Europe first, Solidarity second
Plans for European Development Aid provide wrong answers to global urgencies
I have seen poverty. At a health centre in Ethiopia I met a 16 years old boy, blind from a condition that could have easily been treated with eye drops, had he had access to them in time. In a village in India, I met women working hard to feed their children while being completely disempowered, not even allowed to leave their village. In Papua New Guinea, I met children and young people with disabilities who, for lack of education or professional training, were kept in dependency.
I have also seen development aid working. Aid that helped building resilient health systems serving local communities. Aid that supports women get organised, fight for their rights, and walk out of poverty and exclusion. Aid that get EVERYONE in schools, leaving no one behind. Development aid works if it serves its primary objective stated (again) in the Lisbon Treaty of the European Union: “Development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty.”
In practice, official development aid is increasingly considered a pot of money to be used for other primary objectives and in support of own political priorities. Supporting refugees arriving in Europe is right and necessary. But when the donor country is at the same time the biggest recipient of development aid, does this count for real? Safety and human security are essential for the wellbeing of people. But when aid is spent on engaging with military actors, does this count for real? Strengthening the local private sector to create employment opportunities in communities is a good thing to do. But when it justifies using development aid to boost privatisation of the health and education sector, does this count for real? So when development aid to the least developed countries decreases in 2016, are we really living up to our promises and leaving no one behind?
Europe is currently finalising the work on an overarching Consensus for Development, a framework that should guide the EU Development Policy until 2030. This initiative from High Representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Neven Mimica is a tool to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN Member States in 2015. This Agenda demands transformation to put people and the planet first and to leave no one behind.The Consensus for Development could set a strong signal that Europe is serious in addressing poverty, exclusion and inequality, globally.
The draft instead draws a picture which reflects more what I consider alarming trends. Migration control in Europe moves into the centre of development cooperation politics. Security and military operations are framed as legitimate choices in development cooperation. Reading the text leaves the clear impression that development aid serves Europe first and misses the opportunity to provoke the transformation we need.
Development Aid has its role to play to make the Agenda 2030 a reality by promoting sustainable, long-term change, and target poorest communities and countries. The transformation needed in a rapidly changing external environment is a big-enough challenge, that will not be addressed by diluting development aid in other political priorities. The way to end global poverty is definitely not in short-term interests and business-as-usual. The Consensus for Development should not miss to give right answer: solidarity first.