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Miserly move

Development (Aid)
European Union

The European Commission (EC) spent three-quarters of its development aid on low-income countries during the 1980s. Now those same countries receive barely half. The shift has come despite a European Union (EU) commitment to bring half of the world’s poor out of extreme poverty by 2015.

Shifting the balance – Europe slashes aid.


It is a shift that must be reversed, according to a growing number of voices. Amongst them is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its Development Assistance Committee calls into question ‘how far the EC policy on poverty is reflected in the allocation of aid resources’. The report says: ‘The EC allocates a lower proportion of its resources to lower-income countries than most other donors and there has been a trend for this share to fall over recent years.’

Europe’s international development spending matters because of its size. The EC is the world’s fifth-largest development assistance donor, with a current annual budget of $5.3 billion.

Back in 1995, the European Union chose to allocate a great deal of aid to the southern Mediterranean and North Africa – known as the Meda countries in EU jargon. The decision was based on geopolitics, not the principle of greatest need. As a result, current EC aid spending shows such vast discrepancies as Morocco receiving eight times the per-capita aid of Bangladesh and Ethiopia.

‘The implications of those decisions weren’t really thought through then, but now that it’s obvious, I hope people will try to readjust the balance,’ says Helen O’Connell of One World Action. Her organization is among those joining the clamour against the EC’s spending priorities. It was part of a delegation representing some of the biggest UK-based aid agencies – including Oxfam, Save the Children Fund, Christian Aid and the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development – that submitted a report blaming the EC for ‘ill-judged decisions’ when it set its financial guidelines for 1993-99.

They call for the EC to fix its minimum spending on poor countries at 62 per cent of its development budget, the average among EU member states. ‘There’s a really strong group of like-minded states that are supporting more spending on the poor,’ says O’Connell. ‘I think something will happen because most people can recognize that it’s inequitable at the moment. The real challenge is the southern European countries, which are concerned about the Meda countries, and Germany and Austria, who are concerned about their near neighbours in the east.’

*Mike Crawley/Gemini News Service*

New Internationalist issue 311 magazine cover This article is from the April 1999 issue of New Internationalist.
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