Europe OKs doubling of foreign aid

The agreement will boost aid to developingnations over five years.

Aid agencies gave a qualified welcome Wednesday to an announcement that the European Union (EU) will double its aid to developing countries in the next five years.

But some expressed frustration at the incremental movement toward bigger aid budgets that could make a real difference to the world's poorest countries.

British finance chief Gordon Brown trumpeted the deal, which adds impetus to London's campaign to make 2005 a transformative year for assistance to the developing world.

He said that European aid would jump to $80 billion annually by 2010, from $40 billion today. Rich EU countries will earmark 0.51 percent of national income, while poorer, newer members from Eastern Europe will dedicate 0.17 percent.

Aid agencies were pleased with the development, though some noted that even with this commitment, most European countries will still lag behind a UN target set 35 years ago of giving 0.7 percent of national income in aid.

"We see no reason why rich governments can't actually reach 0.7 percent this year," says Dave Timms of the World Development Movement, an antipoverty group. "It's a small step when what was needed was a giant leap."

Earlier this year, Britain unveiled a "Marshall Plan" for the developing world. Mr. Brown and Prime Minister Tony Blair are hoping to augment recent commitments with an overall package when G-8 leaders meet in Scotland in July.

But there is concern that the US may be a reluctant partner.

The US has already dismissed one of Brown's initiatives - an International Finance Facility to frontload aid - as unworkable. The US aid budget was just 0.16 percent of national income in 2004, but this doesn't include US military and logistical relief work.

"The EU's commitment to reach 0.7 percent by 2015 throws down the gauntlet to the US, Japan, and Canada just weeks before crucial G-8 meetings," says Jo Leadbeater of Oxfam. "If they fail to step up to the mark ... they will be responsible for derailing an historic deal on aid that would help lift millions out of poverty."

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