Speech by Commissioner Urpilainen at the High-Level Plenary of the EU-AFD Ministerial Conference on Inequalities, 22/03/2021

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I became a politician to fight against inequalities.

My reasoning is simple.

No one chooses where they are born. Who their parents are.

But as policymakers, we can work to ensure that one’s origin does not pre-destine one to a life of inequalities.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact on health systems, societies and economies, has been like an x-ray.

It has exposed inequalities.

It has hit the most vulnerable, making it harder to “leave no one behind”.

So, it is clear that we have to respond.

As Commissioner for International Partnerships, I am putting the fight against inequalities at the heart of our international cooperation.

We must tackle inequalities by making them a crosscutting objective.

We must address economic, social and environmental inequalities working closely with countries and international partners.

So let me explain my vision for tackling inequalities in three points.


Firstly, a fair economy and fiscal policy especially.

Opportunities are balanced with obligations.

If everyone pays their fair share of taxes, there are more opportunities for education, public health systems and social protection.

The EU stands fully behind the Addis Tax Initiative to raise more domestic revenue and improve tax systems to address inequalities.

We need institutions that work for people.

We have already seen how domestic resource mobilisation can improve through the introduction of performance indicators in EU budget support programmes.

In countries in Africa, it increased tax to GDP ratios by 2 percentage points between 2015 and 2019.

Alongside raising more revenue, we must fight tax evasion, illicit financial flows and corruption, to curb economic inequality.

We estimate more than EUR 70 billion outflows from Illicit Financial Flows from Africa alone. This figure speaks volumes.

To give perspective: this alone could bridge half of the continent’s SDG financing gap.

We need to turn this tide together with our partners.

Fiscal policy is an issue of national sovereignty. Every country must find its own inclusive reforms, that strengthen the middle class and also address the informal sector.

As partners, we can help assess systems, build capacity, provide expertise to implement and share best practices.

We will also support civil society as the vital watchdogs.

And of course, we must ourselves walk the talk.

For the EU, this means, for example, that we move ahead on country-by-country reporting of taxes by multinational companies to combat tax evasion and avoidance.


My second point is about investing in people and planet.

Human development, especially quality education, is one of the most powerful equalisers in society.

The pandemic has disrupted the education of hundreds of millions of children around the world.

There is a real risk that many of them – girls in particular – may never return to school.

This is why I have decided to increase spending on education in partner countries from 7% to 10%.

This will reach every girl and every boy, support teacher’s training and help match skills with jobs.

As important as human development, is the future of the planet we call home.

Climate change and environmental degradation increase inequalities, affecting poorer countries and communities across the world first and hardest.

The European Green Deal is an ambitious growth strategy.

It accelerates the transition towards a low-carbon and sustainable future that leaves no one behind.

As Commissioner, I will harness the EU’s partnerships worldwide for a truly global green and fair transition for all.

The important question: how will we achieve these commitments?

We are now programming our actions for the next seven years with our new Global Europe NDICI instrument.

This is a huge opportunity to mainstream inequalities and put the fight against inequalities at the heart of our action.

And I want to do it in the most effective way, together with EU Member States.

Our Team Europe way of working will be instrumental for the push for greater equality and equity both in partner countries and globally.

Team Europe emerged at the start of the pandemic. We needed scale, coordination and focus to support partners with maximum impact.

It is now part of the fabric of our external actions.

We have now an opportunity to develop Team Europe Initiatives as equality flagships.

So, we count on Member States, including France, and development finance institutions, to help make that happen.


Then third and final point.

One of the greatest inequalities is the feeling that you do not belong.

Sustainable development and equal opportunities depend on democracy. On strong institutions, social inclusion and participation.

This is why fighting inequalities also means investing in functioning states and resilient societies.

With our new Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, we are committed to promote democratic values.

This means healthy institutions and thriving civil society and media.

It also means empowering youth and women and ensuring their participation in the decision-making process.

There will be no sustainable global recovery without them in the driving seat.


Dear Colleagues,

I would like to end by thanking the EU-AFD Research Facility for your insightful and thorough work.

With the tools and methods you have developed, we will be able to increase the impact of our international cooperation on reducing inequalities.

SDG 10, the first global goal dedicated to reducing inequalities, unites us.

We have the vision, the policies, the partnerships and the tools.

Now, it is up to us to make this change happen.