In EU, 0.7 percent aid target under threat

European Union flags outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, Belgium. The EU committed to spend 0.7 percent of GNI on ODA at a U.N. General Assembly in 1970, with this pledge renewed in 2005 when EU member states committed to reaching the target by 2015. Photo by: Thijs ter Haar / CC BY

European governments could drop their aid pledge to developing countries — known as the 0.7 percent aid target — as disagreements between member states ahead of the May 26 Foreign Affairs Council threaten to derail the EU’s historic anti-poverty commitment, Devex has learned.

Negotiations among EU ministers on “A New Global Partnership for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development after 2015” have stalled, including the recommitment to the 0.7 percent of gross national income target for official development assistance.

According to a Brussels insider who spoke to Devex under condition of anonymity, no consensus has been reached and member state delegations cannot agree on a deadline to reach the 0.7 percent target.

There are a number of sticking points, according to the well-placed source.

Negotiations were originally set to be finalized last week, including agreement on a deadline for achieving the target, country-specific timetables for gradually scaling up official development assistance levels, a target for least-developed countries, and a continent-specific target for Africa.

But — at least for now — timetables are no longer expected to be subject of formal high-level negotiations at the council meeting and a target for LDCs is expected to be EU-wide, rather than being binding at the member state level, at 0.15 percent of GNI by 2020.

Negotiations will continue tomorrow at the so-called COREPER II level — council meetings that consist of heads of mission or ambassadors — but another well-placed source shared with Devex that opinions are “entrenched” and that there is now waning optimism that consensus will be found in advance of the May 26 ministerial-level meeting.

A ‘historic mistake’

Seamus Jeffreson, director of Concord, the European confederation of relief and development nongovernmental organizations, warned in a statement that breaking the aid commitment would be a “historic mistake,” jeopardizing ambitious agreements to take place on sustainable development and finance later this summer.

The EU committed to spend 0.7 percent of GNI on ODA at a U.N. General Assembly back in 1970, with this pledge renewed in 2005 when EU member states committed to reaching the target by 2015. Some member states — Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the U.K. — have already met or exceeded the 0.7 percent target, with Britain recently enshrining the target into national law.

However, despite some positive signs from both France and Germany in recent years — French President François Hollande has publicly committed to the target, while Germany announced its highest-ever increase in development aid during its G-7 presidency — overall commitment to a clear timetable for delivering on the target has been notable by its absence.

A ringing endorsement

Behind-the-scenes developments in advance of the high-level gathering come on the back of the May 19 vote in Strasbourg, France, which saw members of the European Parliament confirm the body’s determination to “deliver for the world’s poorest and hardest to reach.”

Endorsing a parliamentary report in preparation for the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 13-16, MEPs urged EU member states to “re-commit without delay” to the 0.7 percent of GNI target for ODA.

MEPs further recommended that 50 percent of ODA — and at least 0.2 percent of GNI — should be reserved for least-developed countries, urging all actors to present multiannual budget timetables to show how they would scale-up to these levels by 2020.

“Today the parliament has once again shown its strong commitment to deliver transformative change for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable,” said Valentina Barbagallo, policy and advocacy officer at the ONE Campaign.

EU development ministers will next week “hold the future of the world’s poorest in their hands,” she said, urging them to follow the bold recommendations endorsed by MEPs. In doing so, she said, they would demonstrate “admirable commitment” to ending extreme poverty and set the tone for this year’s key decision-making moments.

“Member states cannot afford to let this once-in-a-generation opportunity slip by,” Barbagallo said.

Whether European development ministers will collectively “drop the ball,” by not fulfilling a pledge made fully 45 years ago, May 26 is a date now looming large on the calendars of global development professionals across the EU’s 28 member states.

Will the opportunity slip by? We may not have too much longer to wait to find out.

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    Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.