The European Union is debating whether to shift billions in development aid to address the most severe migrant crisis Europe has faced since the Second World War. Critics say that such a move by the world’s largest development aid donor risks longer-term blowback by short-changing development projects and sparking further migration.
The proposed changes also include a ‘carrot and stick’ approach – making aid conditional on whether countries cooperate in preventing migration to Europe. It would redirect development aid to civilian and military security efforts in so-called ‘(immigrant) sending countries’.
“The EU is continuing the kind of outsourcing of the problem with countries already under pressure in the Middle East, such as with Turkey,” Heidi Hautala, a Greens MEP and former Finnish minister for international development, tells Equal Times.
In June, the European Commission proposed a new ‘Partnership Framework’ to “mobilise and focus the EU’s action and resources to better manage migration with third countries”. It states that the “identification of negative and positive incentives should be a key part of this process”.
The proposal calls for redeploying “close to €8 billion over 2016-2020” to build partnerships with third countries. The objective: “to produce concrete results in stemming the flow of irregular migrants”.
The proposed funding would come from existing development aid and would be redirected under next year’s midterm review of the EU’s trillion-euro, 2014-2020 budget, Hautala says. But she disagrees with the proposal. “We need to have more funds to address the root causes of migration.”
More Turkey deals?
“The cost of the Turkey deal [to control migration] is €6 billion,” Hautala says. “That’s big money. Is that really a responsible way of spending the money – to outsource the problem?”
Proponents of the recent agreement with Turkey note that it has slowed migrant flows from there to a trickle, though NGOs have harshly criticised the accord as violating international law. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi has also questioned the agreement, and the UN refugee agency reportedly scaled back its work in Greece as a result.
In a joint statement to EU leaders, more than 100 organisations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and Save the Children expressed their "grave concern" about the direction the EU is taking by making deterrence and return the main objective of the Union’s relationship with third countries.
“More broadly, this new Partnership Framework risks cementing a shift towards a foreign policy that serves one single objective, to curb migration, at the expense of European credibility and leverage in defence of fundamental values and human rights,” it said.
Hautala says she is also alarmed by discussions within the EU of "capacity building in the security sector" that would allow funding from development projects to be spent for military purposes in developing countries.
“We are seeing the militarisation of EU development aid,” Hautala says. “It’s a contradiction of EU and international law.”
The Finnish MEP agrees that you can’t have development without security, and vice versa, as seen in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. “There’s no denial that with new challenges, we need to invest more in addressing the root causes.”
The effort to improve Somalia’s national army, for example, is justified, she says. “But there is other money to spend. We need to have more funds,” in the midterm review of the EU budget, formally called the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF).
“What worries me is that governments are coming through the back door to force change in development policy in the Commission, to accept this new approach, even if it’s in contradiction of EU treaties,” Hautala says.
South-South and triangular cooperation
The proposed shift comes as policymakers promote so-called “South-South” and “triangular” cooperation, the former between developing countries and the latter involving countries in the Global South with the assistance of aid from developed countries. The concepts are aimed at encouraging developing countries to help each other and become less aid-dependent.
“The EU is not only a donor, it’s not an ATM (automated teller machine), it’s a political actor,” Roberto Ridolfi, director of sustainable growth and development at the European Commission, tells Equal Times. “We want to see consolidation of alliances, of partnerships, that contribute to peace and stability, rule of law, justice and good governance.”
Ridolfi was among those at a conference in February in Brussels on rural development, co-hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), highlighting successful projects involving south-south and triangular cooperation.
“I want to see the South-South delivering in terms of finance,” Ridolfi said. “My point is that with real triangular cooperation, show me how it works and then we will see our interests in matching their efforts.’’
The ACP’s post-conference efforts now focus on “defining concrete programs,” Henrique Banze, ACP assistant secretary general, tells Equal Times. “We are working with the FAO and UNDP (UN Development Program), with youth and women as the top priorities.”
The Songhai Centre, a market-based project in Benin, was among the south-south projects featured at the Brussels event, presented by the centre´s founder, Father Godfrey Nzamujo. “We continue to work with them to see to what extend they can build on that,” Banze says.
Ridolfi agrees that “the first point of entry in agricultural policy is to put the farmer at centre stage”. With the help of European Development Finance Institutions (EDFIs), farmers can develop as small and medium-size businesses, he says.
“SMEs are the closest thing we have to get the farmer from subsistence to ‘I want to make serious money myself, to send my children to university,’” Ridolfi says.
At a recent meeting of EU and African officials, which he attended in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, “the main word was investment, productive investment.”
On the proposed aid shift from development to migration, Ridolfi sees short-term justification. But he also says development policymakers “should draw inspiration from the Marshall Plan,” the US funding which helped to rebuild postwar Europe.
“Africa will be 2.2 billion people in 2050. If we are scared of two million migrants now, imagine…”