In a document launched yesterday, development ministers from across the EU agreed on the need for a fundamental shake-up of the objectives and administration of European aid. The paper, which was largely drafted by Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, argues that the EU "allocates a substantially lower proportion of its resources to low income countries than most donors, and this share has been falling over recent years".
The paper, A New Agenda for European Development Co-operation, also calls for the end of the mechanism that ties development aid to the purchase of European goods and services. The effectiveness of delivering aid should be evaluated better, it adds.
Specific proposals include the creation of a European commissioner who would have responsibility for all development programmes, instead of the current structure with four directorates and one agency distributing money to different parts of the globe.
Ms Short said: "Too much of Europe's development effort operates below its potential. This paper shows how we can massively strengthen Europe's contribution to poverty reduction and development - by refocusing a larger proportion of ... development resources on the poorest countries."
Because socialists control 11 of the 15 governments of the member states, the document represents a powerful caucus pressing for change both in Brussels and in the capitals of Europe. The EU is the sixth biggest provider of development aid and, taken together, EU projects and bilateral programmes of the 15 member states account for two-thirds of global development aid.
Behind the new thinking lies concern at the trend of Europe's aid programmes being directed towards projects in politically sensitive countries, rather than the poorest ones. In 1986-87 Ethiopia was the biggest recipient of EU development aid, with $157m (pounds 99m), with India in second place with $139m (pounds 88m). In 1996-97 Morocco topped the table at $218m (pounds 138m), with Egypt second on $157m (pounds 99m).