Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

By Hilary Jeune, Oxfam’s EU policy advisor

When 2015 was declared the European Year of Development, it was seen as an ideal opportunity for the European Union (EU) to raise awareness on the bloc’s role in lifting people out of poverty. Yet with the calendars counting down fast, this commitment now appears to be more ‘hot air’ than actual assistance – lots of bluster that simply never materializes on the ground.

This doubt has been brought further into the spotlight today by the release of CONCORD’s new AidWatch report, Aid Beyond 2015: Europe’s role in financing and implementing sustainable development goals post 2015.

What’s the problem?

The report shows the EU’s approach to development aid could do with a breath of fresh air. Despite the growing number and scale of humanitarian and development challenges being broadcast on news outlets across Europe, the EU’s development funding still has a €41 billion hole in it – an amount which could pay for the EU’s current Ebola response to be expanded over forty times.

The EU has also deliberately over counted the amount of aid transferred to developing countries, inflating the figure by €5.2 billion in 2013. Both EU governments and institutions did this by including funding for student and refugee costs, as well as other domestic programs and interest on developmental loans in their overseas aid spending. To claim this interest on already cancelled debt as development aid is staggering when you consider that some EU countries made over €1 billion in interest on loans to developing countries in 2013, with France alone receiving €239 million in interest from development loans at a time when French aid budgets were being slashed. Such actions mean that while global aid appears to have slightly increased, actual aid to the world’s poorest countries – particularly in Africa – will drop by around 5% until 2016.

What are the solutions?

Despite this pessimism surrounding the EU’s development contributions, next year will present the opportunity for both EU governments and institutions to redeem themselves by ensuring a genuine commitment to combating global poverty and inequality.

Firstly, the EU should ensure that upcoming changes to the definition of developmental aid specify that aid is used to eradicate poverty and puts people first, rather than creating new ways for donors to artificially inflate the amount they actually give.

Secondly, both member states and institutions need to prove their mettle and recommit to the aid targets they have so far failed to achieve. Only Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark and the UK have met the 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) target spent on development funding, with half of the EU member states projected to miss the 0.56% target set for 2010. If the EU wants to create a positive incentive for increased global funding for the world’s poorest, it needs to set a far better international example.

Finally, the EU should recommit to aid effectiveness principles and make sure that its contribution has a positive and sustainable impact on the lives of the world’s poorest people.

The EU may have failed to keep its funding promises to help combat global poverty, but with the 2015 European Year of Development fast approaching there is time yet for Europe to shake off the funding cobwebs, turn it’s rhetoric into reality and help improve the lives of poor people the world over.

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