Development: Short `appalled' by EU aid policy

THE SECRETARY of State for International Development, Clare Short, accused the European Union yesterday of diverting much-needed aid away from the poorest countries. She spoke out as she released figures showing that some Mediterranean nations received more than 10 times the level of aid given to poorer states.

The figures, available for the first time, prove that countries, such as Morocco, receive eight times more EU aid per head than Bangladesh and Ethiopia. In terms of European development aid per head in 1996, Jordan got pounds 15.56 compared to 53p in Ethiopia and 6p in India.

Ms Short also said that it was "extraordinary" that wealthy countries such as Brunei, Kuwait and the Bahamas were receiving aid.

She told the Commons Select Committee on International Development that the UK would be pressing for an overhaul of Europe's overseas aid budget to ensure that the money went to the poorest nations. Politics rather than genuine poverty had distorted the budget.

It was "truly appalling" that the EU gave only 53 per cent of its pounds 4bn budget to poor nations in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 75 per cent 10 years ago. The UK contributes about 15 per cent of the aid resources spent by the EU.

Many middle-income states in Latin America and the Middle East received far larger sums than India, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Ms Short said that the EU should follow the example of the UK, which directs more than 80 per cent of its development funds to the poorest countries.

"Spending is often political. The rhetoric says poverty, the reality is, `We're worried about North Africa, bung them some money,' and the effect is unprincipled application," she said.

The European Commission's budget management was "totally inefficient", with some allocations remaining unspent, and the UK would argue for a freeze in coming negotiations. Ministers from EU member states allocate the cash. The Commission administers the spending. A recent report by the OECD showed that for every pounds 1 allocated, 27p was left unspent, largely due to inefficiency by Commission staff.