Europe is missing in action when it should be leading the charge

Published: 17th June 2010

Oxfam reaction to the European Union’s position for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals Summit in September in New York

2010 saw Europe missing their poverty targets and today Heads of State compounded this by failing to put new commitments on the table to achieve their 2015 aid targets and keep their promises to the world’s poorest people. European Heads of State have shied away from the difficult decisions, and undermined the global fight against poverty, said Oxfam.

Five years away from the final deadline for poverty commitments, world leaders will take stock of progress and agree steps to get the poverty goals on track when they meet at the United Nations’ MDG Summit in September in New York. EU Heads of State and Government, meeting in Brussels today, did nothing more than give the green light to a weak EU position for the UN Summit. Europe is going empty-handed. The critical issue of global poverty was relegated to the wings of the action, rather than taking centre stage as it deserved.

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam’s EU office, said: “2010 should see Europe leading the charge to defeat poverty as they did five years ago. Instead, European Heads of State are deserting - abandoning their responsibilities and leaving the poorest people alone in the fight. As it happened in Copenhagen, Europe continues to play a dangerous game which is putting its international credibility on the line.”

“Today our so-called leaders have shown that they do not value poor people enough to give them a guarantee that they will be there through the hard times by making aid commitments legally binding. There are laws that make sure that ordinary people pay our dues – our taxes and credit card bills – and governments must be held to the same standard. This year alone, the EU is €19 billion short of aid targets, money that is just a fraction of the amount the EU is spending to ensure financial stability, but that could have saved at least 3 million lives in poor countries.”

"The outcome of this Summit is a travesty. When we needed a battle cry and a determined plan of attack on poverty, all we got was a photo opportunity with so-called leaders looking the other way. A glimmer of hope remains that there are some heroes in the European ranks, who this year will make a concrete commitment to a financial transaction tax to raise much-needed additional money for public services in Europe and in developing countries, and lead their individual charge to ensure the September Summit can still be success.”

International development agency Oxfam has ranked the EU’s position for the UN MDG Summit against five key criteria and found that only one has been was achieved:

Leadership ambition – NO

Leaders were filled with ambition and optimism on the MDGs in 2005. Five years on, EU Heads of State have chosen to stay silent. Unlike in 2005 or 2008, Europe is claiming the main responsibility for achieving the MDGs now lies with other donors and developing countries themselves.

Accountability – YES

Thanks to a final push led by the UK a last-minute addition was made to the text ensuring greater accountability and transparency on EU aid commitments. From now on, heads of state will be answerable to their counterparts for their aid performance every year – an important step to increasing trust in Europe’s promises towards developing countries.

Binding legislation on aid – NO

EU Heads of State could have endorsed the proposal put forward by Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in April to set up national legislation on aid. This would have ensured the existent commitment by EU governments to provide 0.7% of national income for overseas aid by 2015 to be actually met. Despite efforts by countries such as Belgium and the UK looking to implement such measures at a national level, the EU has remained silenced and, by doing so, has condemned its broken promises to continue being trapped into a vicious circle.

New sources to raise money for development – NO

This EU summit could have announced new sources to mobilize cash for development such as a financial transaction tax. A tiny FTT of around 0.05% would yield more than €400 billion globally every year for public services in Europe and in developing countries, as well as to fight climate change, at no cost to the taxpayer. Instead EU leaders chose to focus on securing a bank levy but did promise to take forward discussion on a FTT at the forthcoming G20 summit.

Delivering free health care – NO

In 2008, European committed to fill the financial gap to reach the health MDG, providing an additional €8 billion for health, tied to specific outcomes such as ensuring that 21 million more births were attended by health professionals by 2010. In 2010, not only did they fail to deliver, they even failed to recommit. This inaction comes at a high price: 9 million children will continue to die every year by lack of basic health care.


The outcome of this Summit is a travesty. When we needed a battle cry and a determined plan of attack on poverty, all we got was a photo opportunity.
Elise Ford
Head of Oxfam’s EU office

Notes to editors

1. Action by development NGOs this morning in Brussels: Keeping in theme with the World Cup in South Africa, EU leaders have lined up to try to score the Millennium Development Goals. Better aid performers from the UK, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Spain have tried to score a goal against poverty facing a wall of bad EU aid performers featuring Germany, France, Italy and Poland. See the photos.

2. Official estimates for 2010 put total EU aid at 0.46% of national income, far short of the 0.56% target for 2010 agreed by member states back in 2005. This translates into around €19 billion aid shortfall this year, according to the European Commission. Oxfam has calculated this money could save at least 3 million lives. It could pay for HIV treatment for 500,000 people, could provide services for mothers and newborns that would save a further 2.5 million, and could pay for child health interventions that would save a further 600,000 lives. Whilst some countries like the UK and Belgium have made efforts to increase aid, others are really letting the side down. Italy’s aid spending has plunged by a massive 31 per cent, Ireland’s by 19 per cent and Germany's by 12 per cent.

3. Five years away from the MDG deadline, and despite some real progress, many of the most important goals are in danger of being missed. On current trends 56 million children will not see the inside of a classroom by 2015. Each year 536,000 women die as a result of complications from child bearing: more than one a minute.