European Year for Development

European Year for Development

EU development aid

15 things you may not know about EU development cooperation in 2015

1. EU aid focuses on the countries which need it most.

EU development aid goes to around 150 countries in the world, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. However, in recent years, several developing countries have experienced strong economic growth and have managed to reduce poverty.

Starting in 2014, the EU is therefore phasing out direct aid to large countries such as India and other countries like Malaysia or many Latin American countries. This process is called 'graduation'. Instead, we are increasingly focusing on the poorest places in the world. In the period 2014-2020, about 75% of EU support will go to these countries which, in addition, often are hard hit by natural disasters or conflict, something that makes their citizens particularly vulnerable. Moreover, the EU is the only donor worldwide which gives support in all countries that are fragile or suffer from conflict. More reading

2. The EU is helping to improve the lives of millions.

In 2000, countries from all over the world agreed on the Millennium Development Goals, to be achieved by 2015. They range from halving extreme poverty to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and giving primary education to all children. The EU played a leading role in negotiating this vision.

Over the last decade, thanks to EU funding, almost 14 million pupils could go to primary school, more than 70 million people were linked to improved drinking water, and over 7.5 million births were attended by skilled health workers, saving the lives of mothers and babies.

These are just some of the ways the EU is helping to reach the goals, but more needs to be done to make poverty history. More reading

3. EU aid is transparent and it is easy to find out where the money goes.

The EU has repeatedly been ranked among the most transparent aid donors. Giving information about where how much of our aid goes, and on what it is spent, helps tax payers to check that their money is being used wisely. It avoids different donors duplicating each other and helps to prevent corruption and misuse of funds.

There are different tools to find out where EU money goes: The EU Aid Explorer gives you easy access to complete and accurate data on what donors do around the world. The European Commission’s financial transparency system shows who receives funding from the European Commission each year.

4. To prevent fraud and corruption, EU aid is regularly audited and controlled.

EU programmes undergo regular independent audits to ensure that their accounts are in order. In addition, the European Court of Auditors examines specific projects and country programmes every year. If there is a suspicion of fraud or corruption, the European Anti-Fraud Office can pursue cases that come to its attention. The European Commission and the EU Delegations in the beneficiary countries monitor and control projects and programmes they finance; this includes regular project visits. In addition, outside experts visit projects to check what the EU funding achieves. If in the context of this system of control and evaluation a serious suspicion should arise that funds are being misused, the EU could stop the financing and take the necessary measures. This could include the recuperation of funds. 

5. The EU and its Member States together are the most generous donors of official development aid in the world.

Together, the European Union and its Member States are the world's largest aid donor. In 2013 they provided more than half of public aid or “official development assistance” as defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Together, they spent €56.5 billion in 2013 on helping countries across the world in their fight against poverty.

Some EU countries cut down on development aid during the economic crisis in Europe, but the total amounts now seem to be on the increase again – although, overall below the levels Europe had promised. You will find more information on aid figures on this page.

6. Developing countries have a strong say in how EU aid is spent, what will be done and where.

The EU makes sure that its development programmes follow the priorities which governments have for their countries’ own development. The decision of whether to invest funding in, for example, health, schools, or roads is taken in close partnership between the EU and each government - which often then also takes responsibility for managing the programmes and projects.

More information about this principle which is called “Country Ownership”, can be found in the EU’s “Agenda for Change”. This text also outlines how EU aid in the future will focus more on certain sectors such as good governance, human rights, democracy, health, education, but also agriculture and energy.

7. The EU relies on organisations with the right experience to carry out its development projects on the ground.

The EU often gives funding to non-governmental organisations - this could be a local association of female lawyers that helps women to their legal rights or a well-known international organisation such as Amnesty International, in fighting for human rights, for example. By doing this we try to ensure that those who know the countries best and are the practical experts in each field put the EU money to best effect. We also find very experienced partners in UN organisations such as UNICEF or the Food and Agriculture Organization, or development agencies of EU Member States.

8. The EU involves civil society organisations when it plans its cooperation with partner countries.

When preparing its programmes, the EU does not only work with the governments but also makes sure that civil society organisations are included in the discussions: this could be non-governmental organisations, trade unions, human rights groups, environmental organisations, chambers of commerce and many others. You can find out more in the EU’s communication on Europe's engagement with civil society in external relations.

9. About 25% of EU aid is given directly to governments so they can do their work, following priorities that they define themselves, in close dialogue with the EU.

This is called “budget support”. It gives the countries the tools to take development into their own hands, for example by reforming and modernising their education or agricultural sector. By putting governments of developing countries in the driving seat, the EU directly supports the country's own policies and systems so that the results can have a lasting effect.

At the same time, the EU links budget support to a constant dialogue which it has with the government and in which it discusses important topics such as good governance and management of public money. These exchanges also include regular assessments of the results in reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development.

If you want to know more about different ways how the EU uses budget support, check out the new approach to EU budget support in third countries.

10. The EU has 139 delegations and offices across the world, more than any EU member state. At the same time its external aid equals less than a tenth of its budget.

The total amount which the EU reserved for external aid in 2013 was €14.86 billion, which is equal to about 9% of the overall budget of the EU. In other words, lifting people out of poverty across the world with the help of European aid costs each European no more than 8 cents per day.

For more information on where EU external assistance goes and what it does, have a look at our annual report.

11. In many countries the EU and its Member States combine their development efforts to ensure that we work more hand in hand and don’t do the same thing twice.

In over 40 countries we have started what we call “Joint Programming”. This means that the EU and its Member States assess together what are the biggest problems and challenges in a developing country and then define what sectors we should focus on, before preparing a common framework for our work. Each donor brings their strengths, expertise and comparative advantages to the table to then decide how the work can be divided.

Where possible, the government of the beneficiary country takes a leading role in this so its own planning and development strategy are taken on board. All donors still carry out their own programmes - but as part of the joint response. Interested donors from outside the EU can also take part in this Joint Programming. More information can be found in a specific chapter of this document which accompanies the EU Annual Report on external assistance.

12. The EU works hard to ensure that its work in areas such as trade and finance, agriculture, security, climate change, or migration helps overcome poverty in developing countries.

We call this “Policy Coherence for Development”. A lot of what the EU and its Member States do in these areas is linked to development. For example, the EU is opening up the large European single market to developing countries more and more, which creates economic growth and jobs for them. The EU also has agreements with several countries to fight illegal logging of timber and ensure that timber that is imported to Europe has been legally harvested.

Another example is EU legislation that makes business deals in the extractive industry more transparent: All payments to governments over €100,000 by large EU companies in the extractive industry and primary forest sectors will need to be made public. This will give civil society in countries with a lot of natural resources, such as oil or minerals, the information they need to hold governments to account for income made through the exploitation of these resources. For more information on Policy Coherence for Development, see this report.

13. EU humanitarian aid and development cooperation are different but work hand in hand.

Humanitarian aid helps to save people’s lives rapidly in crisis situations, and address their basic needs, for example by providing food, shelter or medical care in conflicts or after natural disasters. Development cooperation supports countries over the medium and long term so they can overcome poverty and have sustainable economic growth that benefits all parts of society. The EU works hard to ensure that the change from emergency to development assistance runs smoothly, by linking them with each other.

But we also go further: Many places of the world suffer recurring crises, for example, because of climate change. Humanitarian aid and development experts need to work together to help societies in these countries become more resilient. This can mean strengthening a state’s emergency preparedness or its health and education systems. But it can also involve bolstering foodstuff markets, local communities and people in their individual lives so they can prevent and manage risks and quickly recover from shocks caused by drought, violence, conflict or natural disaster.

14. The world has managed to reduce the share of extremely poor people by more than half since 1990.

Having less than USD1.25 per day to live on is the international definition of being ‘extremely poor’. The number of people below this line has dropped by 700 million since 1990. The EU has contributed to this, for example, by helping to build and repair more than 87,000 kilometres of roads to make sure that people can transport goods and food in their countries and to strengthen local economies. The EU has also provided cash or other in-kind benefits to more than 46 million people to ensure their food security.

But a lot of work still needs to be done: 1.2 billion people are extremely poor today and one in eight people in the world do not have enough to eat.

15. Europeans believe that we have a responsibility to help people in poor countries, and many are ready to play their part in this.

A huge majority of Europeans (85%) believe that it is important to help people in developing countries. This is the result of a recent Eurobarometer survey among 28,000 Europeans. Most people also agree that tackling poverty in these countries should be a main priority for the EU and that we should give more development aid. A large majority believe that aid that goes to poorer countries also has a positive effect on Europeans in return.

One in two people think that each individual can play a role in fighting against poverty in developing countries  - and almost half would be ready to pay more for groceries or products from those countries. Europeans see volunteering as the most effective way of helping (75%), followed by official aid from governments (66%) and donating to organisations that assist developing countries (63%).