Making Team Europe the new normal

As the EU grapples with the Coronavirus crisis, it cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the challenges facing the developing world, writes Hildegard Bentele.
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By Hildegard Bentele

Hildegard Bentele (DE, EPP) is co-rapporteur of The Role of the EU’s Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance

27 Feb 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic continues to hit EU Member States hard, despite there now being grounds for hope, in the form of initial vaccine deliveries. Even with all the problems that Europe is currently facing as a result of the pandemic, we should by no means turn a blind eye to developing countries.

We must also be aware that all of the restrictions and deprivations caused by the global pandemic will only end when it is brought under control in all parts of the world. To do this, we need to support our partner countries quickly and precisely to increase the efficiency of their health and crisis response systems.

At the same time - and this seems to be an even bigger challenge - we need to help resolve the medium-and long-term problems associated with disruptions to supply chains, curfews, school closures, travel restrictions, the withdrawal of investments, the encroachments on democratic and human rights and much more.

The food shortage situation is also very dramatic, and the number of people threatened by famine could double by the end of the year, tragically pushing an old problem back to the top of the development policy agenda. I recently presented a report to the Development Committee, for which I am co-rapporteur, on the role of development cooperation and humanitarian aid provided by the EU in dealing with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even with all the problems that Europe is currently facing as a result of the pandemic, we should by no means turn a blind eye to developing countries”

Some important elements of the report are as follows: the ‘Team Europe’ approach was the right one, and should serve as a blueprint for a better-coordinated and more-visible EU development policy. This means that Team Europe needs to change from being the exception to being the norm. Debt problems are also worsening at a time when a great deal of extra money needs to be spent on the health sector and social support.

As well as delaying or cancelling debts, we need to combat illegal financial transfers, tax evasion and fraud more effectively to improve the tax income base. This will help ensure - as part of budget support operations - that money is actually being used to improve the health sector, for social and economic security and to fight poverty.

Human and women’s rights have sustained massive damage since the outbreak of the pandemic. There are overreactions as well as the abuse of restrictions on civil rights, the oppression of minorities and the repression of women. Women are more affected by economic crises because they tend to earn less, have fewer savings, work in the informal economy more often, and also have less access to social protection.

COVID-19 has destroyed some of the economic achievements made by women over the past few decades. It is estimated that by the end of the crisis, an additional 11 million girls could drop out of school, and many of them are unlikely to return (we know this from previous crises). This brings with it substantial reductions in income and wages, an increase in teenage pregnancies and child marriage, as well as an increased risk of gender-based violence and human trafficking.

We need enhanced political dialogue, the exchange of best practices, targeted measures, proportionality and legislation in combatting crises and renewed special support for women and girls in all of our programmes. We must also not forget those refugees facing particularly difficult situations and need equal access to COVID-19 treatments and other health services, regardless of their nationality, migrant or refugee status or origin.

As another structural response, crisis response facilities should be set up in order to strengthen resilience to systemic shocks of any kind. It must also be made clear that securing food suplies and keeping schools open must be a top priority, otherwise a vicious circle of poverty, hunger and conflict will set in, one from which it is difficult to escape and which can push societies back years in their development.

“The pandemic magnifies the problems caused by conflict and climate change and is particularly affecting workers in the informal sector who make up a quarter of the global workforce”

The pandemic magnifies the problems caused by conflict and climate change and is particularly affecting workers in the informal sector who make up a quarter of the global workforce, as well as the tourism industry. This is why it is important that we work together with partner countries to develop strategies for economic recovery, creating jobs and improving social security systems. It is also essential to decrease dependence on imported food, seed and fertiliser, to diversify agriculture and make it more resistant. The same applies to drugs, vaccines and therapies.

Countries such as India have successfully made the leap to producing their own pharmaceuticals; unfortunately however, other countries continue to be overly dependent on imports, to which we can no longer turn a blind eye. Experience to date in this pandemic shows that vaccine production and routine vaccination programmes will need higher priority worldwide, as well as in our partner countries.

Finally, we should remember that viruses transmitted to humans via wild animals could have something to do with the fact that, as humans, we are continuously intruding deeper into their habitats. The increasing direct human-to-animal contact can be dangerous, while certain farming practices can increase susceptibility to diseases and thus the risk to humans.

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