BRUSSELS, Mar. 19 (IPS) - Decades ago, 15 of Europe’s wealthiest nations made a promise to allocate .7 percent of their respective gross national products (GNP) to official development assistance. Yet despite a commitment that comprises such a small fraction of a nation’s wealth, only a handful of countries are on track to reach this goal by the 2015 deadline.
Among the few leaders who have prioritised this target is Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning- Schmidt, who was recently celebrated by the confederation of European non-governmental organisations known as CONCORD, together with the ONE Campaign, for Denmark’s aid commitment to help the world’s poorest.
Volunteers and activists donned masks of the Danish Prime Minister’s face on Mar. 16, under the slogan, "Everyone needs a Helle." The action was designed to spread the message that, if the European Union was comprised of 27 leaders like the Danish Prime Minister, the world would be well on its way to keeping its aid promise to the world’s poor, according to the ONE campaign.
Denmark is one of four EU member states to go beyond the target of .7 percent of GNP, a commitment made in a 1970 United Nations General Assembly Resolution. The commitment has been reaffirmed several times throughout the decades, most notably at the March 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development, as well as in 2005, when EU development ministers met in Brussels and announced the 2015 deadline for the .7 percent target.
It was determined then that the original "EU-15" member states – Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland and Sweden – would adhere to the goal of .7 percent by 2015, while countries that joined the EU after 2002 would create timelines for a .33 percent goal by 2015.
According to AidWatch, a subgroup of CONCORD, only seven EU countries are "on target" to meet the 2015 goals, including Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK.
A recent report compiled by the ONE Campaign analysed international development efforts from the UK, showing exactly what .7 percent of a county’s GNP can do.
The report, "Small Change/ Big Difference", is an independent study that examined current UK aid commitments, and projected an analysis for the next four years. The UK is expected to meet the .7 percent goal by 2013, contributing 11.7 billion pounds in aid. Broken down, the report explains that, at the targeted percentage, aid will account for 1.6 pence of every pound of government spending.
These abstract numbers tell a much more compelling story when translated into the direct impact pledges make on the ground, such as providing 80 million children with vaccines; allowing access to safe drinking water for more than 17 million people worldwide; providing preventative measures or treatment for malaria to more than 40 million people; providing 633,000 affected people with treatment for HIV; and enabling 15.9 million children to go to school.
And these figures account for the UK’s contribution to global aid efforts alone—if other member states follow through on their promise to contribute .7 percent of their GNP as well, millions more could benefit.
While official statistics for 2011 have yet to be published by AidWatch, a survey taken at the end of last year found that only a few countries from the EU will drastically cut aid, according to Wiske Jult of 11.11.11, a coalition of NGOs based in Northern Belgium, which contributed to the AidWatch report.
Jult explained to IPS that it is difficult to estimate how many countries will meet their targets for the coming year. Part of the problem is incomplete data. Jult said that, despite requests, Greece failed to release data from last year, making it impossible to know whether or not the country is on track to delivering on pledges.
A more comprehensive AidWatch report is expected in June 2012.
In a world thrown into economic chaos since the 2008 financial crash, the pressure is on governments to make tough decisions. With several EU countries leading the way toward fulfilling their .7 percent promises, civil society is calling on remaining countries to continue to work toward the 2015 goals.
"Aid in some countries is under assault from the financial crisis, but cutting back on promises to developing countries isn’t the way out of austerity or unemployment in Europe," said Olivier Consolo, director of CONCORD.
"EU governments should realise that their aid is precious help for millions of people in desperate need and be proud of the support Europe gives against poverty."
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