EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The EU may be collectively be the biggest donor of development aid in the world, but such sums remain far below what has repeatedly been pledged, and so on Wednesday, the European Commission said the bloc's member states are not doing enough and need to step up their game, announcing a 12-point-plan to get the 27 to live up to their promises.
"It is important to recall that the challenge of poverty does not stop at the EU's borders. I call on Member States to make developing countries part of our thinking for the future," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso at the announcement of the plan.
In 2009, the EU aid levels dropped slightly decreased to €49 billion, or 0.42 percent of EU GNI. Yet EU member states had recommitted themselves in 2005 to raise their game to 0.56% of GNI by 2010 before reaching the key long-standing target - which dates back to promises from the global north made as long ago as 1970 at the UN General Assembly - of 0.7 percent of GNI. In 2005, the EU said it would meet this goal by 2015.
European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs said: "I want Europe to remain the main and most credible leader in the fight against poverty. We have to respect our promises of more and better aid to halve poverty by 2015.
"The goals are still achievable, provided there is financial effort and political will from EU member states."
The 12-point plan asks member states to come put with national action plans by September of how they are to achieve their development aid pledges this year. This will then be ‘peer-reviewed' by other member states at the development ministerial level to see if the plans are up to scratch.
National laws requiring governments to respect aid pledges of 0.7 percent of GNI are in the legislative pipeline in the UK, Belgium and Finland. While the commission is not saying other member states must do the same, it does believe this is a good example of what capitals can achieve.
There should also be a focus on ‘aid effectiveness', meaning for example, avoidance of duplication of efforts. If national aid programmes are better coordinated at the EU level, this could result in a savings of €3 to €6 billion yearly, according to commission analysis. Brussels holds up the recent EU-co-ordinated effort around Haiti reconstruction as a good example of what can be achieved if this is implemented across the board.
The plan would also see less of a scatter-gun approach and more emphasis on particular Millennium Development Goals, notably gender, health, education and food security, that are the most off track from being achieved by 2015, as well as targetting those countries most in need.
One of the most crucial parts of the plan, involving a separate communication from the commission in parallel to the overall plan proposal, would be efforts to help prevent tax evasion by northern companies, particularly in the case of extractive industries.
"All over the world, governments lose billions in revenue every year because of harmful tax practices," the commission notes.
According to a Norwegian government commission cited by the Brussels plan, illegal money flows from developing countries were at least seven times higher than the amount supplied in development assistance, meaning however much the EU gives to the developing world, so much more is essentially stolen from government revenues by European companies not paying the taxes they are supposed to.
Brussels wants international tax co-operation to plug these leaks. In the meantime, the commission argues for EU technical assistance to be sent to help boost capacity and buttress southern governments efforts at chasing after taxation scofflaws.
The plan is backed by the entirety of the commission but nevertheless is the product of the development department and calls for the revenues flowing from any new international finance mechanism, such as a global levy on banks or a financial transaction tax, currently in discussion at the G20 level, to at least in part be channelled into to development aid.
It is understood that development commissioner Piebalgs disagrees with the staff of the economy and finance department that any such revenues should be cordoned off to cover the costs of future financial crises alone.
In the wake of the Copenhagen climate debacle, it was clear in European minds that the EU and the developed world in general was failing the trust test with the developing world. The failure of the UN climate summit in the Danish capital last year was widely believed to be the result of a split between rich and poor countries.
One of the fundamental issues was the question of so-called climate finance, in which developed countries were to pay their developing counterparts to make the very expensive shift to a low-carbon growth path.
But the sums suggested remained minimal compared to what analysts such as the World Bank had said is required and southern leaders repeatedly made the point that they could not trust the global north to live up to its climate finance promises if it did not even live up to its existing development aid pledges.
As a result, a new emphasis in Brussels has been placed on proving to the world it can indeed meet its commitments.
Aid NGOs for their part were on the were quite supportive of the plan.
The proposals got a "thumbs up" from Oxfam, which said it " strongly welcomed" Mr Piebalgs' work. The group said the ball is squarely in the court of the member states.
"Italy's aid spending plunged last year by a massive 31 per cent, Ireland's by 19 per cent and Germany's by 12 per cent," noted Elise Ford, head of the group's Brussels Office.
Action Aid's Chris Coxon meanwhile told EUobserver that the proposals "show a lot of promise, but there is still a lot to be pushed through."
"Whether the political will is there to wholly implement it remains to be seen."
The EU co-ordinating group for Catholic aid charities, CIDSE, however was quite sharp, predicting that the EU action plan was "likely to fail."
The group's secretary general, Bernd Nilles, blasted what it called "vague recommendations that member states can just take or leave."
"The time is up for soft targets, we need binding schemes to hold EU countries accountable."
The commission opted for an action plan rather than a directive requiring member states to meet their pledges.
Mr Nilles also said that the bloc needed to join up its activities on this front, saying that its whatever development work done is undermined by EU trade and agriculture policies.