The European Commission (EC) released on 29 June 2011 a budget proposal for 2014-2020, where €70 billion is allocated to the heading “Global Europe,” which covers the European Union (EU)’s operating plan in the world, including development and humanitarian aid. However, the latest draft proposal laid down by Council President Herman Van Rompuy sharply cuts back development aid and humanitarian assistance by almost €10 billion, to €60.6 billion.
And word is spreading that foreign aid cuts could include a €3.3 billion cut to the European Development Fund (EDF), the largest part of the EU aid budget aimed at African countries.
Moreover, although the EU just adopted a friendly 2013 budget for development cooperation, compared with 2012 spending levels, shortfalls are reportedly expected since the budget would fall short as to EC estimates for 2013.
As such, the negotiations for the broader 2014-2020 EU budget continue to be mired in uncertainty by ongoing gridlocks and frictions within governments and institutions. Overall, while affluent EU countries push to either freeze spending or slash budget off the Commission’s proposal, other countries, in unison with the Commission and European Parliament, want to increase spending.
Meanwhile, development groups claim that proposed cuts to the Global Europe heading are “further disproportionate”. They are asking “Why are EU leaders saying they support aid commitments, then not defending them in EU budget talks?”
These circumstances add room for mistrust about coherence and reliability the EU seemingly laid down in a Joint Africa-EU Strategy as a long-term partnership between EU and the African Union (AU) Commission to finance a series of development goals, including the AU-administered Research Grant Programme to build science and technology development in Africa. Yet, despite EC commitment, a 2014-2020 renewal of funding for this programme is at risk owing to competing EU priorities.
This landscape does not bode well as regards EU steadiness in collaborating with the newly launched AU’s Roadmap on Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity for AIDS, TB and Malaria Response in Africa, which aims at reducing the dependency of African countries on international financing for health, medicines and R&D, and promoted African-owned solutions.
These concerns add to criticism that the EU is becoming more protectionist in agriculture, trade and aid areas, where a number of EU member states seemingly use foreign aid as a “bargaining chip” for or against priorities such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Relevantly, the cutback proposed by Van Rompuy has drawn criticism of disproportionally cracking down on issues including EDF, than for spending on CAP. And substantial reform of EU’s agricultural subsidies is being called for.
Criticism is significant now that nongovernmental organizations in EU and ACP (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) countries recently alerted to the risk that the EU development agenda could divert aid funds away from the poorest people and negatively affect the foundation of the Cotonou Agreement, the guiding framework of EU-ACP cooperation.
This couples with fear that terms threatening access to medicines by the worst-off people could be approved in forthcoming negotiations for an EU-Thai agreement, and in an EU-India trade deal now on track to conclusion.
This includes displeasure bound up with the controversial EU involvement in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (or ACTA).
And it comes as no surprise that all of this occurs at a time when the EU global plan for health, development cooperation seemingly falls short of adequate coherence, innovative financing and collaboration with interested parties, while commitment in R&D for poverty-related neglected diseases (NDs) is not spread evenly between member states and only totals 0.0024% of EU’s combined GDP.
Relevantly, the EU just succeeded in opposing any mention of the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG) report and recommendations (including a medical R&D treaty, innovative financing sources and the de-linkage of R&D cost from the price of health products) in the lame resolution EB132/R7 [pdf] on NDs passed at WHO Executive Board meeting which took place 21-29 January 2013.
The conflicting issues above raise doubts about EU’s real will and ability to address today’s overall challenges and push for inclusive and sustainable development. Bridging these gaps would be a matter of priority and a way for the EU to gain indisputable leadership. To this aim, the EU should better the coherence of its policies, strategies and practices.
By Daniele Dionisio
Daniele Dionisio is a member of the European Parliament Working Group on Innovation, Access to Medicines and Poverty-Related Diseases. He is reference advisor for “Medicines for the Developing Countries” for the Italian Society for Infectious and Tropical Diseases (SIMIT), and former director of the Infectious Disease Division at the Pistoia City Hospital (Italy). Starting February 2012, Dionisio is head of the research project Geopolitics, Public Health, and Access to Medicines (GESPAM).
Source: Intellectual Property Watch