to prioritise support for Libyan forces over the operation of dedicated search and rescue boats.

Rather than being afforded the safety and dignity they deserve, refugees and migrants are now forced into detention in Libya, where often they are exposed to torture, rape and slavery, as Oxfam research shows.

This is the direct result of a wealthy, fortress Europe closing its doors to people fleeing for their lives. Civil society has already called out the EU for diverting its foreign budget to pay for war-torn countries like Afghanistan to take back people who have fled, without parliamentary oversight and despite deterioration in the security situation.

The next foreign budget must be an opportunity to put an end to policies whereby aid money goes not where it is most needed, but where the EU thinks it can be most self-serving.

Member states and Brussels can and must resist the toxic discourse on migration with evidence and compassion, speaking to citizens across Europe – and oppose discriminatory EU policies.

A humane, safe and rights-based approach to migration is in the long-term interests of the Union. The EU must return migration to foreign and development policy where it belongs, and rewrite and prioritise development goals in the MFF.

The pursuit of a 'Justice and Home Affairs' approach to EU actions thousands of kilometres beyond European borders must end.

I am optimistic. This is not insurmountable for the EU – because I know what the EU is yet achieving, despite its flaws, as a force for democracy and human rights.

It is making the most of stretched aid budgets and complemented these with real political engagement. It helps women's organisations, LGBT groups and human rights defenders hold their leaders to account and ensures that poverty eradication and climate justice remain at the core of many global agreements.

That EU leadership must continue, in particular to put power and resources into the hands of movements and organisations who are lifting themselves and their nations from poverty. Oxfam urges EU to be in solidarity with them.

I am reminded of one of the EU's founders, Robert Schuman, who said: "Europe will not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity."

From 2021, Europe's achievements must focus on improving the lot of our shared humanity – forming a solidarity that extends to people well beyond Europe's shores. That is the Europe I believe in.

Winnie Byanyima is executive director of Oxfam International

Disclaimer

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

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