The new European Parliament: What will it mean for International Development and Humanitarian Aid?

23 september 2019

Author: Jasmine Wakeel, Campaigns Co-Ordinator, Ireland, The ONE Campaign

As the European Parliament settles into a new term, it has already had considerable concerns to contend with – from debating polarising current issues to negotiating key legislative matters.

It is crucial then, to consider the impact the new composition of the Parliament, policy focuses and financial matters might have on development and humanitarian assistance.

The composition of the new European Parliament

 Predictions of nationalist and populist forces leading failed to materialise in the results of the European Parliament elections in May. The so-called “Green Wave”, which at first appeared dramatic, was later noted as a phenomenon restricted for the most part to Western Europe.

One thing that’s certain is that the Parliament is more fragmented than in past parliamentary terms, with the previously dominant European People’s Party (EPP) maintaining their position as the biggest grouping but seeing their proportion of seats vastly reduced. Although nationalist MEPs will not have the numbers in the European Parliament to form a blocking minority to prevent the Parliament from passing progressive legislation, newer and smaller parties gained support in the elections.

The new Parliament is also an untested one, with nearly two thirds of those elected in 2019 not having held seats before and with emerging regroupings, such as Renew Europe. From here on, compromising and forging coalitions will become more crucial and more difficult than ever before.

Policy focuses

Climate is now firmly on the radar of the EU with activists like Greta Thunberg having made an impassioned plea to the last Parliament and the rise in Green MEP numbers. The increase in Green and liberal members could also precipitate a rise in support for action on numerous pressing international issues beyond the global climate emergency. From an international development perspective, will be important to ensure attention is not diverted towards climate-related policy change at the cost of maintaining or building funding and support in other areas that address the root causes of poverty.

Changes in leadership/’top jobs’

It is very possible that we will see action on the climate emergency amongst the issues at the top of the next Commission President’s agenda, Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman to be elected to this position. In her speech to the Parliament ahead of voting commencing the new Commission President committed if elected to, “refocus our European Semester to make sure we stay on track with our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”  This may prove more challenging than expected as not all European parties are as keen on having the SDGs central to European policy.

Financial allocations

Linking with the point above, if the EU is to continue its role as a world leader, the SDGs must form a crucial part of the decision making on the direction of the next long term EU budget (also known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027) which is currently being negotiated by the European Commission, with input from the European Parliament. Alongside a new budgetary approach to the MFF, development money being turned towards migration is not off the table and this should be carefully monitored by the sector.

At this early stage, it seems unlikely that this new and fragmented Parliament will negatively impact support for international development and humanitarian aid, especially as the EU is the world’s leading humanitarian aid donor. It is however difficult to predict with any certainty what will come to pass as we head into the 10 year countdown to achieve the SDGs.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dóchas.