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Presented by Isabelle Kumar

Should the EU remain the world’s leading aid donor?
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All European Union citizens pay for aid to non-EU countries. More and more EU citizens are asking how much, where does it go and does anyone really know what happens to it?

Joining us on ITalk today, Andris Piebalgs, EU Development Commissioner. Our first question comes from Daniel.

Daniel, Cuba:

“Hello my name is Daniel, I am from Cuba and live in Brussels. My question for the Commission is whether Europe is going to remain the world’s leading donor or will the crisis push the EU into second place behind the United States.”

Alex Taylor:

“So are we going to be able to continue being the first donor?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“Well it seems so. I would definitely wish that others were more ambitious because the EU is by far the strongest development aid supporter in the world. We give at least 0.42 percent of GNI, and the US and Japan roughly 0.2, so I wish that they would follow the Europeans.”

Alex Taylor:

“Why do we continue to do this in the current economic crisis?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“Well, when the crisis strikes, it strikes the poorest countries more than more developed countries. There’s less trade, less demand and more poverty. So, I believe that in times of crisis it is even more important to look towards poor countries because poverty creates insecurity, war and conflict. It’s very clear that we can’t, in times of crisis, forget the world because it will hit us back.”

Alex Taylor:

“Ok, to press you on this point, another question on the same theme.”

Emmanuel, France:

“I would like to ask whether the time hasn’t come to devote development aid to helping European countries rather than helping countries that have already received a lot of subsidies and financial aid?”

Alex Taylor:

“This, Mr Piebalgs, is the crux of the matter: can we continue to pay for other countries outside Europe in crisis. And what exactly is the budget? I was trying to prepare the programme looking on a website, it’s very hard to find the actual figures. How much do we as European citizens pay, each?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“Well, for Africa, yearly, we spend 4.2 billion euros, so that is far less than structural funds inside the European Union. So, for an EU citizen, it depends on the country…”

Alex Taylor:

“Do the Germans pay more than the Greeks at the moment for example?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“It’s true, they are paying more because different EU countries are on different levels of aid. Those paying most for development aid are Luxembourg citizens, followed, I would assume, by the Danish, Swedish, Dutch – countries that are over 0.7 percent of GNI.”

Alex Taylor:

“And just for one typical Luxembourg citizen, is it a cinema ticket? Are we talking more or less? What kind of sums?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“I would say for a Luxembourg citizen it could be 100 euros per year.”

Alex Taylor:

“For overseas aid. Okay, let’s have another question for Commissioner Piebalgs.”

Mégane, Belgium:

“Hello, my name is Mégane, I am Belgian.
We often hear about human development in African countries or developing countries, but I think it’s hypocritical, because there’s a lot of talk about these kinds of projects, but nothing ever comes out of them.”

Alex Taylor:

“Is that true, how do we know how the money is being spent?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“No, no. I think we have to look at MDGs – Millenium Development Goals. It means, basically, the fight against poverty, it’s about education enrollment. If we look at drinking water for example, millions of people are now supplied with drinking water. Ninety percent of kids now have at least access to education. Also, maternal mortality rates and mortality rates among children under five have decreased. I think that one of the issues that is more visible is the spread of AIDS. AIDS has been seen as wiping out Africa. Today, we have managed to halt the spread of AIDS. These are remarkable achievements.”

Alex Taylor:

“But some people would say to you why don’t we spend the money helping people with AIDS within the European Union. What do you reply to that?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“Well, the scale is different. We are definitely helping people within the European Union. It’s not comparable but if you look at the scale. In the European Union, only particular risk groups – people who use drugs, very few groups – are affected by AIDS. In Africa, it has spread all across the population. Young kids are forced into the role of head of family because their parents have died of AIDS. The same with malaria: in Europe you will not find malaria, in Africa it kills millions of people. Or tuberculosis, because tuberculosis comes partially with AIDS, so there’s an enormous difference between the health care situation in Europe and in Africa. Just to give you an example, most Europeans expect to live to the age of 70 or 80 at least, in Africa, Burundi for example, the average life expectancy is 50.

Alex Taylor:

“Ok, let’s have another question for Commissioner Piebalgs.”

Justin, South Africa:

“My name is Justin, I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I’d just like to ask the question: how is accountability measured? And how is costing monitored, once the aid is given to a specific country, whether it is a nation in Africa or in central Europe? Thank you.”

Alex Taylor:

“A very concrete question: how do you measure the efficiency of the money that we give?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“Well, I think there are two questions.
First, I think there is often suspicion that you lose money to non-democratic, corrupt governments. That’s wrong.”

Alex Taylor:

“It is sometimes the case.”

Andris Piebalgs:

“No, we never lost money to corruption, at least in my memory. Because, first of all, we make controls to see that the project can be safely implemented, and we make controls during the implementation of the project.”

Alex Taylor:

“Control on what? On the democratic process or control on the way the money is spent?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“The way the money is spent. Because when you see the level of democracy in public finance management, then you decide on a mode of implementation. The best is usually to go through the government, but you need to be sure that the government is capable of following the programme. And we always pay on results, so if there are no results, there is no transfer of money.

“Now, about efficiency, how it’s measured: each project tries to reach a final destination. The final destination are the people, it’s a child who gets health care, a mother who gets health care, or a child who gets access to education. We try to explain this in numbers. Let me give you one example: through the Global Fund, we have saved the lives of 8.7 million people. I can’t give the names of all the people we have saved, but we always estimate what results can be achieved, and then monitor whether we achieved the results or not. Sometimes projects are successful, sometimes less, that’s true.”

Alex Taylor:

“Ok, let’s have one final question here on ITalk for Commissioner Piebalgs.”

Jean, Belgium:

“I would like to know what’s being done to develop education in Africa in particular. Thank you.”

Alex Taylor:

“Teaching?”

Andris Piebalgs:

“Well, there have been substantial changes. More than 90 percent of kids are enrolled in schools. And you can see, when you travel throughout Africa, kids going to school. But we need to focus on two things: first, we need to get more secondary enrolment because it also very much reflects on women’s empowerment. The second part of our attention should focus on the quality of education, because kids go to school but the quality of the teaching is poor. So they leave school without basic numerical or reading skills. We will try to continue increasing the quality of primary education because the quality of primary education is crucial for the political and the economic development of a country, and for the well-being of individuals. There is another question that has not been touched upon: studies to quantify the impact of EU aid on recipient countries show that, if we get the money that we’re asking for in this year’s budget, by 2020 the aid spent would increase GDP in sub-Saharan Africa by 2.5%.”

Alex Taylor:

“Commissioner Piebalgs, thank you very much. You can find the list of our future guests on our website, please don’t hesitate to send in your video questions. See you soon.”

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