Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels

Nairobi, Kenya  ©Sam Tarling / Oxfam GB
Nairobi, Kenya
©Sam Tarling / Oxfam GB

By Hilary Jeune, Oxfam’s EU policy advisor

The leadership of a handful of countries is masking the failure of the majority of European governments to deliver on their overseas aid promises, as shown today by new figures for overseas aid spending by EU-19 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In times of ballooning challenges for the world’s poorest, it is striking that European overseas aid has stagnated. This picture would be worse if it were not for the leadership of a handful of countries such as the UK, Sweden, Luxembourg and Denmark, masking the poor performance of the majority. Wealthy countries, such as France and Austria, have failed to uphold their commitments to the world’s most vulnerable people.

France has cut its aid budget for the fourth year in a row and Spain overseas aid spending is at its lowest level since 1989. Germany and Finland have made some progress but they are still off track to reach their commitments. Disappointingly, the Netherlands is no longer part of the 0.7% league.
As flat overseas aid is also increasingly used to pay for climate preparedness and low carbon development in developing countries, it’s clear that Europe is using the same pot of money to pay for multiple purposes, and hence robbing Peter to pay Paul.

European governments first promised to deliver 0.7 per cent of their national income to support poor countries when Richard Nixon was President of America and the Beatles were topping the charts. In the 45 years since only a handful of EU countries have delivered on this promise. Yet with some one billion people still living in poverty and climate change posing huge new development challenges the need for overseas aid is greater than ever before.

Aid is vitally important. Between 2000 and 2012 overseas aid prevented the deaths of an estimated 3 million children under the age of five from malaria. In the next decade aid could help build health services needed to halt the spread of another Ebola-type outbreak. Aid can also help poor countries clamp down on corporate tax evasion and unlock billions of dollars to invest in tackling poverty and inequality.

Key decision-making moments this year

This year the global community should agree ambitious new development goals and a new deal for tackling climate change. Europe needs to up its game and ensure the Finance for Development Meeting in Addis, Ethiopia, in July provides the money that is needed to tackle these multiple challenges.

In Addis, EU Finance Ministers should demonstrate genuine leadership by being the first ones to re-commit to providing 0.7% of national income as overseas aid and outline how they will deliver on this promise including setting a clear timetable. They must also put new money on the table from their budgets and from new sources like financial transactions taxes and the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme to help poor countries cope with the devastating impacts of climate change.

What’s clear is that meeting aid promises is a matter of political will.

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