This is a live blog that will be updated at key moments in the 2022 budget process, with the latest additions posted at the top of the page.

15/06/2021 – Brussels

The EU cannot possibly hope to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 with the proposed budget for human development in 2022.

On June 8, the European Commission (EC) presented its proposal for the 2022 budget of the EU. The NDICI-Global Europe Instrument – the new development cooperation programme – will allocate 12.5 billion euros in budgetary commitments in 2022. 9.2 billion will be distributed according to geographic criteria and 969 million to selected thematic priorities. Some development NGOs often consider the annual budget unchartered territory for advocacy because the procedure is technocratic and full of legalese, and seemingly irrelevant for development cooperation since funds and priorities are decided in the instrument and the work programmes.

So why should we care about the annual budget?

The EU annual budget provides key information on the progress, velocity, and flexibility in the allocation of EU funds. It is one of the most accurate and useful tools to hold the Union accountable for its commitments. Additionally, the budget tells us the Union’s priorities with a much higher level of granularity than any other document. Only by looking at budget lines and their accompanying remarks, is it possible to know exactly how much money the EU will allocate to a certain area, and which specific objectives will be addressed within it.

Let us take the example of human development. The EU recognises that improving human development is a key way to eradicate poverty and it is committed to allocating at least 20% of its Official Development Assistance to this objective (the “20% benchmark”). However, the EU’s interpretation of human development is ambiguous and often contradictory. Only health, education, social protection and gender equality investments contribute to the 20% benchmark as per the methodology developed by the European Commission. Yet in the annual budget, the Commission often proposes economic activities such as creating decent jobs or developing the private sector as contributing to human development, conflating economic development with human development.

Clearly, human development has lost ground as an EU priority for development cooperation. The EU has fallen behind the 20% benchmark and only managed to revert chronic underinvestment by expanding the number of areas that could be reported as contributing to this indicator. See if you can spot the year when the methodology was changed:

Source: European Commission (2020). 2019 annual report on the implementation of the European Union’s instruments.

COVID-19 set to unravel progress

COVID-19 has demonstrated the dire consequences of this underinvestment and it has also posed an unprecedented shock to human development. Data on the impact of COVID-19 in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) is limited, but preliminary findings and estimations suggest deep negative effects on all dimensions of human development. From the heavy disease burden and high mortality in care workers in LMICs, the majority of which are women[1], to increased violence against women and reduced access to essential healthcare such as family planning services[2] due in part to restrictive measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus.

From a budgetary perspective, COVID-19 looks to have a serious impact on the funding available for human development. Not just because of the economic shock it has produced but also because it has hijacked human development investments. In the budget proposal for 2022, the Commission recognised that ”policy priorities, such as realising the Sustainable Development Goals, will inevitably be tied to the COVID-19 ripple effect throughout the world, especially in the field of human development”. Using human development investments to tackle COVID-19 could drain critical resources from initiatives contributing to tackling violence against women and girls, curb the ongoing epidemics of HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and address the unmet need for family planning.

The draft budget proposal shows that the main thematic budget line supporting human development, the People – Global Challenges budget line, will allocate 137 million euros in budget commitments in 2022. This is substantially less earmarked investments for human development than those that were annually committed by the EU in the previous budget cycle (2014-2020). For instance, from 2017 to 2019, the EU provided 185 million euros to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria through the dedicated budget line for human development[3]. This initiative has contributed to saving 32 million lives since 2002, cutting down mortality from these three diseases by more than 40%.

However, with 137 million euros, the EU cannot possibly hope to address COVID-19 (e.g. supporting vaccination efforts of LMICs) while also sustaining the funding needs of all other human development priorities such as the Global Fund or the EU-WHO partnership to strengthen health systems for universal health coverage. There is even less hope if the paltry resources dedicated to human development are spread thinner due to allocation of funding to activities that do not directly contribute to it (as per the 20% benchmark), such as “migration and forced displacement, decent work […and] culture”, as proposed by the 2022 budget.

A critical time for human development

It is true that human development investments will be mobilised from the geographic budget lines of the NDICI-Global Europe as well, but these have an even broader scope and are determined primarily in the programming rather than the annual budget. Moreover, the Commission has not proposed a clear pathway to mainstream human development investments in geographic budget lines, with the programme statements of the 2022 budget simply indicating that “human development and gender equality and women empowerment” will be one of the priorities, e.g., for African regions. Partnered with the ambiguous application of human development, this lack of detail could be a recipe for disaster. It also means that, ultimately, we will only be able to know how much funding went to human development once the programmes are implemented, i.e. in 2023 or later. This level of uncertainty about the amount of funding that will support human development (e.g. health) interventions while in the middle of a pandemic is highly ill-advised.

Human development is at a critical juncture. COVID-19 has evidenced the need to increase global investments in health and other areas of human development. The time has come for the EU to decide whether it believes in its own commitments or whether will allow the pandemic to unravel decades of progress in health, education, social protection, and gender equality worldwide. On June 18, the Council called upon the EU to take “concrete and measurable commitments” to increase funding for human development and reach at least the 20% benchmark. We hope the Parliament and the Council take the first step in that direction and work hand-in-hand to ensure that the 2022 budget puts human development at the forefront of the EU’s global response to COVID-19.

References

ECDPM (2021). Reinvigorating human development in the EU external action.

[1] Mehta, S. et al. (2021) COVID-19: a heavy toll on health-care. The Lancet. Available at workershttps://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(21)00068-0/fulltext; Moitra, M. et al. (2021) Mental Health Consequences for Healthcare Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Scoping Review to Draw Lessons for LMICs. Front. Psychiatry. Available at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.602614/full

[2] Riley, T. et al (2021) Estimates of the Potential Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Sexual and Reproductive Health In Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Guttmacher Institute. Available at https://www.guttmacher.org/journals/ipsrh/2020/04/

[3] European Commission (2018) Draft General budget of the European Union for the financial year 2019. Programme statements of operational expenditure. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/about_the_european_commission/eu_budget/draft-budget-2019-programme-statements-com-2018-600_2018_en.pdf

 

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