Just a couple of months after world leaders gathered in New York to adopt the new Global Goals, a plan to make life better for all of us by ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality, and fixing climate change, a new report launched yesterday by AidWatch warns that “the real work starts now” and sets key recommendations for the EU to make it happen.
One of the key recommendations includes delivering on the longstanding EU commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on aid by 2020. EU aid has had a lifesaving impact. Over the last 10 years, EU Institutions-financed programmes helped immunise 20 million babies against measles, connected more than 74 million people to safe drinking water and made sure that 13.7 million kids went to primary school.
Yet, the EU has failed to meet its promises to the world’s poorest and aid levels have constantly been below 0.7% of GNI. AidWatch shows that out of the 28 EU member states, only four countries have met their 0.7 commitment and two-thirds provided less than 0.2% of their GNI in aid in 2014. Countries that have traditionally been aid champions such as Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark have recently slashed aid while other member states, such as Spain and Portugal, have been making drastic cuts to their aid budgets for years.
Beyond the topline numbers, the report also warns against another worrying trend that ONE has recently been very concerned about too. According to AidWatch, in 2014 the EU member states and the European institutions ‘inflated’ their aid by €7.1 billion by reporting ‘in-donor spending’ such as refugee costs at home. The report finds that some EU countries significantly increased aid spent on refugee costs at home in 2014: the Netherlands by 145%, Italy by 107%, Cyprus by 65% and Portugal by 38%.
And this was in 2014. The level of European aid diverted away from the poorest countries to cover refugee costs at home is expected to rise even more in 2015 and 2016 as a result of the refugee crisis. As ONE recently highlighted, Sweden and Denmark, that have traditionally been development leaders by constantly meeting their aid targets, are leading by bad example. These countries are right now considering making use of a significant portion of their aid budget in order to fund refugee costs at home.
The figures hurt. Sweden is looking into diverting up to 30% of its aid budget away from the poorest countries (from 22% in 2015). In the meantime, Denmark decided last week to cut its aid budget by 2.7 billion kroner (EUR 362 million) in 2016, while increasing the proportion of aid it spends on refugee costs at home to 30% (up from 9% in 2014).
Whilst leaders need to take urgent action to help refugees and provide them with shelter, provisions, and protection, generosity at home should not come at the expense of the world’s poorest. No trade-off should be made between supporting refugees at home and investing in the world’s poorest. It is only by doing both that Europe will meet this crisis and win the global fighting against extreme poverty and inequality.
That’s why organisations like ONE, Save The Children, AidWatch and many others have recommended that refugee costs should not be reported as aid.