EDF, DCI, EAR, ECHO…. They may just look like letters to you, but those little letters have a very important impact on the lives of millions of people in the world’s poorest countries. Those letters represent the various funding instruments which make up the EU’s development and humanitarian aid budget, and they are – one and all – under serious threat. Let me explain…
Right now, the EU is busy negotiating its spending limits for 2014-2020 – the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF – yes, more letters) provides the financial blueprint for EU policies across each major category of spending, including development and humanitarian aid, until the end of the decade. At the same time, programmes outside the MFF - like the European Development Fund (EDF) and Emergency Aid Reserve (EAR) - are also negotiated. Today and tomorrow (7-8 February), EU leaders are meeting behind closed doors in Brussels in an attempt to reach agreement once and for all on how much they think they should spend over this seven year period.
Cuts must not cost lives
And in times of economic crisis, it’s fair to say nobody is entering the room with their purse strings pulled wide open. Far from it: feeling the pinch at home, EU member states are desperate to slash the European Commission’s original budget proposal. Maybe you agree that spending needs to be reined in, maybe you don’t. But whatever side of the divide you fall, you must surely agree that those cuts should not cost lives or curtail futures.
Yet that is, unfortunately, the prospect we are facing, because EU leaders have taken a huge swipe at the proportion set aside for lifesaving aid as they look to cut back – with nobody at the negotiating table speaking up for the world’s poorest people, EU aid has been disproportionately targeted in an attempt to limit cuts in other areas. There are, it appears, no “friends of development” among EU member states.
According to the latest proposals, although aid accounts for less than six per cent of overall spending (or, more concretely, less than €0.50 per person per week), it’s facing a 12 per cent cut in comparison to the Commission’s proposal. By contrast, other, much larger, parts of the budget are looking at reductions of around five per cent. Reversing the proposed €7.4bn cut to development and humanitarian aid would cost around €0.04 per person per week.
Plan Europe Open letter
Alarmed by what’s at stake, 11 Plan Europe National Directors joined forces and sent an open letter to Heads of State or Government calling for them to stand up for EU aid. “The European Union stands at an important junction. The decisions you make at the European Council on 7-8 February on the Union’s long term budget for 2014-2020 will determine the path you choose to take the EU down, both at home and in our relations with the wider world,” they write.
“There is much resting on these negotiations, with implications for European citizens and those beyond our borders. The EU has an important role to play in supporting international development, and you must take this responsibility seriously.” (You can read the full text of the letter here)
Girls and young women hardest hit
These negotiations come in the wake of new research published by Plan and the Overseas Development Institute with show that the economic crisis is hitting girls and young women the hardest. The report, “Off the balance sheet: the impact of the economic crisis on girls and young women”, finds that family poverty has more impact on a girls’ survival than boys; a one per cent fall in GDP increases infant mortality by 7.4 deaths per 1000 births for girls versus 1.5 for boys.
If member states go ahead with drastic cuts to the proposed EU aid budget, it’s likely to have a disproportionately negative effect on girls and young women, and austerity budgets that hit children and young people the hardest risk sacrificing future prosperity for short term goals. If I was an EU leader, I wouldn’t want that on my conscience for the sake of a few cents a week…