This week, the EU promised a budget that ‘’protects, empowers and defends’’, but who is being protected, empowered and defended in the current proposal? Europe’s children, along with their counterparts in developing countries, are neither seen nor heard in this proposal.

Yet the long-term EU budget can and should have a transformative impact on the next generation- seven years is a long time in a child’s life. For many children, investment in their formative years will be key to how they live their childhood and adolescence, who they become, and what they can achieve.  We know that the earlier we invest in the upcoming generation, the better returns we get on our investment. An investment in youth as a priority is welcome, but what happens before you reach that arbitrary (and vague) line drawn by the Commission? If we target the EU budget to support children in their early years as well as those in vulnerable situations to ensure they thrive, we stand the greatest chance of creating more stable, secure, fair, and prosperous societies where human rights are respected, in and outside Europe.

In seven years, many of today’s children will be working, voting, shaping the EU we will all live in. Let’s make sure we invest in their present and prepare the best possible future for them.

Child poverty – the scourge of the next generation

There are some positive elements in the Commission’s plan which can deliver for today’s children including the doubling of the Erasmus + programme and the intention to make it more inclusive. An additional €2.8 Billion for humanitarian aid is also welcome, given that children account for half of any crisis affected population, and that we face a plethora of crises and conflicts around the world. However, another crisis facing many children in Europe is child poverty. In a Europe challenged by growing inequality and austerity, child poverty remains at alarming levels, with more than 25 million children experiencing poverty or social exclusion. Child poverty rates vary greatly across Europe: while the EU average is around 27%, more than 40% of the child population in Romania and Bulgaria lives in poverty or social exclusion and a third of children in Spain and Italy are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The EU budget should firmly commit to tackling child poverty as a priority; making child poverty reduction an investment priority of the European Social Fund + (ESF+) would be a concrete step in this direction.

Migration – protecting children on the move

A sustainable future for the next generation means ensuring both children on the move, and those living in developing countries have their rights protected. As a global standard setter, the EU stands to lose a great deal more than it gains in dismantling its standards whilst erecting fences to keep people out- including vulnerable children. Short-sighted solutions focussing on border controls won’t make things better in the long-run. Investing in health and education of migrant and refugee children gives them a sense of belonging and ensures they become active and engaged participants in society.  Legal pathways such as resettlement and family reunification ensure children don’t undertake dangerous journeys on their own. Guardianship systems for unaccompanied children are key to preventing them going missing.

Delivering for children abroad

Many European citizens are rightly proud of the EU’s reputation as a top, principled and global development aid donor. According to a recent Eurobarometer, 89% of Europeans think development aid is important. During the last 7-year budget, and at relatively little cost to taxpayers, the EU has achieved incredible results for children in developing countries. For example, EU support meant 53 million children were educated in primary and secondary schools. The EU also ensured that 16 million births were attended by skilled health personnel and that nearly 12 million children under the age of one were immunised against diseases like polio which used to paralyse up to 1,000 children a day.

Yet in the proposal for this budget, the EU has chosen to merge many of the tried and tested external instruments into a proposal for a single fund - ‘the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument’ -  with competing objectives. The Commission has committed to robust investment in this instrument, totalling 89.5 Billion Euros, yet it remains to be seen how much of this will go to development aid and poverty eradication. We hope that with this budget the European Commission will not allow short-term foreign policy interests and a preoccupation with stemming migration to endanger its influence, its reputation, and the life-saving work achieved by current development spending.

We need a committed sustainable development fund, based on the Sustainable Development Goals, with priority given to the Least Developed Countries and to human development sectors that impact children such as health, education and social protection.

An EU budget that empowers, protects and defends children

The EU budget should be a long-term investment plan. There is still time to ensure that children can be empowered, protected and defended in this budget, as President Juncker promised in his state of the Union speech back in 2016. And it is in Europe’s interest that today’s children should know that this seven-year budget is for them, and about them. As the process now moves towards negotiations of this first proposal with Member States and Members of the European Parliament, Save the Children calls on these actors to move away from short-term thinking and invest in a budget that truly delivers for children and our collective futures.

For more information, please read Save the Children’s response to the EU Budget here.