One of the main debates happening now in Brussels is on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the EU’s main tool for managing its finances. The current MFF will last until the end of 2020, but the debate around its successor has already started and the final decision on the new priorities will be the result of a long concertation among European institutions, with the direct influence of Member States and external stakeholders. In particular, the financial allocations to the EU’s external relations will frame the role and the tools that Brussels will have globally in the next decade. The current debate, however, focuses on European interests more than values, and, therefore, there is a risk that development and peacebuilding programmes could be reduced or blended with other themes, such as migration and security. The recent high-level conference on the MFF has shown how development policy is not a priority at the moment for EU decision-makers, as it was one of the last things discussed. On the contrary, security and defence were among the most discussed issues.

In practical terms, the MFF defines the ‘ceilings’ for EU expenditures (i.e. the maximum amounts that the EU can spend each year), the ‘headings’ (i.e. the policy areas) and ‘programmes’ (i.e. policy instruments) under which expenditures should occur. In the current MFF, valid from 2014 to the end of 2020, all expenditures relating to the EU’s external action fall under ‘Heading 4: Global Europe’ and they represent 6% of allocations under the Framework. The main programmes related to development and peacebuilding under this heading are the Development Cooperation Instrument, the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), the Instrument Contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. Over the last five years, the IcSP has in particular become the programme from which the EU has been funding its work in support of peacebuilding, including official mediation efforts but also interventions by civil society organizations (CSOs). This instrument has come to represent a positive evolution in how the EU has come to support civil efforts to build peace as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.

The discussions currently taking place in the EU around the new MFF might have enormous implications for how it supports peacebuilding in the futurecharting a course that risks undoing much of the progress achieved so far. In particular, there is a concern that peacebuilding, which is a multi-faced long-term approach to dealing with conflicts, will be compressed in favour of short-term and ad hoc crisis management instruments. This might indeed happen if development, security and peacebuilding will merge into a single policy instrument, as some analysts say. Policy-makers and stakeholders basically agree that these three issues are tied, but until now they have been addressed through separate policies. As explained by CONCORD, the European platform of development NGOs, the difference between hard security and peacebuilding should be emphasised and clarified. In addition, peacebuilding and development presently constitute a fruitful and complementary nexus, policy-wide and also in budgetary terms.

The idea of European Added Value has also emerged as an important criterion for determining what will be included in the new MFF. This should have clear implications for keeping strong support to peacebuilding in the next MFF: one of the EU’s comparative advantage mentioned by the European Parliament is in fact that it “contributes to the establishment and support of peace and stability in the EU’s neighbourhood and beyond”. To date, however, the debate has dedicated little attention to supporting civilian conflict transformation, including civil society efforts and capacity in the areas of human rights, human security and peacebuilding. Instead, the discussion on creating a dedicated instrument for building the military capacity of third countries under the new MFF has gained traction, as the European Commission has been pushing for the “defence sector” to become a priority for existing funding. For instance, the Commission launched the European Defence Fund, through which it proposes to dedicate an extra €500 million from the EU budget for research and development of the arms industry in 2019-2020.

grass-roots campaign mobilised against these decisions, but the majority of the EU’s Member States remain in favour of a new EU Defence structure. Certainly, this possibility deserves more attention. At the same time, the EU’s main added value is as a civilian actor. A dedicated instrument to support conflict prevention and peacebuilding, with a focus on human security and civilian action and excluding any military expenditure is desirable in the next MFF.

Finally, in discussions around the MFF to date, the role of civil society is conspicuously absent. This represents a daunting challenge that the development and peacebuilding communities should address head-on in their efforts to influence the new MFF. It will be a difficult task, given the institutional nature of the decision-making process, but one that finds an ally in Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goal 16, which specifically aims at promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. Agenda 2030 is a key document that the EU has defined as an “anchor” for its internal and external policies, and should be used to reiterate the need for dedicated funds for peacebuilding in the next decade.

The article was authored by Bernardo Monzani and Bernardo Venturi. AP presented the status of the debate around the new MFF and development aid during an event organized by CONCORD Italy on February 8, 2018, in Bologna.