European Union

Development and cooperation

Development and cooperation

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

How much does the EU spend on development?

In 2013, the EU spent €56.2 bn on development aid – aid from EU funds combined with aid from EU countries' national budgets.

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.

Eradicating poverty in the new millennium

EU development policy aims above all to eradicate poverty through a sustainable approach. Key to this are the UN's 8 Millennium Development Goals. 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 the other goals, particularly reducing deaths of mothers and babies during childbirth and providing clean drinking water. The EU has pledged 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.

Promoting development in 2015

The EU has designated 2015 European Year for Development. This is a one-year campaign to show where EU development aid goes and how it helps fight poverty.  It also aims to explain how tackling poverty around the world helps us all and to inspire more Europeans to get involved in development work.

After 2015

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.

Helping countries & people 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.

Timor-Leste – creating a healthy environment for country children

One of rural Timor-Leste's main development challenges is the lack of access to safe water and sanitation. Many children under five die from preventable water-borne infections that result in diarrhoea and from acute respiratory diseases.

An EU project aims to give over 5,000 households access to safe drinking water. Activities involving local communities and schools are already underway. Families have been encouraged to build latrines, thus expanding toilet access from 35% to 65%.

Read the story of Ludivina, one of the children whose lives have changed for the better thanks to this project.  

Giving people control over their own future

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

  • addressing the causes of vulnerability, e.g. poor access to food, 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
  • improving respect for human rights, including equality between the sexes
  • encouraging a more stable economic environment in which businesses can grow and create jobs.

Examples from Africa

Working to prevent female genital mutilation

Millions of girls and women all over the world are still at risk of 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. The national action plan to eradicate female genital mutilation by the end of 2015 brings Senegal close to becoming the world's first country to declare total abandonment of this practice.

This project is part of an initiative that has helped save thousands of girls from such mutilation in Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Senegal and Sudan.

Development and cooperation

Manuscript updated in November 2014

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

See also

EU institutions and bodies

Funding opportunities

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