Upcoming budgetary support from the European Union (EU) amounting to 100 million euros may be facing a potential deferral due to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia’s northern region. Nonetheless, officials in Brussels find it challenging to form a unified response toward Ethiopia, with member states inclined to take their preferred course of action.

The EU’s Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, was on record last week urging a shared position between member states to effect “any real influence” on the Ethiopian government.

There are five support items lined up for disbursement covering the year 2021. Europe says it wants to give it some thought before releasing them.

It is a view that comes on the heels of 88 million euros in support that was suspended in December. Earmarked for bolstering Ethiopia’s logistics sector, the budget support was withheld on the grounds of unmet demands for unfettered humanitarian access to Tigray Regional State, where a war broke out in early November of last year. The war forced over 60,000 to flee to Sudan and left around 4.5 million people in need of emergency food assistance. Of these, 2.4 million are believed to be internally displaced.

The administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) is under intense pressure from the international community to cease active hostilities in the Tigray region, ensure foreign forces are out, and allow independent international investigations of the alleged crimes committed. The EU, in particular, calls for full humanitarian access for relief actors “to reach people in need in all affected areas.”

Addis Abeba's pushback to these demands has brought the wrath of policymakers in Brussels who have allowed only humanitarian aid and development programmes through NGOs to continue unaffected. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of development aid from the EU, with 1.2 billion euros in financial support in the six years beginning in 2014. Another cycle of the development programme for the next five years is on the table, yet to be approved.

Payments to the government will only be unblocked once certain conditions are met, according to an EU spokesperson who talked to www.devex.com, a specialised publication for the global development community.

Coordinating this with member countries is seen as a challenge to leaders of the Commission, who are keen to operate under the mantra of “Team Europe”. In a continent that is not known for having a common foreign policy position, a united voice and response compelling Addis Abeba to yield remains an uphill task. All 27 member states are on the same page about the problems in Tigray and the difficult conditions there, according to diplomatic sources Fortune talked to. The nature of the responses advocated by Brussels, nonetheless, face strong resistance from Italy and France, according to these diplomatic sources. Although considered moderate in comparison, the EU’s largest and most influential member, Germany, appears to be heading in its own preferred direction.

Prime Minister Abiy had uplifting words to say on Twitter two weeks ago after speaking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Describing his conversation as a “good phone call,” the Prime Minister said the two leaders spoke on “national and regional issue[s]” and “strengthening development and economic cooperation between #Ethiopia and Germany." It is a narrative counterbalanced by a following statement from the German government in Berlin in a subsequent tweet.

“The Chancellor emphasised the importance of a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Tigray region and the humanitarian care of the people affected in the conflict area,” an official from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted. “Humanitarian aid organisations and the media must be given free access to the Tigray region.”

This view, however, has little to dampen the enthusiasm Germany feels toward the political process in Ethiopia. The German government is continuing its ongoing bilateral development cooperation programmes, according to a statement from Germany’s Ministry of Economic Cooperation & Development, which responded to questions from www.devex.com.

“Germany is willing to continue supporting Ethiopia,” a spokesperson from the Ministry told the website. “The Ethiopian government remains committed to its reform process, even since the start of the conflict in Tigray.”

Despite this, the spokesperson disclosed Berlin’s own conditions to be met before further funds are disbursed, pointing out that his government wants to take a long-term view of development in Ethiopia. The national elections scheduled for June of this year seems a critical threshold before disbursements begin for the years ahead. Germany has provided over 370 million euros in support for the two years starting in 2017.

Although Berlin wants to encourage the start of a “credible political process aimed at resolving the conflict in Tigray,” its officials want to see as a final condition "the conclusion of debt rescheduling negotiations between Ethiopia and China. This could be an issue where Berlin can see eye to eye with Brussels. The latter believes appeals for debt relief, submitted by Ethiopia, Chad and Zambia, should have a decision based on “technical analysis rather than politics.”


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