Press Release

Minister Caroline Gennez presents Belgian EU presidency priorities for Europe’s development policy

Earlier today, Minister of Development Cooperation Caroline Gennez presented the priorities of the Belgian EU Presidency for Europe’s development policy: "The presidency is an excellent opportunity to emphasize the importance of international solidarity and development in an effective European foreign policy."

Europe stands at a crossroads. The neighbouring regions are mired in conflict, while the role and authority of Europe and the West are increasingly challenged: "During the covid pandemic, it was every country for itself. The poorest countries were last in line for life-saving vaccines. Combined with the Sustainable Development Goals lagging and the EU's divergent responses to the war in Ukraine on the one hand and the war in Gaza on the other, Europe has lost a lot of credibility with the Global South," Gennez said.  

To put that relationship back on track, the EU needs to play to its strengths, the minister added: "43% of all development funding still comes from the EU – making it the largest donor in the world. International solidarity can be a tool for a more impactful European foreign policy. But only if we act more consistently in accordance with the values that Europe claims to stand for. At a time when geopolitical competition has returned to the fore, it is absolutely critical that sustainable development, socio-economic progress and universal human rights remain at the heart of European development policy and are strengthened further." 

These issues will be discussed in detail at the upcoming Informal Council of Development Cooperation ministers in Brussels on 11 and 12 February. To highlight the importance of human rights and sustainable development, Minister Gennez has invited Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to attend the meeting. Also on the agenda is the implementation of the Global Gateway, one of the most important European development policy instruments. The outcome of these discussions will serve as a basis for the Council conclusions on the mid-term review of the EU's development cooperation budget (Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument or NDICI).  

The Belgian presidency will focus on building a more equal partnership between Europe and Africa through closer cooperation in health – a concrete step towards restoring trust. 

Gennez: "Health is a policy area in which cooperation and the exchange of expertise are beneficial to all. We can only be healthy here in Europe if Africa is healthy too. African countries have a lot of experience when it comes to containing epidemics; European countries have some of the best healthcare systems in the world. During our presidency, we will, therefore, focus on building affordable, available, and high-quality healthcare systems in African countries. In addition, we are reinforcing our commitment to supporting African governments, companies, and scientists in the production of their own high-quality medicines and vaccines. Finally, we will put a spotlight on sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially for girls and women." 

In this context, the minister has taken the initiative for a Team Europe mission to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where the headquarters of the African Union and its health agencies, such as the African Centre for Disease Control, are located. Together with the European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, and ministers and representatives of ten other member states, she will engage with partners from the African Union (AU) on how to better collaborate on health. The mission is a prelude to a high-level meeting between the EU and the AU on 20 March in Brussels, together with Belgian Federal Minister for Health, Frank Vandenbroucke, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros, African Union Commissioner for Health Minata Samaté Cessouma and Commissioner Kyriakides.  

On the humanitarian front, the Belgian presidency intends to dedicate extra attention to so-called forgotten crises.  

In 2023, humanitarian needs have exploded worldwide. The UN estimates that some 300 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2024. The main culprits are conflict and war, including in Sudan and Gaza. But some conflicts elicit more sympathy and solidarity than others: 

"The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is getting a lot of attention right now, and rightly so. During our Presidency, we will continue to advocate for permanent and unhindered humanitarian access and adherence to international law. But due to the large number of conflicts, some crises get little to no attention. And a lack of media coverage often means less funding and international aid. In both Sudan and Syria, there are more than 30 million people in need of protection. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 7 million people are on the run from violence. Despite growing needs and shrinking budgets, it is imperative that we address these crises before they escalate even further. Gaza, too, was a forgotten crisis until the 7th of October." 

These ‘forgotten’ crises will be the focus of the European Humanitarian Forum (EHF) in March.