External action: more funds for human rights, development and peace

Human rights

Center for Civil Rights, Atlanta, GA, United States (Michelle Bonkosky, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.


EU external action funding should support development, climate and environmental goals, and promote democracy, rule of law and human rights, say MEPs.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted its position on the proposed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI).

The new financial instrument would, once agreed by both Parliament and EU ministers, be used to distribute a large part of EU external action funding, with a proposed budget of € 93.154 billion in current prices for the 2021-2027 period, an increase of almost EUR 4 billion compared to the EU Commission’s proposal.

The NDICI merges most of the EU’s current external financing instruments, including the European Development Fund , into one broad instrument. Once in force, it will be the EU’s main tool to foster cooperation with non-EU countries in the neighbourhood and beyond, and to implement its international commitments deriving from the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Concretely, Parliament proposes that 45% of NDICI funds should support climate and environmental objectives.

The new instrument would also establish a framework (the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus) for external investments intended to raise additional financial resources for sustainable development from the private sector.

Funds suspended if democracy or rule of law deteriorate

MEPs consider the promotion of democracy, peace and security, the rule of law and respect for human rights to be central objectives of EU external action. Countries that backslide in those areas should therefore face full or partial suspension of their EU funding.

On top of that, Parliament proposes to increase the funds for human rights and democracy activities worldwide to at least € 2 billion. Given the shrinking space for civil society all over the world, MEPs want to increase the EU’s financing for civil society organisations to € 2,2 billion, with an additional € 0,5 billion to go to local authorities.

Finally, MEPs insist that at least 95 % of the EU’s funding under this Regulation should contribute to actions designed in such a way that they fulfil the criteria for Official Development Assistance (an indicator of international aid flow), compared to the originally proposed 92 %.

More political control and better governance

While acknowledging the need for more flexibility when managing the EU’s external action instruments, Parliament also wants to balance this with more parliamentary control, as well as strengthened governance and accountability provisions for the programming and administration of funds.

The text was approved by 420 votes in favour, with 146 against and 102 abstentions.

Next steps

In order to enter into force, the proposed NDICI will have to be agreed between Parliament and Council. Negotiations between the two EU institutions are expected to start later this year.

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