Negotiations over the seven-year EU budget collapsed. Now, proposals for saving money are on the table, including slashing development aid for the world's poorest countries.
With no agreement on the seven-year EU budget during a special leaders' summit last week, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy proposed slashing the European Union's development aid budget by 11 percent. Compared with other allotments in the shared budget, that would have been a disproportionately high cut, leading to harsh criticism of Van Rompuy during the long night of negotiations.
The criticism came from aid organizations as well as Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. It would not reflect well on the EU right now to cut aid at the expense of world's poorest people, Juncker said in an interview with DW.
"I don't see how one can explain to other parts of the world that we would provide less money for these policies," Juncker said, after the EU budget talks had collapsed. "I know that many EU members are reducing their development aid budget domestically, but we Luxembourgers are not doing so."
Reducing aid for the poor is just too simple and the EU should not shirk its responsibility, he said, adding, "It's simple because they are not sitting here right in front of us - the 24,000 children who die every day from starvation are not sitting in the room where we conduct negotiations."
Everything is open
Leaders from EU states have not passed cuts to development aid since negotiations over the entire 2014-2020 budget failed with further talks are planned for the end of January or beginning of February in Brussels.
Until then, lobby group Concord, an alliance of many non-governmental organizations based in Brussels, said it aims to push for the development aid budget, said Lars Bosselmann, who works for the Christian development organization CBM, which aims to improve quality of life of people with disabilities in low income regions of the world.
"Over the next two months, we want to take the negotiations from civil society to the governments," he told DW. "We hope that those who provide higher amounts of development aid will commit themselves even more and will put pressure on the others, pointing out their weaknesses."
Government leaders from Luxembourg and Sweden, which have stood up for development aid, should explain that cuts should not be made and that not really much money is involved, he said.
Small piece of the pie
In addition to the 1 trillion euros the EU aims to spend from its common budget from 2014 to 2020, the bloc is set to spend an addition 34 billion euros ($44 billion) on special development that is maintained outside the common budget. This special development fund is reserved for aid projects in the so-called ACP countries, which include the poorest nations in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Rim. Most of these countries were once colonized by today's EU states. That's why former colonial states in western and southern Europe pay considerably more into the development fund than northern European nations or the new eastern European members of the EU.
In addition to the development fund for the world's least developed nations, there are a range of other funds within the shared EU budget that address development policy. The largest of these is the "Instrument for Cooperation" with 23 billion euros to spend over seven years on projects in developing countries, not just the ACP states. Funds can also be allotted to projects in eastern Europe and north Africa, to candidate countries for EU membership, to human rights projects, and there's even a special budget for Greenland. These budget funds are grouped together under the heading "Foreign Relations," and add up to 66 billion euros for seven years.
The EU commissioner responsible for development aid, Andris Piebalgs, was actually quite satisfied with the original budget proposal. He said he does not directly criticize the looming cuts, but diplomatically added that there could never be enough money for development aid.
"We know how limited the resources are," he said when budget figures were presented. "That's why we'll remain flexible and constantly reprioritize. We will concentrate on the areas where the EU truly makes a special contribution. Our goal is to enhance our impact, in close cooperation with the member states and international institutions."
Bosselmann pointed out that funds for development compose only a fraction of those for agricultural subsidies and regional support.
"From this small portion, a disproportionate amount - compared to the other areas - is supposed to be cut," he noted. "We see an imbalance in the way political negotiations are being led."
The goal's a long way off
Even minor cuts in the area of development could have a direct impact on people's lives, European Commission President Jose Barroso said in a speech before the European Parliament.
"Now, the questions being asked are: how many kids go to school due to EU support? How many kids can be vaccinated in developing countries and how many not?" Bosselmann pointed out. "These are decisive issues where sometimes lives are even at stake. They are, at any rate, issues that affect all of us and our futures."
It's also about the EU's credibility in the eyes of its international partners. After all, Bosselmann noted, the EU committed to developing countries to increase aid over the long term.
According to European Commission figures, together the 27 EU member states paid around 54 billion euros in development aid from their national budgets in 2010. That is substantially more than what is paid out of the common budget in Brussels. Annual expenditures for traditional development aid from common funds are around 8 billion euros.
The EU states do not appear to be on target for meeting the goal they defined that calls for 0.7 percent of economic output be spent on development aid. In 2010, it was 0.43 percent, so to achieve the 0.7 percent goal in 2015 as planned, sharp increases would be necessary. That was not mentioned during the summit talks over the EU budget.