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New approach for aid

Mirjam Gehrke / arFebruary 3, 2014

Europe is the biggest spender on development aid worldwide but its policies are often inefficient, a recent study found. New coordinated development aid programs are aimed at cutting bureaucracy and costs.

The EU's development commissioner talks with a girl in Haiti
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

A recent research paper published by the Südwind Institute, a German NGO, has highlighted Europe's current lack of ability to coordinate development policy.

"Particularly the traditional big donor countries, like Germany, see development aid as an extension of their own foreign policies, and in many cases, of their security policies," Pedro Morazan, a senior researcher with the organization told DW.

This, despite the fact that most experts agree that increased coordination of European donor policy would benefit aid-receiving countries considerably and be more cost efficient.

Doubling up

More than half of global development aid comes from the EU and its member states. However, developing countries only receive European aid if they meet a set of criteria.

"On the political level, there is an agreement in Europe on certain standards like the demand for a democratic system and the respect for human rights [in the receiving country]," Morazan said.

"As far as the coherence between development policy and climate protection is concerned, Europe basically speaks with one voice as well," Morazan added.

But the co-existence of bilateral development policies between individual countries and joint EU development policies has led to a number of parallel structures with similar agendas, said Klaus Rudischhauser from EuropeAID, the European office responsible for political and thematic coordination of EU development policy.

Child writing on the blackboard
Education is one of the central goals of Europe's development policyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"The EU member states are planning to start joint programs in the period from 2014 to 2020," Rudischhauser said. "For more than 40 developing countries, this means that there's not going to be an individual development program from each donor country."

More impact

Ideally, partner countries will benefit from this new strategy, since bureaucracy will be reduced. According to Pedro Morazon's research the coexistence of bilateral and joint programs often caused problems for receiving countries in the past.

"For instance, it was a huge effort for the governments of Vietnam or India if they had to meet different criteria for different donors," Morazon explains. "There are simply not enough civil servants to deal with all these demands."

Under the new agreements, the bloc should be able to save billions of euros currently spent on duplicated structures and procedures. And, in addition, joint development policies will also strengthen the position of the EU in negotiating with developing nations.

"In many cases, developing countries often applied the principle of divide and conquer," Morazon explains. "They thought, 'the more donors we have, the easier it is for us to demand concessions, and the weaker the demands of the donors on issues like human rights and economic stability will be.'"

Competition between donors

A coordinated EU development policy will also be important as an increasing number of new donor countries emerge, experts say. In Klaus Rudischhauser's view, new donors like China, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are clearly tying political and economic interests to development aid.

"In comparison, European donors are not pursuing their own economic interests as aggressively," Rudischhauser said.

European parliamentarian Norbert Neuser thinks more aid coordination is important, because it will allow European policy to be complementary with other aid programs already in place.

A woman votes at Mali parliamentary elections in 2013
Democracy and good government are a requirement if a country wants European aidImage: Habibou Kouyate/AFP/Getty Images

"When China invests a lot in the infrastructure of a particular country, the EU should leave this issue to the Chinese," he said. Instead, he argues, Europe can focus on issues such as education or health care.

New horizons

Myanmarhas recently become a focus of EU development projects following the political changes in the country after years of military dictatorship.

"Everyone wants to get involved in Myanmar, since the political situation there has changed," said Rudischhauser.

The German foreign office, however, gives a different reason for the new interest in the country formerly known as Burma. The Asian nation has rich gas and mineral resources, meaning that it has major economic potential, they say.

"Europe is interested in supporting economic development in other countries, because that makes them interesting trading partners," Rudischhauser concluded.

That has worked elsewhere. Improved economic strength has already made several Latin American and Asian countries important trade partners for Europe in recent years.