Brussels, 24 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Collectively, the European Union is already by far the largest development aid donor in the world.
Taken separately, however, only four member states -- Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden -- contribute more than 0.7 percent of their gross national income (GNI) toward assistance to the world's many poor countries. Yet this is the target the EU has collectively long affirmed it will one day achieve.
Today, the current 25 EU member states fixed the year 2015 as what they publicly say is a firm and final deadline. They also agreed that instead of 0.39 percent of their GNI this year, they will together spend 0.56 percent on aid by 2010.
"It shows that Europe does not only make promises, but also fulfills them."
Luxembourg's aid minister Jean Louis Schilz, speaking on behalf of the current EU presidency, called the decision a "breakthrough."
"The EU said at the end of last year that it intends to play a major role at the [upcoming] UN [development] summit in New York [in September], and I believe that the agreement we have reached today is a major contribution in this context. It shows that Europe does not only make promises, but also fulfills them," Schilz said.
The UN summit will assess the progress toward achieving the so-called Millennium Development Goals, which represent a commitment by global leaders -- among other things -- to cut poverty and hunger by half, provide education for all, and improve health standards by 2015.
For their part, the older EU member states agreed to spend 0.51 percent of their respective GNI by 2010, and new members 0.17 percent each. As a result, Schilz said, the EU by 2010 would be spending 20 billion euros ($25.2 billion) more each year than it does now.
However, worldwide relief agencies, such as Oxfam, have already expressed fears that these commitments can be rolled back should economic conditions in the EU worsen or other priorities take precedent.
Germany, Italy, and Portugal, for example, have all signed a declaration saying their commitment to the 0.51 percent aid target remains subject to their economic situations.
The EU's commissioner in charge of development, Louis Michel, today downplayed the significance of the declaration.
"It is a permanent custom at all [EU] meetings that all participants can make declarations expressing, if you will, a certain hesitation relating to specific problems. That is so, but it is also clear in any case that there is a firm agreement, a firm commitment, without qualification, without limitations, and without any restraint among at least 12 of the 15 [old EU member states]. And with that, it seems to me, we can arrive at the 0.56 percent target easily," Michel said.
Michel also said he has "total confidence" the three countries will not make use of the reservations they made today.
Diplomats have also told RFE/RL that none of the 10 new EU member states appears to be in a position to guarantee they will meet the aid requirements. Some, like Estonia, have already said they cannot meet the target.