What does leaving the EU mean for international development?

Published: 7th Jul 2016

This briefing is largely based on the briefing by the House of Commons Library ‘EU referendum: impact of an EU exit in key UK policy areas’. The opinions and judgements it contains are theirs. We expect to review and add to these articles periodically as events develop.

The EU is one of the UK’s largest multilateral aid partners. In 2014 the UK’s total aid budget was £11.7 billion and £1.1 billion of this was channelled through the European Commission.

The UK channels funds for development cooperation and humanitarian aid through the development part of the EU budget and the European Development Fund.

The UK contributed £816 million to the development part of the EU budget in 2014, which made it the second largest recipient of UK aid that year. This budget funds programmes in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

According to the Government, the European Development Fund is the main funding body for European Commission development spending in 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and 25 EU overseas countries and territories. It sits outside the main EU budget and 80% of its funds go to low income countries. The UK contributed £328 million to the European Development Fund in 2014.

That money won’t necessarily be available to spend in this country instead. The UK has a self-imposed target of spending 0.7% of the value of the economy on aid every year. It would need to spend the aid money currently routed through the EU on other projects in order to meet that target.

The Government’s 2013 review of our EU membership looked at some of the strengths and weaknesses associated with EU aid.  

It found that the EU is a major contributor to global efforts to reduce poverty and make progress towards the other Millennium Development Goals. The EU’s global reach is also greater than that of any of the member countries individually. Through the EU, the UK currently has access to the EU’s mechanisms for tackling problems in fragile states and addressing global development challenges.

The review also says that the close alignment of UK and EU development objectives, and the EU’s perceived political neutrality and global influence, can increase the UK’s influence.

That said, the Balance of Competences Review also noted that policy making at EU level can result in compromises that the UK doesn’t fully agree with. It was also critical of complexity and inefficiency in EU aid, as well as the co-ordination and expertise among EU organisations.


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