More than half of all money spent on helping poor countries comes from the EU and its member countries, making it the world's biggest aid donor.
But development policy is about more than just providing clean water and decent roads, important though these are. The EU also uses trade to drive development by opening its markets to exports from poor countries and encouraging them to trade more with each other.
In 2011, EU development aid – aid from EU funds and from EU countries' national budgets combined - totalled €53 billion.
That amounts to 0.42% of gross national income (GNI) for all EU countries combined, making the EU the world's most generous aid donor. But a joint effort is still needed to reach the target set by the European Council – 0.7% GNI by 2015.
The primary objective of EU development policy is to eradicate poverty using a sustainable approach. Adopted by world leaders in 2000 with a 2015 deadline, the UN's eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are key to this. The MDGs range from halving extreme poverty and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education.
The number of people living in absolute poverty has decreased by 600 million since 1990 but progress towards other MDGs has been less promising. Among the most difficult targets to achieve by 2015 are reducing the number of deaths of mothers and children in childbirth and providing clean drinking water. To help, in 2011, the EU pledged an additional €1 billion towards those MDGs towards which progress was slowest in 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.
European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, will be looking at the future of the global development agenda after 2015 as part of a high-level UN group led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
The 'Agenda for Change' is the new blueprint for EU development policy, endorsed by EU ministers in 2012. It sets out a new approach to development policy reflecting a changing world, the emergence of new donors, and new challenges for developing nations.
The new policy sets out to deliver more strategic, targeted and results-oriented assistance and has two main strands:
The EU food security programme is helping people grow rice in Aweil, Sudan
The Agenda for Change targets development assistance in three areas:
Lastly, it aims to improve the effectiveness of aid and use innovative new ways of providing funding – through a loan/grant blend – and to ensure that all EU policies – on climate change, agriculture or trade – are consistent with its development goals.
Over the years, the EU has supported many countries in their efforts to eradicate poverty and create a better future for their people. This is often a long-term effort. Recent success stories include:
EU development policy aims to give disadvantaged people in developing countries control over their own development. That means: