EU 'must not fail' on overseas aid


European countries have "no right to fail" in their commitments to poorer nations, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid has said.

Andris Piebalgs told a conference organised by Trócaire that EU countries had promised to meet the target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNP on development aid on many occasions and should do so despite the global economic downturn.

Speaking at a Dublin event to discuss Trócaire's Leading Edge 2020 document about the future for international non-government organisations, he warned that the credibility of donor countries was on the line.

"If you don't do this, it is not just the projects that it will fail. If there is no trust, there is no success. If you promise you should deliver," he said.

Mr Piebalgs, who is an ex-Latvian finance minister said he would impressing upon the Irish Government that it should make the commitment to the 0.7 per cent target despite the financial position facing the country.

He noted that Ireland's contribution peaked at 0.59 per cent in 2009, the first full year of the recession and the development aid budget had been disproportionately cut since.

Mr Piebalgs said it was not the "billions in promises" that saved lives but the millions in actual aid.

The EU accounts for 60 per cent of the world's development aid budget. To date only EU countries have met the development aid target. Ireland is behind Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg but ahead of the rest of the EU in terms of the percentage of its GNP that it gives to the developing world.

Mr Piebalgs conceded that the results of 50 years of development cooperation were "simply not good enough", but the Lisbon Treaty had set out clearly defined goals for Official Development Aid and how money should be spent in a way that is consistent with the EU's policies on trade, energy and agriculture.

Mr Piebalgs said he was also in favour of significantly scaling aid back to three of the four so-called Bric nations (Brazil, India and China) who have received support in the past.

That would leave the EU free to focus on countries which need aid the most.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Piebalgs said he did not share the pessimistic prognosis in the Leading Edge document about the influence of China particularly in Africa. It is seen as buying up natural resources in an unaccountable fashion and propping up dictatorial regimes.

The commissioner said the EU should use China's participation in developing countries as an advantage rather than a drawback. "I see it as a challenge how to use this for the advancement of developing countries."

Speaking at the same launch, the new Minister of State for Trade and Development Jan O'Sullivan said the Government was committed to the 0.7 GNP target by 2015.

However, she conceded this goal would be "difficult to achieve" and it was imperative that the aid given was used to maximise the impact on poor people and communities.