Getting our priorities right

Jack McConnell,jpg.jpgJack McConnell on why the UK should lead the way on cutting waste – not EU aid

Today, I will press Ministers on what position they will take on the European Development Fund and other EU aid budgets in the current negotiations on future EU funding. Given the on-going negotiations surrounding the next seven-year EU budget, we need to know. 

In July 2012, the European Commission proposed an allocation of over €100bn for the EU’s external aid instruments for the period 2014 to 2020. EU development assistance contributes towards the international spend of all Member states, and pools those resources to make more impact.

In November, Herman van Rompuy proposed a 12.8% cut to external spending compared to the previous period. Such a stark reduction in this budget line would be highly disproportionate compared to cuts in other areas. With talks amongst the 27 negotiating countries stalled, we currently wait to see what the next European Council meeting (on 7th-8th February) will bring.  

Some suggest a cut in the EU’s aid budget is appropriate in the current economic climate but the facts suggest otherwise.

At a basic economic level, there is a strong case to protect EU aid. In the UK, every penny taken out of the EU aid budget will simply have to be re-routed to our own DfID budget. We have committed to the 0.7% international target irrespective of what agencies such funds are channelled through. Others will have to follow suit with their national budgets since the EU spend contributes to national aid and development assistance targets. The only countries to benefit will be those that want to avoid international obligations. Money will simply be spent in an inefficient manner or worse still, live-saving money will be lost for good. We should not allow those who want to cut aid by the back door to do so.

Those disillusioned with the EU machine have chosen the wrong target. Time would be better spent attacking things that the EU doesn’t do well, rather than the things it does. Pooling funds prevents waste and duplication and EU aid is a force for good. As one of the largest multilateral donors in the world, it is highly responsive and visible in the developing countries. The UK review resolved that engaging with EU partners on development works. Andrew Mitchell’s Multilateral Aid Review showed that the European Development Fund was strong in meeting UK aid objectives. It used our money effectively and it is more likely than most to change and reform. In the year when the G8 comes back to the UK, we must not be party to slashing the EU aid budget, depriving the world’s poorest of essential humanitarian assistance and the development investment that helps create growth.

Finally however, there is a moral obligation to safeguard such funds. Whoever is responsible for the current economic downturn and EU overspends, it is not those who live in the poorest parts of Africa, Latin America or Asia. Over the past decade EU aid has protected 24 million people from starvation, enrolled 9 million children in primary education, provided 31 million households with safe and clean drinking water, and built or renewed 5,000 health centres and facilities. Without such programmes funded by EU humanitarian aid, millions of lives could have been lost.

Apart from the UK, none of the EU's biggest economies are on target to meet their global aid promises. So the British government is in an influential position to take the lead and insist that cuts concentrate on wasteful spending, helping the EU continue to do what it does well, including building a better world around us.

Lord Jack McConnell is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 17th January 2013

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