“Recortes”, or cuts, are becoming an all too familiar announcement in crisis hit Spain where the Madrid government has the knife out for aid programmes to developing countries.
Just three years ago Spanish aid reached some 50 poor countries in the world, with the government promising to meet the United Nations anti-poverty goals by 2015.
But now some €300 million is to go from next year’s budget, following a massive cut of €1.9 billion to aid programmes already in 2012. This would sink Spain’s official development assistance to the lowest levels in 22 years.
Some Spanish NGOs have dubbed this the “death of development cooperation”.
In October a protest organized by the Spanish NGO network ‘Coordindara ONGD’ and other campaigners filled Madrid’s central Plaza del Sol square and other locations nationwide.
Development organisations worry that the financial crisis is being used as an excuse to tear up promises made to developing countries, leaving years of cooperation programmes in ruins.
Mercedes Ruiz-Jimenez, President of Coordinadora ONGD says "We are witnessing the dismantling of public policy with over 30 years of existence. The situation is very serious and unprecedented; the consequences will be dire for the lives of millions of people.”
Ruiz-Jimenez continues, “It’s not true that these cuts are the only option for the government. There are alternatives. The state loses about €64 billion euros each year in tax fraud, which is 11 times more than what has been allocated this year to the Health, Social Services, Education, and Development Cooperation combined. What really needs to be cut is tax fraud!”.
But the government feels it has little choice.
"Cutting cooperation is an extremely painful option, but the other option, perhaps, would be to cut pensions or close medical centres,” said José Manuel García-Margallo, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, speaking to El Pais in March.
In trying to reduce the national deficit, the government is pursuing an austerity programme with broad cuts to many services and sectors, including freezes on public sector pay and a 12% cut in ministerial expenses.
Yet the largest cuts have been to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC), with 63% sliced off its budget since 2011.
The most dramatic cut being to humanitarian aid, that supports refugees and emergency situations, with a reduction of 86%.
All this is in stark contrast to 2009 when Spain doubled its aid from 0.23% of national wealth in 2003, to 0.46%, making it the 7th largest donor in the world.
Spanish aid drop from 2008
|Year||Aid levels||Aid as % of GNI|
And it's not just a change in the figures.
There's a new worry that Spanish aid "could become instrumentalised and lose its anti-poverty focus as the government seeks to use its cooperation programmes for its own commercial benefit," according to Coordinadora.
The government is now talking of an "Economic Diplomacy" as a means of national economic recovery.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation website, "the crisis opens now, paradoxically, the opportunity to use our good political relations abroad to promote economic growth in Spain, for our companies to create jobs and to export our technology and our culture".
Across the country, protests against austerity continue to mount. And development organisations feel that the government should rethink the extent of its cuts.
Despite national problems, support remains stubbornly strong for development aid amongst citizens. 88% of Spaniards feel that helping developing countries is still important according to a Eurobarometer survey published last month.
For ‘Pobreza Cero’, a Spanish anti-poverty campaign group, the financial sector should take some responsibility in these times of crisis.
The group says that the government should set up a financial transaction tax of just 0.05% that would generate €5 billion a year in Spain. This money could then go partly to development and social sectors.
Yet priorities seem to be elsewhere.
Just last month, the government proposed a staggering 175% increase in the arms budget.
All this leaves a question mark over the future of Spanish development cooperation, and what position Madrid will take to 22-23 November in Brussels as EU leaders meet to decide the future EU budget 2014-2020.
At stake at the meeting is Europe’s common development aid budget for the next seven years. Will Spain take its austerity knife to Europe?
For more info contact: Daniel Puglisi, dpuglisi(at)concordeurope.org