Protecting EU Aid Will Protect the Health of the Poor AND Makes Economic Sense

Bruno Rivalan is Advocacy Manager at Global Health Advocates France, an ACTION partner. Elisa Baldini is Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with Plan EU. This blog originally appeared on

This Friday, behind closed doors, the EU head of States will come to an agreement on the EU budget for the next seven years. Worryingly, the EU development budget is under major threat. For many, the question is not so much if there will be cuts, but how far-reaching they will be. Protecting EU aid means protecting the health of the world’s poor, and so Action for Global Health is urging EU decision makers to take action to safeguard the development budget.

Cuts to EU aid

Despite the obligations in the Lisbon treaty and the annual renewed commitment to commit 0.7% of GNI to Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), the EC proposal for the 2014-2020 EU external budget was dramatically cut during the round of negotiations at the November Council summit. Heading 4 (which contains most of the development budget) and the European Development Fund faced the largest proportional cuts to any headings or off-budget expenditures. While there are groups of states organised to defend their own internal national interests, development aid seems to be sacrificed during tough negotiations, and a “Friends of Development” group has not yet appeared.

The rationale behind these cuts seems to be the prioritisation of EU internal policies. However, according to the European Parliament, the EC proposal (for 51 billion EUR to be allocated to the EDF and DCI) in the ongoing negotiations is ‘the bare minimum’ to cover the needs of development aid, however the Council has proposed that it is cut even further. MEPs have acknowledged for a long time that EU aid is a small but smart investment and not only does it help some of the poorest people in the world but it also promotes growth within our continent. A recent study has shown that the EC proposal for EU aid could generate a 20 per cent return on the investment in developing countries - if aid is channeled effectively [1]

EU aid is cheap and effective

For every 100 EUR earned by the average EU citizen, 50 euros goes to the national governments. Of that, 1 euro is sent to the EU institutions in Brussels. And from that 1 euro, only 5 cents is set aside for EU aid. The cuts proposed by the Council will make little difference to the taxpayer, but they will have a huge impact on the lives of millions of people in countries in the south.

Within the last three years, EU aid has stopped 50 million people in more than 50 countries from being hungry; and in just 5 years it has provided access to primary education for more than 9 million children and 4 million birth have been intended with health professionals. Although progress remains to be made, few donors can boast such results.  But further support is needed: for example, despite efforts made by developing countries, the levels of funding they can raise are not enough to cover basic primary healthcare for their population. This funding gap translates into a health gap for ordinary citizens.

Public opinion vs public commitments

Not only does EU aid work, it is cost-effective and is relatively cheap, but it also receives an overwhelming public support: 85 per cent of European citizens back it up, despite the economic crisis.

 All of these arguments should be heard by EU heads of state. Now it is time to show that the EU still has ambitions to remain a leader in the fight against poverty and in supporting health in developing countries. The EC proposal to increase the EU aid budget must be supported.  

To find out more about the impact of development aid watch our film made in Mozambique last year, The Transformative Power of Aid.

[1] The effects of EU aid on receiving and sending countries, Overseas Development Institute and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research for ONE.