Piebalgs presses EU nations to live up to aid promises


Europe's overseas aid commissioner urged rich nations not to renege on their commitments to help the world's poor people, even as EU capitals grapple with their own financing problems.

"A number of member states, for very understandable but for regrettable reasons, have scaled back their ambitions," Andris Piebalgs, the development commissioner, said in a speech on Monday (17 December). "This will make meeting our 0.7% pledge more of a challenge."

In 2000, the EU's 15 countries vowed to devote at least 0.7% of their gross national income to development aid by 2015, which coincides with pledges to help developing nations cut poverty by half under the UN Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. A lower threshold, 0.33% of GNI, was set for the 12 countries that joined the EU since 2004.

But today's economic and sovereign debt crises mean that few EU countries are on course to meet the goals. The EuropeAid budget also faces cuts after 2013 despite the EU's growing list of promises to help the least developed countries through improvements in health, education, nutrition and access to energy and water.

Testifying before the European Parliament's foreign development committee, Piebalgs urged MEPs to join him in pressing national leaders to spend more overseas. "All the member [states], even in these challenging times, know that development cooperation can yield more and better results for those who need it most."

Several countries, including debt-plagued Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland, have cut aid spending, data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show. Austerity measures could cost the EU’s aid budget nearly €10 billion for the seven-year period running from 2014 to 2020 under the latest proposals being discussed by EU leaders at their November summit in Brussels.

Four nations – Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and Luxembourg – have exceeded the 0.7% target, OECD figures show. Europe’s two biggest economies – Germany (0.40%) and France (.046% ) – spent less of as a percentage of GNI on foreign aid than Ireland (0.52%) in 2011.

Not ready to surrender

Despite evidence that many European capitals are failing in their aid spending, Piebalgs said: "We cannot give up … As soon as we lose the courage, it will be the end of the story."

"Each country should have a credible plan to reach 0.7% because if GNI is smaller, then the amount is smaller."

Several MEPs also criticised the failure of national governments to dig deeper into their pockets to help poor countries.

"We need to have a go at the countries that are not doing their part," said Charles Goerens, a Liberal Democrat from Luxemboug, adding: "Everything needs to be done to eradicate poverty."

"We can't put up with people saying, no can't do. It's the sort of thing that the commission has to react."

Piebalgs outlined the commission's development priorities for 2013, including:

  • A plan for sustainable development and fighting poverty before a key international meeting on a successor to the MDGs. That meeting is to take place in New York under UN leadership in September.
  • Proposals to help the least development countries that are failing to meet MDGs on improving health, education as well as access to water, sanitation and energy.
  • A food security plan to address hunger and nutritional problems in developing countries.

Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs unveiled the Agenda for Change in October 2011, saying it would give more attention to the poorest countries as well as the former Soviet countries on the EU's Eastern flank – reflecting a policy priority of Poland, which held the rotating EU presidency at the time.

But in doing so, emerging countries like India and Brazil could see the gradual loss of development assistance, nations with robust economies but serious poverty. Aid campaigners welcomed the agenda’s focus on the least developed countries, but also fear it could undermine efforts to improve livelihoods in emerging countries that still have large pockets of poverty.

The United Nations has estimated that up to $60 billion is needed annually for the poorest countries if they are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by 2015. The EU is collectively the largest aid donor, providing $86 billion (€66 billion) from national governments and EU institutions – or 55% of the world total in 2011, according to OECD figures.

  • Sept. 2013: UN Summit in New York to follow up on efforts to achieve the MDGs

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