The European Union has agreed to increase public spending on development aid by 20 billion euros ($25 billion) over the next five years, reinforcing Europe's role as a leading donor to poorer countries.
The EU hopes to help the world's most needy
At a meeting of EU ministers for development in Brussels on Tuesday, the 25-nation bloc agreed to fix a target for development aid by 2010 of 0.56 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The increase will bring EU aid from 46 billion euros in 2006 to 66 billion euros in 2010.
"I consider this to be an essential development, an extremely important advance in international solidarity," said Luxembourg development minister Jean-Louis Schiltz, whose country currently holds the EU presidency. "Europe has shown today that international solidarity is not an empty phrase," he added.
The EU's 15 older -- and richer -- member states are to make up the bulk of the effort to reach the objective with a commitment to raise development aid to 0.51 percent of GDP in 2010. The other 10 countries that joined the EU in May 2004, agreed to try to reach a target of 0.17 percent of GDP in 2010. While signing on to the deal, Germany, Italy and Portugal also stressed that they were having deep financial problems trying to meet EU deficit limits, an EU source told the AFP news agency.
Looking further ahead, EU members agreed that public development aid should reach 0.7 percent of the EU's GDP by 2015, the EU's Luxembourg presidency announced Tuesday. The 0.7 percent objective is one of the targets laid out in the UN millennium goals fixed in 2000 with the aim of slashing the number of people living on less than a dollar a day by half by 2015.
EU members were looking to reach an agreement on development aid targets in preparation for a meeting at the United Nations in New York on September 14-16.
EU development commissioner Louis Michel said that the deal "positions the European Union as the veritable global leader in development policy ahead of the high-level meeting in New York."
"The international community is waiting for an extremely ambitious position from the European Union. With this we have this ambitious position," he added.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan speaks during a news conference at U.N. headquarters Monday, March 21, 2005. Annan unveiled his new report and list of reforms Monday, titled, "In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All."
The targets are part of the EU's contribution to meeting the millennium development goals, which were adopted by the international community in 2000 and relaunched by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in late March.
Welcoming the agreement as a "breakthrough," British development secretary Hilary Benn said in a statement: "This is a landmark in international efforts to make faster progress towards the millennium development goals. I very much hope that other donors will follow Europe's lead as soon as possible."
The UN Millennium Summit in 2000, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders, adopted eight goals to be met by 2015 with the aim of eventually eradicating poverty, hunger and disease.
French deputy minister for development Xavier Darcos said that France Germany and Spain were considering a plan to introduce a scheme for "voluntary contributions" to development aid on each airplane ticket.
"We have to find more money. In a couple of years, innovative sources of funding will become common, mainly because we will not have enough public money," he said.
The scheme for voluntary contributions on airplane tickets comes after EU members failed to agree to an obligatory levy and a French-backed plan for an international tax on financial transactions was shot down.