By now, there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world and that international affairs and relations have to (at least partially) submit to its dynamic. The spread of COVID-19 has also had a major impact in developing countries, with potential consequences that are yet to be fully seen and understood.
In the Development Committee (DEVE), we have examined the pandemic and its consequences in developing countries, with differing opinions, reports and exchanges of views with relevant stakeholders. Two issues quickly became apparent to me: first, the effects and consequences of the pandemic vary enormously and require an interdisciplinary style of thinking and approach. Second, this is a sensitive moment for our partnerships, in particular with the African continent.
“This is not only a moment to find solutions and tackle challenges but also a unique opportunity to revisit certain fields and look at their efficiency, appropriateness and resilience together with our partners”
My position as shadow rapporteur for the EU-Africa Strategy has given me an insight into the existing challenges and opportunities on the respective continents as well as into the relationship between them.
This experience, and particularly the exchange with different stakeholders in the EU and African countries, ignited my interest in investigating the role of the EU’s development cooperation and humanitarian assistance in addressing the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report examines different areas; those particularly affected by the pandemic itself, such as the health sector, education, food security, poverty, social protection and gender. At the same time, it also integrates the more policy-oriented fields of humanitarian aid funding, debt service and budgeting, and the humanitarian-development peace nexus.
For me, this is not only a moment to find solutions and tackle challenges but also a unique opportunity to revisit certain fields and look at their efficiency, appropriateness and resilience together with our partners - as a sort of joint partnership inventory. The pandemic has not necessarily revealed new challenges, but it has brought to light debates and dysfunctions that had been ignored until that point.
Now, more than ever, it has become very clear that development cooperation and humanitarian aid are severely underfunded and that there is a great need to integrate and harmonise our different strategies, treaties, programmes and relationships. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a variety of effects on the people who receive aid, and in DEVE it is our task to keep the concerned communities and individuals visible and to give them space to share their realities and needs.
In the spirit of ‘leaving no one behind’, we need to look at the most vulnerable: for example, by countering the increase in gender-based violence, by guaranteeing access to sexual and reproductive health rights services, by protecting local food systems, and monitoring or counteracting the shrinking of the public space.
The pandemic should inspire us to new standards in our relations, as it clearly highlights that we need further funding, greater policy coherence and more genuine participatory partnerships in development cooperation and humanitarian aid if we are to be able to counteract the negative consequences of COVID-19.
This includes taking into account the European experience, but not making it the measure of all things. When it comes to vaccine distribution, my party has been supporting “the call for a waiver by India, South Africa, Kenya and Eswatini on the implementation of some provisions of the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement, namely covering copyright, industrial designs and undisclosed information for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is with a view to facilitating effective technology transfer for COVID-19 related vaccines, therapeutics or diagnostic tests and ensure global access to these products.” It is evident that some African countries are currently experiencing alarmingly high rates of infection, and that some African partners seem irritated with the overall procedures of vaccine distribution.
“It has become very clear that development cooperation and humanitarian aid are severely underfunded and that there is a great need to integrate and harmonise our different strategies, treaties, programmes and relationships”
Former African Union Chair Cyril Ramaphosa called it a “painful irony … that some of the clinical trials for these vaccines were carried out in Africa … yet we struggle to access them for our populations.” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa states, “It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe.”
It is a sensitive and defining time for the entire world, for international and even inter-European relations. Solidarity is demanded by the characteristics of the Coronavirus, with the ultimate goal of herd immunity, but there is a fine marge-de-manoeuvre for new avenues of cooperation that we urgently need to take on, in order to maintain or improve our relationships, instead of casting doubt on our commitments.
In order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and its serious impacts, we need to improve our collaboration, ensure transparency and achieve an equal participation as well as dialogue on eye level with all stakeholders.