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EU development chief calls for united response on Ethiopia

DevEx | The European Union’s top representative for development aid said Tuesday that the bloc needs to “plan very carefully” when it comes to Ethiopia, as Brussels continues to withhold funding from the government over the conflict in the country’s North.

In December, the European Commission postponed €88 million in planned budget support payments, with officials saying they could not give one euro to the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed until unimpeded humanitarian access is granted to the Tigray region, among other conditions.

Jutta Urpilainen, EU commissioner for international partnerships, told reporters Tuesday that another five budget support payments, together worth €100 million ($120 million), are due in 2021.

“So of course we need to plan very carefully,” the former Finnish finance minister said, adding that coordination with EU member states would be necessary to decide “what are we going to do with those disbursements and payments and then, of course, have this kind of a broader strategy towards Ethiopia.” The commission will also program its 2021-2027 development budget this year, with Ethiopia among the largest recipients for the 2014-2020 period.

“What we need is this kind of international approach including all different actors in order to leverage and really make a difference.” — Jutta Urpilainen, EU commissioner for international partnerships

A spokesperson for the commission did not immediately clarify when the 2021 budget support payments are due nor which government departments they are destined for.

Brussels’ initial move in December drew an angry response from Ethiopia, with its EU ambassador urging donors not to be distracted by “transient challenges” and reiterating the country’s strategic importance as the “beacon of stability in the Horn of Africa.” Other donors appear to be heeding those warnings, with the commission struggling to get even its own member states to freeze their bilateral support.

Urpilainen acknowledged as much Tuesday, also calling on the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, United Kingdom, United States, and Canada to tell Abiy that without full humanitarian access to Tigray, financial support for the government will be shut off. “What we need is this kind of international approach including all different actors in order to leverage and really make a difference,” she said.

Urpilainen said Ethiopia, along with Chad and Zambia, has requested debt relief through the G-20 group of nations and Paris Club’s new Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the Debt Service Suspension Initiative. However, she said, “I would say that it is not a political decision whether to give any kind of debt relief or debt restructuring for Ethiopia,” instead citing the need for technical analysis by the World Bank and IMF.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto will report to EU foreign ministers Monday on the outcome of his recent visit to Ethiopia. “Our concern of course is: Is humanitarian aid really reaching the people in Tigray?” Urpilainen said. “What is the real situation concerning the human rights violations and so forth? So I think now everybody is waiting for his report.”

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