EU member states spend development assistance on refugee aid in Europe

Preliminary figures published this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that Official Development Assistance (ODA) provided by the EU and its Member States reached €75.5 billion in 2016. This constitutes an 11% increase compared to 2015 levels.
The EU’s assistance has increased for the fourth year in a row and reached its highest level to date. In 2016, EU collective ODA represented 0.51% of EU Gross National Income (GNI), having increased from 0.47% in 2015.

This is significantly above the 0.21% average of non-EU countries that are members of OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) but still below the global goal that donor countries should commit 0.7% of their GNI to development assistance.

In 2016, five EU Member States provided 0.7% or more of their GNI in development assistance: Luxembourg (1.00%), Sweden (0.94%), Denmark (0.75%), Germany (0.70%), who has reached the target for the first time, and the United Kingdom (0.70%).

Sixteen EU Member States increased their assistance compared to their GNI, while 5 Member States reduced their ODA and 7 remained at the same level as last year. In total, 20 Member States increased their ODA nominally by €10.9 billion, while the decreases in 6 others amounted to €3.4 billion.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, said: “I am proud that the EU remains the world’s leading provider of Official Development Assistance – a clear proof of our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We call on all development actors to re-double their efforts to do likewise.”

However, OECD was not totally satisfied with the figures. Although development aid by EU and non-EU countries together increased by 8.9% from 2015, the 2016 data show that bilateral aid to the least-developed countries fell by 3.9% in real terms from 2015 and aid to Africa fell 0.5%, as some countries backtracked on a commitment to reverse past declines in flows to the poorest countries.

A 1988 rule allows donor countries to count certain refugee expenses as development assistance for the first year after their arrival. Development assistance spent on hosting refugees inside donor countries jumped by 27.5% in real terms from 2015 to reach USD 15.4 billion. That equates to 10.8% of total net ODA, up from 9.2% in 2015 and 4.8% in 2014.

According to OECD, Australia, Japan, Korea and Luxembourg did not count any refugee costs as ODA in 2016 but 11 countries spent over 10% of their ODA on refugees. Among them, Austria, Germany, Greece and Italy used over 20% of ODA for refugee costs.

Overall, total net ODA rose in 22 countries in 2016, with the biggest increases in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Spain. For some the increases were due to higher refugee costs. ODA fell in seven countries, with the largest declines seen in Australia, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.

ONE, a campaigning and advocacy organization, has been warning against the risk that European countries use money originally set aside for overseas development programmes to deal with the domestic impact of the refugee crisis.

Its Brussels office commented on the new figures that too much aid is being spent in Europe rather than the world’s poorest countries. “It is deeply concerning that, overall, aid to Africa fell by 0.5%. With the African population set to double by 2050, the EU must take steps to frontload investments for African youth now.”

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