Roger Helmer (born 25 January 1944) is a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP) since 1999 for the East Midlands region, and is Head of Delegation for the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Before becoming an MEP, he was a business executive. / Photo: Roger Helmer's office

Can Europe afford aid?

Debate. In times of economic austerity, can Europe afford to aid developing countries. Roger Helmer, MEP, and Alexandre Polack, EU Commission spokesperson for development in debate.


Over half of all development aid in the world comes from the EU and its member countries. This makes the Union the world’s largest aid donor, with most of the aid going to the least developed countries. (European Commission, 2014) Aid is commonly seen as a key ingredient in fighting global poverty –and eradicating poverty is at the heart of the post-2015 process.

Europe, however, is faced with almost a continent-wide economic crisis and recession. Can we afford to help others when we are in dire straits ourselves?

Roger Helmer, MEP for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has argued that in times of economic austerity the UK should scale back aid to focus on domestic priorities. Aid should be limited to emergency relief — food, blankets and medical aid. He also regards EU aid as excessive and poorly controlled.

In contrast, Alexandre Polack, EU Spokesperson for International Development, thinks aid and development cooperation are a good investment.

What responsibility do developed countries have towards the developing world?

Alexandre Polack: The values we hold dear in the developed world, including those around solidarity and empathy, mean we are driven to support development and poverty reduction across the world. Our development cooperation helps our partner country governments to increase their own national resources for development – including through promoting good governance, better financial management, fighting tax evasion and fair and effective taxation systems – so they can better lift themselves out of poverty.

Roger Helmer: I believe we should do what we can to help them develop high standards of governance and the rule of law.

AP: I can assure you that one of our priorities is indeed good governance – our Agenda for Change policy (which refocused aid to prioritise those sectors and countries where support is most needed and where it can make the most difference) highlighted governance as a key priority in EU development work.

RH: The most important outside contributors to developing economies are trade, and remittances from their diaspora – not aid. The EU’s aid volume is excessive and poorly controlled.
The most effective way of helping the developing countries is to open our markets to their goods – not, as the EU does, operate damaging protectionist policies.

AP: I disagree. The openness of our trade regime has meant that the EU is the biggest player on the global trading scene and the most open to developing countries. Fuels excluded, the EU imports more from developing countries than the USA, Canada, Japan and China put together. Trade and good governance are certainly important; the EU is the most open to developing countries and is a leading player in aid effectiveness and policy coherence for development.

Alexandre Polack

  •  has been the European Commission Spokesperson for Development for the last 2 years.  He studied Public administration and international relations at Science Po in Aix en Provence (France), the Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) and at the College of Europe (Bruges, Belgium);
  • previously worked as political adviser and communications manager in the European Parliament and then as Policy and Campaigns manager for the international development NGO ActionAid.
  • joined then the European Commission, working first at its delegation in Haiti and then at the Spokesperson Service in Brussels.

Alexandre Polack / Photo: European Commission

In times of economic austerity and crisis in Europe, can individual countries really afford to help each other financially?

AP: EU citizens seem to think so. According to a Eurobarometer survey on this topic, 80% of EU citizens support development aid and 60% are in favour of increasing aid to 0.7 % of national budgets.

RH: Well, this depends on the country and the circumstances. But the first duty of government is to the governed, not to third countries.

AP: I believe it is in our self-interest to recognise how interdependent we all are. Development cooperation is a good investment. We live in an increasingly interconnected world where problems in faraway places can reverberate back home. There are some fragile states, for example, which provide a fertile ground for extremism or terrorism. Well-designed and delivered development can help prevent conflict and help mitigate some of these threats. Development can also help us maximise the benefits of our global interconnectedness; as countries develop and their economies grow, they are better positioned to trade with Europe with all the jobs and revenue that can bring.

Mr Helmer, you said that EU aid spending is poorly controlled. Please elaborate.

RH: The budget lines are transparent, but the detail of what is spent, and how, is not transparent and analysis of it is too big a job for the individual MEP.

AP: This is simply not true. Publish What You Fund – a watchdog organisation – ranks EuropeAid as amongst the most transparent donors worldwide. EU aid is regularly under scrutiny from many organisations, including the European Parliament. In October 2011 the Commission started publishing information through the “International Aid Transparency Initiative” (IATI , which offers a common, open, international standard that sets guidelines for publishing information about aid spending. People can now access our aid data, by country, available in one place, via the IATI registry.

About EU aid being excessive and poorly controlled. We work hard to maximise impact of aid and improve effectiveness of our aid. The EU has put in place a new system allowing the evaluation of each proposal by its expected concrete results, through clear indicators such as the number of immunised children or people gaining access to electricity, and then to monitor to ensure that these results actually happen. New control and verification procedures have been implemented, to track every euro we spend.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are reaching their deadline in 2015 and the UN is now leading the world into a debate about future development goals. What is most important for the post 2015 agenda from the EU’s point of view?

AP: The current MDG’s have delivered encouraging progress in reducing poverty but we must not be complacent. New global challenges have arisen. The post-2015 framework must help to eradicate poverty through promoting truly sustainable development.

RH: Again, we should be concerned about trade and governance, not hand-outs. Trade develops self-reliance. Aid too often feeds corruption, or buys arms, and in any case promotes dependency.

AP: The UN’s Millennium Development Goals Report for 2014 delivers some compelling headlines on the profound difference in people’s lives made by the MDGs: global poverty has been halved five years ahead of the 2015 timeframe; ninety per cent of children in developing regions now enjoy primary education, and disparities between boys and girls in enrolment have narrowed.



European Commission. (2014). development and Cooperation. Fighting poverty in a changing world. Retrieved from



Debate In this series two experts challenge each other on a topical issue.

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