After a decade of “polycrisis”, the European Commission presented in May 2018 its proposals for the EU budget after 2020. Through an increased overall amount and the inclusion of new fields of action such as migration management or security, this multiannual financial framework (2021 – 2027) has three objectives. “Firstly, to increase flexibility in order to be able to react to inevitable emergencies. Secondly, to become more solid, in order to relaunch economic and social convergence and to face crises. And thirdly, to gain in modernity” (Junker, 2018), even if this means revising downwards the two historical fields of expenditure of the EU: agriculture and regional policy (cohesion).
These objectives can be seen in the part of the budget dedicated to external action (known as “heading 6”), where the Commission proposes both to increase investments by 26% compared to the previous MFF and to undertake a major restructuring of the external action instruments by grouping them under a single instrument.
Nevertheless, it is not clear whether the level of financial ambition of Heading 6 will survive the negotiations. The financial resources for EU external action will largely be determined by the negotiations on other sections of the budget, notably agriculture and regional policy, as was the case in the previous MFF negotiations. The single instrument has still not gained the support of key member states such as France and Poland (Castillejo et al., 2018). Moreover, the negotiations are currently dominated by outstanding issues regarding the integration of migration and security concerns.
These issues have taken on particular prominence since the European Parliament elections (May 2019) and the arrival of a new Commission (December 2019). Faced with the US withdrawal and the crisis of multilateralism, the European Union and its external action policy find themselves more than ever on the front line. What to expect from this external policy of the European Union? Is a new European dynamic being established, based on the Green Deal and a renewed Europe-Africa relationship?
In this context, it seems urgent to reflect on the modalities that will make it possible to “sanctuarize” a budget for ambitious European external action that is favorable to sustainable development in the countries of the South.
Where are we in the negotiations and how could Heading 6 be threatened?
The basis for negotiation has been laid, but the negotiation has not really started. In the Finnish proposal, on heading 6, we can underline the -4% cuts compared to the Commission’s proposals but also the principle of budgetization of the EDF while potentially keeping a certain flexibility in annuality.
The discussion must now take place within the framework of the trilogue between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council following the proposals of the latter two on the new instrument called the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). The main topics for discussion are: 1) how migration is addressed within this instrument 2) Governance, and the power of institutions 3) investments (an innovation, EIB) 4) share of aid spending 5) climate target – the Parliament wants a higher position than the Commission, and the Council has not yet defined its position.
Generally speaking, the negotiations on heading 6 obviously depend on the progress of the whole negotiation, which was at a standstill. This heading does not necessarily enjoy the same level of support as the agriculture and cohesion headings. The more difficult the negotiations are, the more heading 6 could be used as an adjustment variable.
France is thus particularly committed to agriculture, defense, space, but also overseas territories. Regarding Heading 6, France particularly wanted the NDICI to have a strong focus on Africa, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), humanitarian aid and pre-accession.
For the moment, the discussion is excrementally divided between countries that want to limit to 1% – net contributors and others. France has many priorities and it is not sure that it will be able to maintain them until the end. Although a net contributor, France does not make reduction its main priority.
For some French actors, the NDICI must first be an aid instrument, 80 to 90% of the amount would be declarable as ODA. However, among the top 10 recipient countries, none is an LDC, none is a Sub-Saharan African country. The NDICI will need a clearer narrative, especially to explain the objectives and priorities of a single global instrument, including to the public.
On the priority given to Africa, France is not isolated, and could count on Germany, Portugal and Belgium in particular.
What is the purpose of the European external action policy? What to expect from it?
Europe is confronted with the evolution of its relationship with the United States, but also with China and the emergence of Brexit. In this context, there is now an extremely assumed discourse that the EU must promote its interests. The new approach of a “Geopolitical” Commission and the climate objectives are now clearly put forward. The proposed architecture no longer distinguishes between cooperation on the one hand and advocacy on the other.
As such, while it has a domestic vocation, the Green Deal should have an important external dimension in discussions with other regions of the world and in multilateral debates.
Africa is becoming an important ambition for Europe in a disturbed global context. Yet on the African side, some actors complain that Europe never makes concessions on important priorities of the African Union, and that this partnership is for the moment still dominated by aid and therefore asymmetrical. In this regard, it is important that Europe does not miss out on the new dynamics underway on the African continent, that it does not lose its added value by imitating other actors active in Africa, especially on social values. This obviously requires the elaboration of a more positive narrative on the partnership with Africa, even if it seems difficult for European actors to emancipate themselves from the subjects of security and migration.
Europe needs to better position itself in this new geopolitics of the great powers vis-à-vis the United States and China. This requires a clearer and more legible vision of the European offer (Member States, Commission, EIB, EBRD…). This requires overcoming sterile rivalries between different EU and member country financial players.
In the end, on the French side, uncertainties remain about the position France will take when the final trade-offs are made between the CAP and its other priorities. On heading 6, there is a need to strengthen the narrative and the resulting steering. Possible leads and alliances exist, for example with Germany or Spain. It will also be necessary to clarify the use of the Green Deal in Europe’s relationship with Africa, by hearing the fears and questions it generates on the African side.
Author: Damien Barchiche, Director of Sustainable Development Governance programme, IDDRI.
Image courtesy of M4D GROUP via Flickr.
The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.