The Age of Austerity and Aid: EU Development Goals for 2030 and Beyond


The European Union is the world’s largest aid donor. Naturally, it wants to set the international development agenda when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015. However, with the development budget being slashed in response to austerity measures, the EU’s Overseas Development Aid (ODA) could be facing a real term decline for the first time in its history.

Incentivizing social entrepreneurs should be central to the post-2015 framework for international development. We need to engage citizens and NGOs and make it ok to make money while making a difference. However, there also needs to be minimum global standards for development projects to prevent t-shirt evangelists. The EU needs to similarly redress inequalities in middle-income countries and at home

The Bare Necessities

Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, has recently been appointed to the UN High Level Panel (HLP) on the post-MDG agenda.  The European Commission has also recently outlined its plans to streamline the Rio 20+ Sustainable Development Goals in the policy document “A Decent Life for All by 2030.” The European Commission’s development agenda post-2015 will be to link sustainable development with poverty eradication.

The outcomes of the HLP’s most recent meeting, concluded in Bali just before Easter, remain generalist, and the European Commission’s Decent Life for All proposal is the bare minimum of an effective development policy. Planning for the post-2015 development framework now only shows the unpreparedness of the EU with regards to innovative policies to lift millions out of poverty in an age of austerity, including cuts in ODA.

Will the EU only talk the talk?

There is currently little noise in the EU in support of social entrepreneurs and private sector partnerships despite a growing trend in this direction. Moreover, the European Parliament’s recent vote to maintain sugar beet subsidies to European farmers, at the expense of subsidizing cane farmers in developing nations, shows that national priorities still trump the goals of international development.

Piebalgs wants to set minimum targets for basic living standards across the world by 2030, rather than focusing on country-specific targets. This is necessary because, although the number of people living in extreme poverty has been  drastically reduced since the first round of Millennium Development Goals, half the world’s poor now live in middle-income countries which do not qualify for ODA. Middle-income countries are therefore being asked to make a greater effort to address their own internal development, so that dwindling ODA resources can be targeted toward the world’s poorest countries. Critically, some of the world’s most vulnerable people are found in places where the EU gets squeamish about dealing with their governments – Syria, North Korea and Sudan being prime examples.

Problematically, development has become an industry with little effective regulation, allowing for misguided or poorly executed projects. The situation in the private sector isn’t much better. AIDS Ride founder Dan Pallotta recently told a TED talk that our relationship to charity is fundamentally broken.

A decent life for all by 2030?

The EU must not allow austerity to be an excuse for cutting ODA, which must in turn be used effectively to lift the poorest countries out of poverty by 2030. The MDGs were sellable, but the next framework will have to address inequalities in a way that distributes responsibilities evenly between donors and recipients, private and public sectors. For that, we will need ambitious targets and genuine political will. Moreover, the EU and other OECD countries will need to find better ways to engage with civil society and NGOs in the ‘badlands’ like Syria and Sudan to help those most in need.

For the post-2015 development agenda to create effective change by 2030, poverty eradication, sustainable development and fighting inequality must be mainstreamed into every single national and EU government policy. Not the other way around.

Originally written and published in 2013 by Marine Vallet & Katrina Murray

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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