EU countries top development policy charts

A farmer in Uganda. Agriculture and development are very closely linked. [Department of Foreign Affairs/Flickr]

EU countries lead the way when it comes to development policy, according to a new report by a US-based think-tank. Eleven EU countries dominate the top-12 of the Commitment to Development Index published by the Center for Global Development on Tuesday (18 September).

Sweden, Denmark and Germany are the top three in the annual index by the Washington-based think-tank, which ranks 27 wealthy countries based on their policies on aid, finance, technology, environment, trade, security and migration.

That marks the first time that a country in the G7 has been placed in the top three, and suggests that Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, has emerged as a leading player in the development community.

Whose aid is it anyway?

To the generation brought up on the LiveAid and Live8 concerts, development aid is a moral obligation as well as a policy tool.

Last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel put development, particularly improved trade and investment links with Africa, at the heart of her government’s G20 presidency.

As well as generous aid policies, countries score well if they promote financial transparency, have low barriers to trade for developing countries, and have migration policies which are open and promote integration. Environmental protection and contributions to peacekeeping missions and avoiding arms sales to poor and undemocratic nations also contribute to the rankings.

“One of the goals is to show that there is more to development than aid,” Anita Käppeli, director of policy outreach and one of the authors of the report, told EURACTIV.com.

The United States, meanwhile, is ranked in 23rd place, the same position it held last year.

Donald Trump’s administration has shown little interest in development policy. The State Department has seen its budget slashed and a number of top diplomatic positions, including those covering African affairs, have only recently been filled.

However, that apparent lack of interest translated into few policy changes, with the US aid budget falling from 0.19% in the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency to 0.18% of gross national income in 2017.

“Last year we were still seeing the Obama data…the ranking hasn’t changed so far under Trump,” said Käppeli.

However, the data does not yet account for the US’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement or the impact of the Trump administration’s imposition of trade tariffs, which will hurt many developing countries.

“We will probably see a change (in the US’s position) next year or in 2020,” said Käppeli.

Käppeli pointed out that there is still a divide between west and north European countries and their typically poorer counterparts in central, southern and eastern Europe.

Poland and Greece are the lowest ranked of the 19 EU countries in the survey.

Portugal is the “positive outlier in the south”, said Käppeli, who praised the Lisbon government for its environment and open migration policies.

The UK, traditionally one of the EU’s leading players in development policy, dropped one place to 7th in the index, and Käppeli agreed that its exit from the EU, due next March, will change the development policy debate in Europe.

“I do expect big changes,” said Käppeli, but she believes that they will not necessarily be negative for developing countries.

“Brexit could actually be an opportunity to be more open on migration from poor countries because migration from the EU will have to be replaced,” she said, adding that the UK’s exit from the EU could lead to a drop in its agricultural subsidies and more open trade relations with developing countries.

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