European development aid: What you need to know

The future of European development cooperation will gain clarity in 2011, when the European Union is expected to unveil a sweeping overhaul of its development policy. Photo by: European Union

Aid programs of the European Union and its member states are going through major shifts. Fueled by austerity measures due to lingering financial calamities, some European donors have announced aid budget cuts and development policy overhauls that will begin to take effect in 2011.

Aid reforms in countries such as the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Spain and Italy often involve a reduction of partner countries or focus sectors.

Germany’s center-right ruling coalition, meanwhile, is merging the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the German Development Service (DED) and Inwent to boost aid efficiency as part of the country’s largest foreign assistance reform in years.

In the United Kingdom, the barely year-old coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron has so far made good on its pledge to ring-fence foreign aid spending amid government-wide budget cuts. The U.K.’s focus on aid transparency and value for money, however, has raised some eyebrows domestically, as it promises an even tougher competition among civil society organizations seeking U.K. funding.

Several European donors, including the U.K. and Germany, have advanced measures to cut development assistance for developing countries with fast-growing economies, such as India and China.

But few are on track with meeting the internationally agreed-upon target of allocating 0.7 percent of their gross national incomes to development cooperation – despite assurances by European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs that this goal “is reasonable, it is necessary, and, basically, it has our citizens’ support.”

Non-governmental organizations across Europe are criticizing the aid funding cuts advancing across the continent. In Austria, for instance, NGOs have called the government’s move “deadly.” The country is among those whose aid levels fell in 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Civil society groups have also voiced concerns about what they view as a trend among donors to subordinate development assistance to political or security interests. Such was the case in early 2010, when the European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development, or Concord, threatened to sue the EU over an alleged plot for the European External Action Service to take charge of the regional bloc’s development cooperation.

The European Parliament had to step in to decree that development aid would continue to be independent from the EU’s foreign policy. The EEASofficially commenced work on Dec. 1 under the controversial High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, after months of intra-EU squabbles over the diplomatic corps’s composition and budget.

Speaking to Devex on the sidelines of the 2010 European Development Days, Koos Richelle, EuropeAid’s director-general since 2004, acknowledged that the transfer of geographical bureaus and country experts to EEAS, and a subsequent merger by the EU’s aid policy and implementation arms, DG Development and EuropeAid, in late October would affect the latter’s work.

The new setup within the commission, Richelle hinted, may create jobs for those interested in international development. Already, EU citizens with international development-related expertise are in high demand among EU institutions – whether as full-time staff, fixed contract employees, or individual experts.

Those seeking full-time or fixed-contract employment with EuropeAid and most other EU entities must go through open competitions administered by the European Personnel Selection Office. Qualified candidates are added to a reserve list that is consulted whenever suitable vacancies arise.

ECHO, meanwhile, uses an online application process not operated by EPSO, offering a range of opportunities for humanitarian relief experts.

Aid reforms are likely to continue as European donors react to political and financial pressure as well as emerging donors in Brazil, the Mideast and beyond. For the EU in particular, 2011 promises to be significant: Not only will the EEAS take shape, but Piebalgs, the bloc’s aid commissioner, plans to unveil an aid reform paper that is expected to discuss hot-button questions such as how international donors can strengthen developing countries’ tax bases and promote blended grant-and-loan-based aid instruments.

Piebalgs has already issued a green paper on the future of the bloc’s development cooperation that stresses aid effectiveness, sustainable development, inclusive growth and lasting agricultural and food security gains. A Dec. 9 meeting with the Council of the European Union and a public consultation on the green paper, launched in November, should inform the final proposal the European Commission expects to release in the second half of 2011.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.

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