16 January 2012/ Worldandmedia.com: As the economic crisis deepens in Europe, reaching budget targets for overseas development is ambitious but realistic according to a spokeswoman for the bloc’s aid programmes.

“I can’t predict accurately, I don’t know what could happen …There will be a new graded co-operation so we won’t (always) provide direct aid,” Catherine Ray, spokesperson for the EU Commissioner for Development said. “But our aim is to make sure people see that increasing aid is not a luxury.”

The commissioner has proposed cutting bi-lateral aid to 19 countries including India and Indonesia who are now deemed to be emerging economies and no longer in need of direct aid.

Ray said it is important for aid budgets to remain predictable, saying at present projects are under the 2007-2013 budget so cannot be changed.

“At the moment we are aware there is a crisis, countries have their own austerity measures to deal with but we are still asking them to respect their commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of their budget on aid by 2015,” she said.

Last June, a number of European leaders reaffirmed their aid pledges but not all. Spain has now frozen its development budget and Ireland has decreased its projected development assistance spending this year by €53 million. Meanwhile the Dutch government announced plans to cut its aid contribution this year from 0.8 per cent of GNP to 0.7 per cent.

However, in a similar vein to David Cameron – who defended his decision to reach the 0.7 per cent target by 2013 in response to a survey that found public scepticism of overseas aid – Ray says that countries should look at Africa’s growth rate and long-term aid as “a win-win situation”.

This is also the Irish view as set out in its new Africa Strategy. The Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Eamon Gilmore has said: “Our long term aim is to end dependency on aid and to build a new relationship with Africa based on politics, democracy and trade.”

And after 2013?

So what is likely to happen in the negotiations for the next cycle of funding? The European Commission warned in November that there is “a serious risk” they could run out of funds in 2012 for short-term European projects. Should this happen, it could adversely affect talks on the long-term plans.

But for now the commissioner for development has proposed an increase of 17 per cent in aid funding to the 130 countries remaining in the programme; whether this will be accepted is not yet clear.

And Ray said it will not become clear until later this year, as discussions will continue for some months.

“We have asked for more. It is complicated to ask European tax-payers to pay (for aid), we are seeing a huge drop in budgets. But I think politicians are aware that aid is not a luxury – everybody needs to have poverty taken care of,” she said.

– Niahmn Griffin/ Worldandmedia.com

Background – What is EuropeAid?

The European Commission merged different strands of long-term development work at the start of 2011 to form EuropeAid Development and Cooperation managed by Andris Piebalgs.

Funding for projects comes either directly from the main EU budget or is allocated through the European Development Fund for certain countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions.

Projects which fall under nine broad headings including environment, trade and governance as well as human development can apply for funding. For example a drought prevention programme has been funded by €17.6 million to support the Kenyan government’s efforts to fight food insecurity.

Development funding is sectioned by geographical location and need. Many of the African countries traditionally associated with aid in Ireland receive funding through the EDF. This fund will also require renewal in 2013 along with the main budget.

Ireland’s contribution to the present EDF stands at €206.41 million over a six-year cycle.

The aid commitment from various sources within the union for both development and emergency work stands at 50 per cent of the global total – €53.8 billion in 2010 – according to Mr Pielbags who oversees a long-term aid budget of €11 billion.

On December 21st, he announced a spend of €700 million from that amount for projects including improved access to food and clean water in 36 countries.