A rare spotlight falls on EU aid

Tuesday 1 May 2012

The UK Parliamentary select committee on international development has issued a report on EU aid.

While this report commends much of the EU’s development assistance, it also highlights changes thought necessary to secure better development results.

Too much to too wealthy?

The select committee argues that the EU gives too much of its aid to relatively well-off, middle-income countries.

The report acknowledges that the EU’s Agenda for Change proposed “differentiation” will see 19 middle-income countries lose their geographically based EU assistance.

Yet, these countries include India where, despite an increasing national wealth, a large portion of the world’s impoverished still live.

But the countries set to lose EU aid don’t include the specific targets of the select committee’s ire – Serbia and Turkey.

And the debate as to whether middle-income countries such as India and Turkey should receive EU aid actually highlights a deeper debate on the motivation for aid, what it is expected to achieve, and who should benefit from it.

Helping your neighbour
It’s not clear in the report whether the select committee is against the EU support to Turkey and Serbia altogether, or just against it being defined as aid and counting to the 0.7% target.

The aims of this “neighbourhood policy” are to provide the EU and its neighbours greater prosperity, stability and security. It also forms part of the support to prepare adjacent countries for EU membership.

Solidarity or aid?
Ironically if EU membership becomes a reality for Turkey or Serbia, much greater sums are likely to flow from the UK to the poorest in both countries.

This would not be via “aid” but via the internal EU budget under the structural funds for which poorer areas of the EU – the UK included – receive project funding.

The poor that benefit from such funding are no less deserving because of where they live, whether that be in Newcastle, Tower Hamlets, Naples or Vilnius.

Similarly, the poor in India are not less deserving of aid than those in sub-Saharan Africa, a fact recognised by the same select committee in a report into DIFD funding to India.

So the question should be whether funds destined to aid the poorest motivated by solidarity, necessarily need to be labelled as aid.

And if those distributed within the EU aren’t labelled aid, why should those designed to enable membership be given the same label as humanitarian assistance to those affected by drought and hunger?

Aid label: whose choice?
The report could have been more critical of those who define aid – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) – and the UK minister that refuses to use their negotiating power within OECD DAC to alter the definitions.

But it could have also asked why the European Commission reports its neighbourhood policy budget lines to the OECD DAC when it could choose not to.

Andris Piebalgs, the European Commissioner for Development has responded to the report – but his response does not include a promise to redefine EU neighbourhood policy support and exclude it from the EU submission to the OECD DAC.


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