The Eurozone crisis may continue to dominate the headlines, but it is not the only thing on the minds of EU leaders. Right now, they are busy striking deals which will lock in the union’s policy priorities – and spending limits – until 2020.
Amid the furore surrounding the future of the Eurozone, the importance of these negotiations should not be underestimated: the decisions made in the coming months will affect the lives of millions of people, not just in Europe but worldwide. This will shape the future of EU development assistance, and our leaders must take their responsibility seriously.
The EU has an important role to play in supporting international development; as a whole, the bloc provides over half of all development assistance worldwide, while the European Commission on its own is the second largest donor behind the United States.
We know EU aid achieves results: between 2004 and 2009, more than nine million children have enrolled in primary education, more than five million have been vaccinated against measles and more than 31 million people have been connected to drinking water. These numbers are huge, and they are only part of the picture. It is merely a snapshot of what EU aid has already achieved.
When aid is used wisely, it has a catalytic effect in helping people pull themselves out of poverty. It is critical in meeting the commitments to the millennium development goals and to poverty eradication which, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, is the heart of the EU’s external action.
Why invest in children?
This is particularly important when it comes to children, who represent half the population of developing countries. Child poverty is on the rise worldwide, yet we know that investing in children, particularly girls, is one of the most effective uses of EU money. It is key to fostering long-term, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Research shows, for example, that as many as 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low-incomes countries left school simply with basic reading skills. That is equivalent to a 12% cut in global poverty. Ultimately, investing in development is good not just for developing countries, but for the EU itself. Scaling back investment in development now would be short-sighted in the extreme.
European citizens have demonstrated their support for development aid time and again. It is telling that, despite hardship at home, the vast majority recognise the importance of supporting those less fortunate than themselves. Member states, too, have reaffirmed their commitment to development assistance when they adopted their conclusions on “Increasing the Impact of EU Development Policy: an Agenda for Change”, calling once again for the collective target of 0.7% to be met by 2015. Now it is time to back this up with concrete action.
Child rights in EU external action
The European Commission is to be congratulated for the proposed increase in the budget for EU external action from 5.7% to 6.8% in the upcoming MFF. However, increasing the overall ceiling for development cooperation is not, in itself, sufficient to ensure the EU meets its development objectives, particularly with regards to children.
For this to happen, child rights and gender must be mainstreamed as a cross-cutting theme of EU development cooperation and a priority focus of both thematic and geographic programmes of the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) with specific budget allocations for child rights. Both the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument and the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance should also identify child rights as a priority area for action, which is currently lacking.
In addition, in order to ensure EU money reaches children, particularly girls, we must be able to trace and monitor allocations, which means we need disaggregated data. Without this, it’s impossible to assess whether the EU is really meeting its spending targets.
At least 20% of funding under the DCI should be earmarked for health, quality basic education and child protection, which are critical to the achievement of the EU’s poverty eradication objectives. Most developing countries are already making substantial investments in health and education, but despite this they are often not able to ensure universal access to quality education and strong health systems, therefore dedicated EU support is essential to ensuring healthy, educated citizens in these countries.
Neglecting investment in children has negative long-term consequences, for the children themselves and society as a whole. The decisions European leaders make in the coming weeks and months on future development policy and the money available to finance it will determine whether they are serious about transforming policy promises into concrete results. Two billion children around the world are counting on it.
Karen Schroh, Head of Plan EU Office
Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild
Marius Wanders, EU Representative and Executive Director, World Vision Brussels and EU Representation
Kélig Puyet, Representative to the European Union, SOS Children’s Villages International
Tamsin Pearce, Secretary General of International Falcon Movement- Socialist Educational International