Brussels has called on member states to honour their aid commitments as their contributions to the world’s poorest countries fell by €2.3 billion in 2012, according to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report published yesterday (3 April).
This was the second consecutive yearly drop in overseas aid, sparking fears that the EU may fail to meet its 2015 United Nations commitment of allocating 0.7% gross national income (GNI) to aid.
Last year, EU members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC), a group of 25 wealthy OECD countries, donated €50.5 billion in official development assistance (ODA) compared to €52.8bn in 2011. The European Union as a whole gave €55.1bn in 2012, a fall of €1.1bn on the previous year, according to OECD figures.
EU countries donated 0.39% of GNI to overseas aid, down from 0.42% in 2012. The EU as a collective donated 0.43%, down from 0.45% the year before.
Andris Piebalgs, the European commissioner for development, said in a statement: “It is with regret that I see some member states carrying out reductions of their ODA budgets. The EU is still the leading donor, but we are not moving in the direction of reaching our collective target of providing 0.7% of the EU Gross National Income (GNI) for development purposes.”
All but two EU countries – Austria (+6.1%) and Luxembourg (+9.8%) – made cuts to their aid budget. Austerity-hit Spain (-49.7%), Italy (-34.7%), Greece (-17%), Portugal (-13.1%) reduced their development aid by more than any other DAC members.
Larger European aid donors Germany (-0.7%), France (-1.0%), and the United Kingdom -2.2%) also made small overall reductions to overseas aid.
The OECD and the European Commission blamed the financial crisis and eurozone turmoil for the reduction, as many countries struggled to balance their national budgets.
“I realise some EU countries are in a dramatic situation due to the ongoing crisis but we need to deliver on our commitments”, Piebalgs said.
Only Austria (+6.1%) and Luxembourg (+9.8%) increased their aid contributions, due to debt relief operations with sub-Saharan Africa and an increase in bilateral grants, respectively.
The EU executive said only Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, and the Netherlands had already met the 0.7% GNI target.
The OECD underlined that the UK reduction reflected budget allocations put in place to ensure that the government contributed 0.56% of GNI in 2012 and 0.7% of GNI from 2013 towards ODA, in keeping with the UN aid targets.
DAC countries outside of the EU fared better, with Korea (+17.6%), Australia (+9.1%), and Canada (+4.1%) increasing their aid sizably, due to a scaling up of their aid programmes and an increase in bilaterals grants, in Canada's case.
In total the 25 DAC members donated €97.8 billion in net ODA, a 4% reduction compared to 2011, when it dropped by 2%. This amounted to 0.29% of their combined gross national income.
The EU remained the world’s largest aid donor, providing more than half of the OECD's ODA.
European ministers have agreed to pledge €58.7 billion for external aid from the EU budget over the 2014-2020 period, compared to the €70 billion initially proposed by the Commission.
The EU executive sees aid as a long-term investment. “As the current situation in the Sahel region or in the Horn of Africa reminds us, it is more efficient to invest in development and eliminate the root causes of poverty than deal with its symptoms further down the line”, Piebalgs said.
A Eurobarometer survey from October last year, said that 85% of polled EU citizens believed that Europe should continue donating aid to developing countries.