In a drive to have a go at the EU, on 20 July some UK newspapers (Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail) chose to ridicule circus artists and coconut production. The articles call funding for deprived communities in some of the poorest parts in the world “frivolous expenditure” and illustrate their point with photos of appealing beaches and young female acrobats in glittering outfits.
The European Development Fund (EDF), under which the quoted projects are funded, offers development assistance to the people and countries that need it most, in many cases affected by conflict and natural disaster like Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic or Haiti. More recently development aid of some GBP 85 million (Euro 121.6 million) was mobilised after the earthquake in Nepal. The EDF projects come in many forms depending on the community or country in question, what matters is that they bring results for local people.
Elaborate metaphors and frivolous choice of visuals aside, mastering – to quote the articles – “the art of the trapeze” can open job opportunities for a person in Tanzania (by the way, the same project also provides courses in carpentry and sewing). Exotic sounding Caribbean destinations are often poor countries where coconuts don’t grow on supermarket shelves, but their production provides livelihoods. As does wildlife tourism in Swaziland, a country considered a model in wildlife conservation and which loses only one rhino per year to poaching, compared to three per day in South Africa. And Aruba – despite its high living standards – is one of many island nations heavily dependent on tourism who whilst not contributing too much to climate change are at great risk from rising sea levels or extreme weather. The keynote speech at the first of its now annual “Green Aruba conferences” was delivered by the former US vice-president, Al Gore.
The articles fail to share with their readers salient facts about the fund achievements, for example: since 2004 more than 13 million children have been enrolled in primary education, 18 million children under one have been immunised against measles, 70 million people have been connected to better drinking water while 24 million have been connected to sanitation facilities. To quote but a few in a long list of examples.
Two final points: one on accountability and another one on transparency.
EU development assistance involves projects in a variety of countries, cultures and customs. For this reason, the Commission applies an additional procedure whereby auditors check the books before EU money is paid out (the traditional auditing practice is to do this after money has been disbursed and request funds back if wrongly spent).
In 2008, the EU launched the EU Financial Transparency Guarantee (FTS) – which means that the European Commission publicly discloses all information on aid programmes managed by its departments. Confidentiality applies where the security of the grantees may be at risk. For example, information is not published for grants given to human rights defenders, if in their country of origin, they or their family may suffer retaliation. In other cases, such information is not published not because of confidentiality, but for simplification for contracts under the amount of 15 000 EUR.