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Development and cooperation

Over half of all development aid comes from the EU and its member countries, making them collectively the world's largest donor. Most aid goes to the low-income and least developed countries.

Investing in our common future

In 2013, EU development aid – aid from EU funds and EU countries' national budgets combined - totalled €56.2 billion. 

That amounts to 0.43 % of EU gross national income (GNI). The EU countries have committed themselves to reaching the target of 0.7% of GNI by 2015.

Eradicating poverty in the new millennium

EU development policy aims above all to eradicate poverty, using a sustainable approach. Key to this are the UN's 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000 with a 2015 deadline. They range from halving extreme poverty and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education. 

While the number of people living in absolute poverty has fallen by 600 million since 1990, less progress has been made towards other MDGs. It is proving particularly difficult to reduce deaths of mothers and babies in childbirth and to provide clean drinking water. The EU has sought to help by pledging an additional €1 bn to be used in 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations in pursuing the goals on which least progress has been made. 

The EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, is to examine the future of the global development agenda after 2015 as a member of a high-level UN group led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 

EU & Millennium Development Goals

Agenda for Change

The Agenda for Change, adopted in 2012, sets out a new approach to EU development policy which reflects a changing world, the emergence of new donors, and new challenges for developing nations. 

The new policy aims to make aid more strategic, targeted and results-oriented. It has 2 main strands:

A farmer diversifies her income by growing sunflowers

A farmer diversifies her income by growing sunflowers

  • promoting human rights, democracy & good governance
  • encouraging inclusive & sustainable growth that enables people to lift themselves out of poverty.

The Agenda for Change targets development aid in 3 areas:

  • social protection, health, education & jobs
  • business environment, trade & world markets
  • sustainable agriculture & energy.

It aims to

  • make aid more effective
  • provide funding in innovative ways, through a mix of loans & grants
  • ensure that all EU policies, whether on climate change, farming or trade, are consistent with EU development goals. 

Helping countries & individuals pull themselves out of poverty

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 process. 

Recent success stories include:

  • improving the income, health and quality of life of poor textile workers in South India 
  • training young people in entrepreneurship, business management and finance for business start-ups in Brazil
  • protecting Kenyan livestock from the tsetse fly through science-led innovation
  • supporting an education & training programme in Swaziland. 

For more development case studies, see "Africa, Caribbean & Pacific".

Giving people control over their own destiny

EU development policy aims to give disadvantaged people in developing countries control over their own development. That means:

  • addressing the causes of their vulnerability, such as poor access to food and clean water, education, health, employment, land, social services, infrastructure and a healthy environment 
  • eradicating disease and providing access to cheap medicines to fight epidemics like HIV/AIDS 
  • reducing developing countries' debt burden, so they have more money for vital public investments, instead of paying interest to rich lenders in industrialised countries 
  • promoting self-help and poverty-eradication strategies
  • supporting the democratic process
  • reinforcing respect for human rights, including equality between men and women
  • encouraging a more stable economic environment in which businesses can grow and create jobs.


Development and cooperation

Published in February 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series


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