The flow of aid from Europe to the world’s poorest countries fell by €700-million last year, the first drop for almost a decade, as the crisis in the single currency caused 14 member states to cut development assistance.
Figures from the advocacy group One indicated that Europe had failed to meet pledges made at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 and it warned that growing budget austerity had “spilled over into life-saving programmes”.
The One campaign, a charity co-founded by rock star Bono and supported by Bob Geldof, said the European Union was way off track to meet its 2015 deadline for devoting 0.7% of its annual output to aid and expressed concern that the commitment would be dropped in the current negotiations in Brussels to decide spending between 2014 and 2020.
One’s annual “Data Report” showed that two of the countries worst affected by the sovereign debt crisis – Greece and Spain – slashed their aid budgets by 40% and 30% respectively between 2010 and 2011 as EU financial assistance dropped by 1.5%.
Ireland and Portugal, both of which required bailouts from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, made only small 3% reductions in their aid budgets, whereas Italy posted a 25% increase.
Adrian Lovett, Europe executive director of One, said: “Huge cuts in aid from Greece and Spain are not unexpected in this time of turmoil, but the poor record across the board is worrying. Countries such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Ireland demonstrate that it is possible through determined leadership and smart choices to protect aid budgets. Their example must be replicated.”
One said that the EU had fallen £18-billion short of the aid pledge made at Gleneagles and had increased aid to Africa by only £5-billion rather than the £16-billion promised. Despite increases by Italy and Germany, both countries had fallen well short of their targets.
“As European leaders mobilise huge sums to bail out their close neighbours, they must not forget their promises to Africa,” said Lovett. “The deal struck to protect Spain’s banks this month is five times what would be needed to get Europe back on track with its aid promises.
“Although real progress has been made in Africa in recent years, the fact remains that millions of people still rely on life-saving programmes funded by smart aid.”
One’s analysis showed that the UK remained on course to meet its 2013 target for increasing aid to 0.7% of national output. “David Cameron deserves real credit for his firm promise to reach the 0.7% target next year,” said Lovett. “It is vital that he uses his upcoming G8 presidency [in 2013] and negotiations over the next European budget to ensure all donors keep their promises.”
The secretary of state for international development, Andrew Mitchell, said: “Countless lives will be put at risk if rich countries start to shirk their responsibilities to the poorest. Cutting aid is shortsighted and only serves to damage our own national interests as well as the lives of the very poorest.
“Britain remains firmly on track to meet its aid pledge and EU leaders have an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to 0.7% when they meet in Brussels from June 28.”
Europe’s leaders are haggling over proposals for a €1-trillion budget for 2014 to 2020. €51-billion of that has been earmarked for development. Some countries, including Britain, want the budget to be cut by 10%. Lovett said that aid should be ring-fenced if this were to happen.
One said that documents prepared for this week’s EU summit made no mention of the 0.7% pledge, the first time it had been omitted since 2007.
A separate report from AidWatch, which represents development groups in all 27 EU member states, had findings similar to the One study. It said that cutting aid was “becoming a habit”. Eleven countries had cut assistance in 2011 and nine were planning further reductions this year.
The AidWatch report singled out the two biggest countries in the eurozone – Germany and France – for backsliding on the commitments that they had made and said it was worrying that 14% of EU aid – €7.35-billion – did not reach developing countries.
“People need to be able to trust that aid is making a difference. It should be transparent and truly reach the poorest in developing countries,” said Caroline Kroeker, from World Vision International. “If not, how can we guarantee sustainable results? – © Guardian News & Media 2012