The European Union

The EU is the world’s largest aid donor (both development and humanitarian aid) and the number one trading partner for most developing countries. Through its policies on aid, trade, climate change and conflict the EU sets the global development agenda and provides a powerful platform from which to tackle global challenges and take collective action.

Over the past decade, the European Commission has gone through major changes and its aid programmes and policies have improved significantly, making the Commission a key player on the international development scene. Since 2004, development aid from the European Commission has achieved some impressive results:

  • helping 24 million of the world's poorest people get food
  • enabling nine million children to enrol in primary school
  • helping 31 million households gain access to better drinking water
  • building and / or maintaining 36,000 kilometres of road in developing countries.

The European Commission is and will remain one of the UK’s most important multi-lateral partners, given the size of its development programmes and the number of countries that benefit from EU aid. It is represented in over 140 countries, including many where the UK does not have bilateral programmes. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Office, ECHO, also provides emergency assistance and relief to the victims of natural disasters or armed conflict.

Assessing the EU’s impact on the UK: a review of the balance of competences

Balance of Competences

The Government is carrying out a review of the balance of competences between the EU and the UK. This is an audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK. We will lead on the report on Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid, and contribute to the report on Foreign Policy, both running from autumn 2012 – summer 2013.

We have now published our Call for Evidence for the Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid Report.

We are looking for objective, factual information about the impact or effect of the competence in your area of expertise.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the review is asked to send their written views before 1 March 2013 to or complete our survey. You can also write to us at: Europe Department, Department for International Development, 1 Palace Street, London SW1E 5HE.

We expect to publish all evidence we receive at the same time as our report next summer in order to deepen public understanding and facilitate debate, unless there is compelling reason not to do so. We will publish the name of your organisation unless you ask us not to. If you are writing on behalf of an organisation or individually, we will not publish your own name unless you indicate you wish it included. If you ask us to keep your contribution confidential, we will try to meet that wish provided there is good reason for this. If we receive a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for information which you have asked us to keep confidential, we will seek to use the appropriate FOIA exemptions to withhold that information.  However, you should be aware that it is possible that we might be ordered to release it.


Examples of European Commission projects include:

Girls go from street-selling to school

How UK aid, delivered through the European Commission, is changing lives in Bangladesh

Clean water makes for good living

A European Commission project transformed safe water access for 25,000 people in Uganda

Girls' education wins out in Pakistan

Thousands of children - many of them girls - are now in school thanks to an EU project

Focus on Results

DFID's Multilateral Aid Review (MAR) rated the European Development Fund (EDF) and ECHO among the top performers, but also identified clear reform priorities in order to demonstrate results and deliver greater value for money from UK aid channeled through the EU.

In October 2011, the European Commission launched a new Communication, known as the “Agenda for Change”, setting out how it intends to increase the impact of EU Development Policy. The Communication aims to re-focus EU aid, targeting the poorest countries more effectively and ensuring it demonstrates clearer results on the ground. The Commission has also launched a Communication on ‘The Future Approach to EU Budget Support to Third Countries’ which aims to make its approach to budget support more robust, improving its procedures for tackling corruption and ensuring EU aid always reaches the people it is intended for.

The UK is committed to ensuring all aid channeled through the EU makes a real difference to the lives of the world's poorest people. We will continue to push hard for clear development results and better value for money across all the EU's development programmes. Through ongoing negotiations over the future focus of EU development policy and the size and shape of the 2014-2020 EU aid budget, the UK will work hard to ensure that a new emphasis on demonstrating results, improving transparency and achieving greater value for money leads to more effective EU aid and better outcomes for the poorest people in the world.

Key facts

  • The EU collectively gave 56% (£43 billion) of global aid in 2009.
  • The European Commission gave 12.6% of global aid in 2009 (£9.6 billion), making it the second largest donor after the USA.
  • DFID channels 19% (£1.18bn in 2009) of its budget through the EU institutions.
Last updated: 07 Dec 2012