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Aid a soft target as EU agrees budget

EU flag at the European Parliament. Photo: Flickr/European Parliament.Spending promises on overseas aid are among the easiest to make and the easiest to break. The world's wealthiest countries promised to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid back in 1970. It is difficult to keep track of how many times that promise has been repeated by European governments, which, with few exceptions, have never yet met the target. (The United States and Japan are less known for repeating their 1970 commitment as they are even further from the target than the European average.)

Nevertheless, there had been hope that EU members would finally meet the 0.7% target in 2015. The latest budget agreement suggest that development aid is still seen as a soft target in European capitals.

The EU budget agreed today (February 8) included substantial cuts compared with the budget proposed by the European Commission in 2011:

The EU Commission proposed €70 billion for ‘Global Europe’ over 7 years (2014-20).
Agreed: €58.704bn
Cut: 16% / €11.296bn

The EU Commission proposed €30.319 billion for the European Development Fund (EDF) over 7 years (2014-20).
Agreed: €26.984bn
Cut: 11% / €3.335bn

‘Global Europe’ includes the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and the Humanitarian Aid Instrument, which together comprise over 30% of its budget.

Almost all of the European Development Fund is directed towards low-income countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the announcement was welcomed by the Irish Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello in a release which said that the agreement will see the EU’s budget for international development increase by almost 5% over the period 2014 to 2020. “Today’s announcement ensures that the EU will remain the largest provider of overseas assistance this decade. This is a very positive outcome, particularly in the context of the difficult economic conditions which are affecting us all,” he said.

These figures published by the EU do not show a full breakdown but ‘Global Europe’ spending is up 3.3% compared with 2007-13, while the EDF is up by 0.6% compared with the last 7 year agreement.

The Irish Association of Development NGOs, Dóchas, UK umbrella group Bond and the advocacy group ONE expressed concern regarding the implications of the EU budget and prospects of meeting the 0.7% target. However, Dóchas credited the campaigns of citizens and development NGOs for having at least some impact in preventing cuts in real terms to development aid. Oxfam's EU office and OECD Secretary General, José Ángel Gurría, said that the financial crisis should not be used as an excuse.

Prior to the negotiations, Dóchas published a briefing paper arguing that Europe's aid programme was of a very high quality and had helped tens of millions of people over the last decade.

Nevertheless, the aid components of the budget proposed by the EU Commission appear to have suffered double digit cuts compared to the budget as a whole, which was cut by about 7%, from €1.03 trillion to €960 billion.

It now remains to be seen whether or not the European Parliament will approve the budget.

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