EU pulls Eritrea funding, citing Tigray conflict, ‘lack of interest’

The European Commission plans to “de-commit” more than €100 million away from Eritrea in the clearest sign yet that Brussels “dual-track” try to blend improvement help and political communicate with the oppressive East African state has reached the end of the line. 

Jutta Urpilainen, the European Union commissioner for global partnerships, wrote to the European Parliaments development committee chair and political group coordinators this week to define the move, which influences funding beneath the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, or EUTF for Africa.

The Finnish commissioner noted that since the 2018 rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the EU “has invested significant political and economic capital to seize the opportunity,” while “making sure the EUs essential values have been respected”.

Yet the letter, received with the aid of using Devex, defined that of the 9 projects really well worth €141. 3 million —approved for Eritrea through the trust fund, just one has begun implementation. Some €80 million was accredited for procurement through the United Nations Office for Project Services for road work, however most effective round 19 million has been dispensed amid fierce criticism from European Parliament contributors and human rights activists over the risk that conscripted hard work might be used on the roads. 

Commission officials initially defended the road project, and Josep Borrell, the EUs foreign affairs chief, instructed journalists in March 2020 that the EU have to preserve to pursue each improvement and diplomacy “to change structures and change the manner wherein the political system works”.

“I do now no longer assume we will constantly be playing the Good Samaritan and handing out donations but not stepping into the political evolution of a country,” Borrell said last year.

“Eritrea is one of the primary sources of migrants to Europe after all, so we’re going to preserve this work and expect success, despite the fact that we recognise that this won’t necessarily occur tomorrow”. 

However, this “dual-track approach” had been under assessment in recent months, in the lead-up to this week’s shift. Urpilainen wrote that the 8 different trust fund projects are still waiting for clearance from the Eritrean government.”Implementation…has remained tremendously challenging,” the commissioner wrote.

“This situation displays the lack of interest expressed by the Government of Eritrea on EUTF-funded initiatives and, more generally, on improvement co-operation with the EU”.

The letter noted that Eritrean troops involvement in the Tigray war in northern Ethiopia had “in addition compounded” the situation. Discussing Tigray on Monday, Borrell stated that “Eritrean troops aren’t withdrawing, and human rights violations preserve”.

The Eritrean Embassy in Brussels did not straight away reply to a request for comment Friday. With a December 2021 cut-off date to recommit the money, Urpilainen wrote that she might suggest that it go to other priorities withinside the Horn of Africa, including €62 million for Sudans democratic transition, €18 million for refugees in Sudan fleeing Tigray, €20 million to fight famine in South Sudan, and €20 million for displaced people and migrants throughout the region. The commission will present its new suggestion to the fund’s operational committee by the end of this month. 

French Greens MEP Michele Rivasi, who was among the most important fighters of EU help to the road project, welcomed the commission’s move.”The money intended for Eritrea will now serve lots of extra treasured humanitarian purposes,” she instructed Devex on Friday.

“This makes much more sense than constructing a highway for a dictator Eritrean President [Isaias] Afwerki who does now no longer hesitate to reserve the military to assault civilians and to raze the Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray to the ground,” Rivasi added. 

Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch, instructed Devex on Friday that the EUs attempted dual-track engagement with Eritrea “has lamentably did not result in significantly wanted rights reforms”.

“Trying to fund projects without right monitoring mechanisms and due diligence in a context marred by pervasive pressured hard work, the EU risked to make contributions to the government’s abuses,” Bader added.”Engagement with Eritrea should not endanger the rights of the country’s population”.