Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui, EU ECHO | Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The UK’s expertise on aid is still needed for Europe’s development work

31 October 2017
Author: Mike Green

One of the critical tasks Bond and its members have is holding the UK government to account on its spending on international aid and development. This includes the quantity of what’s spent and quality of the resources used, including how they alleviate poverty for the world’s poorest and create sustainable, inclusive development. 

Europe has thousands of invaluable CSO colleagues, supported by millions of citizens, who are undertaking the same important work. They are pressing their own national platforms on how much their countries are spending on Official Development Assistance (ODA) and what they are spending it on. These CSOs come together through CONCORD, the European NGO confederation for relief and development. 

In addition to advocating for Europe-wide policies to promote sustainable economic, environmental and social development, CONCORD publishes the annual Aidwatch report, which monitors the quantity of aid provided by EU member states and the European Commission. It also makes recommendations to ensure this is used in a genuine and effective way.

Along with the hugely knowledgeable Amy Dodd, director of the UK Aid Network, I had the pleasure of co-authoring the UK’s country page in the report, which highlighted the UK meeting its commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA. But we also raised concerns about how effective other government departments’ aid spending was compared to DFID’s and the UK’s potential to act unilaterally in changing the ODA definition. 

How is the EU spending ODA?

The Aidwatch report provides an expansive analysis of what is occurring with regards to international development across the European Union. The 28 EU members spent €75.46bn on ODA in 2016, making it the largest aid donor in the world. 23 out of the 28 member states increased their aid spend in 2016, ten of which increased their total ODA by over 25%. While all this is to be welcomed, scratching beneath the surface however does reveal cause for concern.

Firstly, the EU is still missing its aid target of spending 0.7% of EU GNI on ODA. The report shows that overall, the EU is further away from realising its aid promise with its total collective spend on ODA in 2016 totalling 0.5% of GNI, 0.2% short of the 0.7% target. 

Secondly, there is an increasing trend of countries spending ODA on measures with debated development impact. AidWatch calls this “inflated aid”, defined as financial flows that “do not genuinely contribute to development”, despite being classified as ODA. This includes measures such as spending on refugees in the donor country, tied aid, spending on students in the donor country, debt repayments, interest repayments on concessional loans and future interest on cancelled debts. 

In the last year, there has been a 43% increase in spending on these items across the EU, meaning they account for a fifth (€15.40bn) of the total aid from EU member states.

The UK’s opportunity to lead European countries’ development work

In both of these areas, the UK has a genuine opportunity to influence and lead the development work of fellow European countries. On aid quantity, removing the UK’s ODA from the total figure spent by EU member states would mean the 0.5% EU GNI total would fall to 0.46%. On aid quality, only 0.02% is identified as “inflated aid” which compares largely favourably with other member states. This highlights the UK’s efficient development policies which it should share as best practice. One example is the UK remaining one of the only countries to fully, formally untie aid, so it could provide important leadership in working with and encouraging other countries to do the same.

Membership of the EU is not a requisite for the UK to provide global leadership on aid and development. As thought is given to what the UK’s relationship with the EU28 will look like post-Brexit, the AidWatch report shows with worrying clarity that the UK’s experience and expertise on aid is acutely needed as part Europe’s work for helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. 

For more news and opinion on aid spending, check out our aid hub. At the Bond Conference 26-27 February 2018 we'll also be discussing what we needs to happen so that Brexit delivers for international development

About the author

Mike Green

Mike was policy and advocacy adviser at Bond.