One of the most important things we try to do here at ONE is hold leaders accountable for their promises to the world’s poorest countries. Each year we release a scorecard of how well the wealthiest countries are doing against their commitments – it’s called the DATA Report.
For six years, the DATA report tracked progress against the Gleneagles commitments made by the G7 in 2005. Those commitments expired in 2010. So this year the DATA Report turns its attention to the European Union and its bold commitments to continue increasing development assistance up to 2015.
With the economic crisis bringing austerity to much of Europe, this year’s report is especially important. In times of plenty it is easy to be generous – but in times of crisis, keeping those promises counts more than ever.
The 2012 DATA report reveals that some of the poorest people are paying the price of the economic crisis. Aid from the European Union declined last year for the first time since 2002, with fourteen EU countries cutting their aid. Aid promises to Africa are well off-track. Perhaps unsurprisingly the biggest cuts come from countries most hit by the crisis, namely Spain and Greece.
But that isn’t the whole story. The report also shows that some countries are protecting aid. Germany, Sweden, Italy and Belgium all succeeded in increasing aid last year. The Netherlands and Ireland have so far protected their promises to the poorest people during the crisis. And the UK remains on track to meet its promise to reach 0.7% of national income in aid from March 2013.
Some may argue that Europe has no choice but to cut aid during the crisis. However the economic crisis also puts into perspective Europe’s promises to Africa. European leaders leveraged €100 billion in a few days for a short-term fix to tide over Spanish banks. That’s five times the amount needed to deliver Europe’s promise to Africa from now to 2015. This aid could achieve so much – if invested in agriculture for example, if could lift over 20 million people out of poverty. It’s a sum of money that is small change in the context of European spending, but could make a very big difference to the lives of those in poverty.
There is an opportunity very soon for European leaders to start to turn this around. Leaders are beginning to negotiate the next European budget. Out of a proposed €1 trillion seven-year budget, €51 billion – just five per cent – is earmarked to help fight poverty. It is vital that even as leaders try to reduce the overall budget, they protect this amount.
When Merkel, Hollande, Cameron and the rest of Europe’s leaders meet in Brussels this weekend, the 2012 DATA report must be a reminder to them that their promises to Africa have not been forgotten.