Through its Development Cooperation Instrument, the European Union aims to reduce poverty in developing countries, as well as to promote sustainable economic, social and environmental development, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and good governance.

Regulation (EU) No 233/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2014 establishing a financing instrument for development cooperation for the period 2014-20.

In accordance with its policy outlined in the paper ‘An agenda for change’, the EU seeks to target its development cooperation funding where it will have most impthe act. Priority goes to countries in greatest need: the least-developed countries in terms of their low gross national income and their weak human assets, those in crisis or post-crisis situations and those that are fragile or vulnerable. The EU operates a differentiated approach in response to the needs, capacities and performance of partner countries.

Development Cooperation Instrument

The EU’s Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) comprises the following.

Geographic programmes – These support bilateral and regional cooperation programmes in areas such as essential needs (health and education), employment, infrastructure, human rights, democracy, good governance and sustainable development. These cover developing countries in Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, as well as South Africa.

Thematic programmes – These fall into two groups, as follows:

Global public goods and challenges: this covers aspects such as climate change, environment, energy, human development, food security and migration while ensuring coherence with the poverty reduction objective. 27 % of this programme will be spent on climate change and environmental objectives and at least 25 % of the programme will support social inclusion and human development.

Civil society organisations and local authorities: this programme will encourage civil society (i.e. non-state actors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and citizens’ organisations) and local authorities to play a greater role in development strategies.

Pan-African programme – In addition to the above programmes, by means of a new pan-African programme the DCI will support the EU’s strategic partnership with Africa. This programme will complement other financing instruments that are used in Africa, such as the European Development Fund and the European Neighbourhood Instrument. Activities under this programme will be of a transregional, continental or global nature.

With a budget of over €19.6 billion (current prices) for the 2014-20 period, the DCI covers all developing countries.

A twelve-point action plan for Millennium Development Goals

In 2010, to help accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, the European Commission put forward a 12-point medium-term action plan.

To respect the commitment to increasing EU official development assistance (ODA) to 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) by 2015, the Commission proposed:

  • to establish annual action plans to optimise the implementation of development assistance;
  • to strengthen the EU accountability mechanism, based on an assessment of the development assistance;

EU countries enact national legislation for setting development assistance targets. It also called on other international donors to increase their contribution in line with EU ODA.

Improving the effectiveness of aid

To strengthen the effectiveness of development aid and the coordination of the various actors involved, the Commission proposed in particular to:

  • progressively use a joint programming framework and a single programming cycle for the EU and EU countries by 2013;
  • introduce an Operational Framework for aid effectiveness, division of labour, transparency of funding, mutual accountability of the EU and developing countries;
  • encourage other donors to follow the principles of aid effectiveness.

Action plan to accelerate progress towards the MDGs

To accelerate progress towards the MDGs, the Commission proposed that the EU and EU countries:

  • target as a priority the countries and populations which are furthest behind;
  • target the MDGs which are furthest behind and improve the impact of European sectoral policies (e.g. health, education, food security and gender equality);
  • foster ownership of MDGs by partner countries (e.g. integrating the MDGs into their own development strategies and by improving the quality of statistics);
  • adopt a Work Programme to ensure there is consistency between EU policies likely to affect partner countries (e.g. in the key areas of trade and finance, climate change, food security, migration and security);
  • promote the mobilisation of domestic resources, in particular through better national and international tax governance and the strengthening of partner countries’ tax systems;
  • promote regional integration and trade, which stimulate growth and jobs;
  • identify and promote innovative sources of funding, including via public-private partnerships, to ensure stable incomes for sustainable development;
  • support climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in partner countries (e.g. by promoting cooperation, research and access to green technologies);
  • create long-term security conditions (most countries behind in achieving the MDGs are fragile due to armed conflicts);
  • give a new impulse to the reform of the international governance architecture (i.e. improve the effectiveness and legitimacy of the process through better inclusion of the poorest countries, whose interests are often marginalised).


Actions by the EU and EU countries have yielded some positive results. However, in some cases, their results have fallen short of their target.

Extreme poverty and hunger

Globally, extreme poverty was halved by 2010, 5 years ahead of schedule; it has continued to fall since. Nevertheless, 836 million people still live in extreme poverty. 72 out of 129 countries have halved the proportion of people suffering from hunger. 795 million people still suffer from hunger, 2 billion people from poor nutrition and a quarter of children from stunted growth.

Universal primary education

Compared with 2000, the number of children out of school has almost halved. Literacy rates for young people aged 15 to 24 have increased from 83 % in 1990 to a projected 91% in 2015. EU support has contributed to this, as well to improvements in all other levels of education.

Gender equality and female empowerment

Some progress has been made in achieving gender equality and girls’ and women’s empowerment. However, there are persistent, and in some cases unprecedented, violations of women’s rights. The gender gap is even greater when gender inequality is combined with other forms of exclusion such as disability, age, caste, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geographical remoteness or religion.

Child mortality

There are still an estimated 16,000 deaths a day. Mortality rates for under-5s have halved since 1990, from 90 to a projected 43 deaths per 1000 live births in 2015. Greater declines have been achieved among the poorest households than among the richest in all regions. Nevertheless, progress has been insufficient to achieve the target of a two-thirds reduction in deaths by 2015.

Maternal health

In 2015, the mortality ratio is almost half of the 1990 figure. Nevertheless, achievements still fall short of the MDG target to reduce the ratio by three-quarters by 2015.

HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (TB)

The number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria has decreased by 40% since 2000.

Environmental sustainability

Targets on access to improved water supplies and reduced numbers of people living in slums were achieved before the deadline. However, the loss of environmental resources and biodiversity has not been halted.

Develop a global partnership for development

Progress since 1990 has been good. In 2014, development assistance levels had increased by 66% compared to 2000. Over the same period, developing countries’ access to markets has increased.

This article is derived from European Union public sector information. EU public information is reproduced pursuant to Commission Decision of 12 December 2011 on the reuse of Commission documents (2011/833/EU) (the EU Decision).

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