Campaigner: Crisis dwarfs EU’s development aid


EU’s collective aid levels went down last year and Germany, France and Italy are responsible for 68% of the funding gap. Meanwhile, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria and Greece have achieved less than 25% of their spending promises made to Africa, says Eloise Todd.

Co-founded by Bono and other activists, ONE is a grassroots advocacy and campaigning organisation that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. EURACTIV Senior Editor Georgi Gotev spoke to Eloise Todd, who heads the Brussels office of ONE.

EU has always been the most generous donor of development aid worldwide. Did the eurozone crisis impact negatively on this tradition? And if so, how exactly?

There has been an impact. ONE’s Data Report shows that the EU’s collective aid levels went down last year for the first time since 2002, while some big donors have slashed their aid budgets. For example, the Spanish government cut their budget by nearly 30% from 2010 to 2011, and proposed a further cut of €1.4 billion for 2012. Budget projections by the European Commission suggest there will be further cuts by other countries too.

But this would be the worst time to scale back the fight against extreme poverty. Despite real progress in recent years, and more evidence than ever before that aid is working, there are still over a billion people still living in extreme poverty.

There are reasons for optimism, however. Countries such as the UK remain firmly on track to meet their aid commitments, having taken the political decision to ensure that austerity cutbacks should not cost lives. And the Netherlands has maintained their strong record on development assistance throughout the eurozone crisis.

Supporting the proposed levels of development funding in the next Multiannual Financial Framework [the EU budget] presents an opportunity to help countries to get closer to their aid targets. Governments have many issues to deal with in these negotiations, but we want to see governments protecting effective development investments. That means keeping the proposals made by the Commission for Heading 4 and the European Development Fund intact.

Are there important differences among EU member states, and especially among the 15 older member states, with regard to development aid? Are some of them becoming stingy? Would you name and shame some of the countries?

ONE’s Data Report, published today, looks in detail at how the EU as a whole and individual member states are performing against their aid targets. On the overall aid target of 0.7% of gross national income (GNI), progress is mixed. There are four countries already exceeding 0.7% GNI – the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden – and their efforts should be applauded and encouraged to continue. And Cyprus and Malta are making excellent progress towards the 0.33% GNI target that was set for the EU12 when they acceded to the Union.

However, the main focus of the Data Report is assessing the progress that’s been made towards African targets. In 2005, the EU committed to spending half of all aid increases in Africa. Our analysis shows that we are very far off this goal. In 2010, the EU missed the collective interim target for spending in Africa by €10.5 billion. Just three countries – Germany, France and Italy – are responsible for 68% of this funding gap. Along with these three countries, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria and Greece have achieved less than 25% of their spending promises made to Africa.

But rather than “name and shame” individual countries, we want to “name and explain” why effective ODA matters and encourage them to step up and do the right thing. Investing more in Africa and in effective development mechanisms will not only save lives – it is also in our own long-term interest. It is only by supporting poorer countries to provide these vital services that we will enable people to escape from the cycle of extreme poverty once and for all, and eventually end the need for aid altogether which is something we all want to see.

While MFF talks are ongoing, what are the messages you are trying to convey? Do you see the European Commission as being at your side, or perhaps what it has to say is not so important today?

Aid spent via the European Union institutions is amongst the most effective out there. According to an independent study run by Washington’s Center for Global Development, the EU institutions score higher than member state aid agencies on average in all areas of aid effectiveness. Since 2004, EU aid has been responsible for vaccinating over 5 million children against measles, has resulted in 9 million kids being enrolled in school, and has connected 31 million people to water. These are impressive statistics, and provide only a snapshot of what EU aid can achieve. Strong levels of development spending in the MFF can not only help deliver effective aid to those most in need, but it can also bring member states much closer to their aid targets; on average EU member states spend around 20% of their aid via the EU institutions.

We are fully supportive of the Commission proposals both for Heading 4 (all external spending) and for the European Development Fund for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. We are particularly interested in protecting the €21 billion earmarked for the poorest countries within Heading 4 (the Development Cooperation Instrument) as well as the €30 billion earmarked for the EDF. We are calling on governments to rally round and protect this €51 billion, which is less than 5% of the overall MFF, in order to ensure that cutbacks do not cost lives.

EU countries tussle what should come first – austerity or growth – what would be your advice?

It’s not an either or. We need the MFF to be invested in the most effective way possible. For those with a long-term view, this means as much investment in vulnerable countries as possible – not only for the sake of continuing Europe’s proud record of being the world’s leader in development, but because it’s in our own long-term economic interest. Africa, with its growing economies and expanding middle classes, offers fantastic opportunities for trade – but these opportunities will only be realised if we continue to provide the smart aid that creates the conditions for further economic growth.

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