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.
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). EU countries have committed themselves to reaching the target of 0.7% of GNI by 2015.
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.
A farmer diversifies her income by growing sunflowers
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 during 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 countries in pursuing the goals on which least progress has been made.
The current set of MDGs will expire and be replaced by a new framework in 2015. In June 2014, the European Commission issued a policy paper called "A Decent Life for All: From Vision to Collective Action". This sets out the EU's post-2015 agenda for eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development, including the need for a new global partnership.
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.
Better hygiene and basic health through improved infrastructure
This EU project was set up to improve the water supply to the Bolivian cities of Potosí and Tarija and upgrade sanitation. It has resulted in 39 water supply systems and 11 sewerage systems, including 8 waste water treatment plants.
Water meters have been installed in 60,000 homes, while another 31,000 are now connected to sewerage systems. A total of 76,000 people have benefited directly from better access to drinking water and sanitation.
EU development policy aims to give disadvantaged people in developing countries control over their own development. That means:
Working to prevent Female Genital Mutilation
Millions of girls and women all over the world are still at risk of being subjected to female genital mutilation, particularly in developing countries. However, progress is being made. Thanks to an EU project with UNICEF in Senegal, for instance, over 5,300 communities have abandoned the practice in just under a decade. This brings the country close to becoming the world's first to declare total abandonment, expected by 2015.
This project is part of an initiative that has helped save thousands of girls from female genital mutilation in 5 African countries: Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Senegal and Sudan.
Manuscript updated in November 2014
This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series