This is it! The negotiations on the EU’s 2014-2020 budget – a notoriously long and complicated process – are almost over. What a three years it has been…
When I decided to join CONCORD’s call for action on the EU budget 2014-2020, back in December 2010, little did I realise what I was getting into – while I initially thought it would form only a small part of my work, over time it evolved to be my main focus.
It certainly wasn’t easy. Just understanding the ins and outs of the decision-making process took a long time. Who to approach to discuss numbers and the external aid budget? What about the content? Is the development debate being held in Brussels or in the capitals? What about EU delegations? Will they have a say on what they will have to implement? What is the exact role of the European Parliament? Over time, our questions were answered as we engaged with the EU institutions in an open, trustful and transparent dialogue, working in close collaboration with several other NGOs in support of a common cause.
What was great to see was the enthusiasm and motivation of Plan offices, in Europe and across the world, to engage in the process and make sure children were a priority in the EU external aid budget, and that access to quality basic education and health services were among the EU priorities for the next seven years. With the final outcome affecting the lives of millions of children Plan works with every day, this was no longer a priority only for our office, but for the entire organisation.
What have we achieved?
It may have been a long, hard and often apparently thankless task, but the effort was worth it, because children’s rights are now back in the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) – the blocs main source of aid to developing countries.
The new Global Public Good and Challenges programme identifies children and youth as a specific priority, and child rights also appear as a common area of cooperation under the geographic programmes – that is, bilateral aid to partner countries.
Ensuring that child rights are included in a meaningful way in the DCI was a critical step to implementing the EU’s various commitments to promoting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of the child. Children make up for 1/3 of the world’s population and constitute more than half of the population in most developing countries, which means that development objectives will not be met if the specific rights of children were not adequately addressed.
Women and girls’ rights are another major achievement of the negotiations, and are now properly addressed both under geographic and thematic programmes. Two of the key barriers which prevent girls from realising their right to education are child marriage and gender-based violence, both of which are now included in the DCI.
We’ve been saying for some time that supporting girls to get the education, skills and support they need to realise their rights and achieve their full potential is critical to help breaking the cycle of poverty, and it’s good to see that the EU has heeded our calls.
Finally, we fought hard to make our voice heard on the importance of making quality basic education and health a priority for human development, requiring specific budget allocations. And whereas the initial EC proposal for human development was broadly defined to include jobs, growth and the private sector, the final text refers to basic social service, with a focus on health and education.
That being said, it’s not all good news: in the face of stiff budget austerity throughout Europe, the overall envelop for external aid is substantially less than the amount proposed by the European Commission. In addition, the final figures for the DCI remain far from our initial call for 20% of the entire instrument to be allocated to health and basic education.
The allocations for the geographic funds have already been chosen and latest information suggests that few countries have prioritised heath and education. To ensure that the 20% overall benchmark is achieved, the thematic Global Public Goods and Challenges need to substantially prioritise investment in health and education
And now what?
I will quote Winston Churchill who said “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
This is indeed the end of the beginning, as now, this new EU budget and these new external aid instruments need to get implemented. Annual Action Plans need to be designed and I’m sure we can expect more negotiations and discussions.
So as one chapter ends, another begins. I am delighted to be able to close this one with the satisfaction of having given children, especially girls, a voice in the future EU budget. I look forward to starting the next chapter.