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BBC World Service cuts wouldn't be necessary if we cut ineffective EU aid budget

By Matthew Barrett

Open Europe, the European reformist think-tank, has today published a report looking at the EU’s external aid spending. Open Europe examines how much the EU spends and where, in light of spending reviews in Britain, and the new challenges in overseas aid created by recent developments in Africa and the Arab world. Some key findings:

  • The UK currently contributes £1,424m to EU external aid spending, around 18% of the UK’s £7,767m total aid budget. 
  • Only 46% of EU aid reached lower income countries in 2009, compared with 74% of UK aid and 58% of EU member state governments’ aid. 
  • From 2000-2009, developing European countries received $10.49 per capita, while Sub-Saharan Africa received only $3.94 per capita. 
  • Turkey was the top recipient of EU aid in 2009 and other European neighbours Kosovo and Serbia were also in the top ten recipients.
  • EU aid, which is managed by the European Commission, currently has administration costs of 5.4%, compared to the UK’s Department for International Development’s (DFID) costs of 4%, and the UK Government’s target of reducing these to 2% by 2014-15. 
  • Some EU aid streams, such as the programme for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, have administration costs as high as 8.6%.
  • €1.4bn or 10% of EU aid is needlessly passed on to other multilateral donors every year, such as the UN and World Bank. This money is simply being recycled between donors – up to three times in some cases – before it reaches a recipient country.
  • In 2009, the Commission also agreed to ‘delegate’ €242.7m worth of aid spending back to the EU’s national governments, which begs the question why the money was ever given to the EU by member states in the first place. 
  • EU aid is too often not aligned with other EU policies. For example, in 2008, the Commission established a migration centre in Mali to provide support to migrants seeking temporary jobs in the EU. However, with only Spain having signed a migration agreement with Mali, the €10m centre has helped only six Malians find work in Europe.
  • The EU often lacks the proper controls and monitoring to ensure money is not wasted or lost to corruption, especially as a result of the current drive to transfer up to 50% of its aid directly to recipient governments’ treasuries, through ‘budget support'.
  • Some aid funding does not even leave the EU, or even Brussels. In 2009 alone, the EU granted a Brussels-based communications agency nearly €500,000 to produce promotional material including €90,000 to co-ordinate an “I fight poverty” music contest amongst young people in Europe, to increase “development awareness”. 
Open Europe Research Director Stephen Booth said:

“There’s no conclusive evidence that the EU adds value to national aid programmes that are already performing relatively well, such as the UK’s aid spending. National contributions to the EU aid budget should be made voluntary with the Commission primarily playing a coordinating role, encouraging best practice and coherent policies among member states."

"At a time when funds are tight it is vital that national governments get value for money from their aid spending. Unfortunately, when it comes to accountability, money spent via Brussels too often falls into a black hole between member states and the European Commission.”

Political commentators from the right and left say that the BBC World Service should be absorbed into the DfID budget, instead of facing cuts as a result of being in the Foreign Office budget, as is the case at the moment. Both the Independent's Stephen Glover and the Guardian's Peter Preston argue that international aid is inefficiently managed - with Preston highlighting the case of India receiving aid, and Glover the widespread corruption in regimes that DfID currently gives aid to. This Open Europe report certainly makes the case for a reduction in DfID contributions to the EU aid budget - which would handily make room for the £236m World Service. 


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