Working approach

The European approach


Germany's development cooperation within the framework of the European Union

The European Union (EU) is the world's largest donor in international development cooperation, contributing a share of around 60.5 per cent. As the largest single market in the world it is also an important trading partner for many developing countries and has a major influence on world trade regimes. This combination of financial, economic and political influence makes the EU one of the most influential players in international development policy. 

Responsibility for development cooperation is shared between the European Community and its member states. Community policy in this field complements the policies of the individual member states.

In 2011, the EU provided a total of nearly 9.4 billion euros in Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Goals and principles

The Treaty of Nice, which came into force on 1 February 2003, currently provides the legal basis for the development cooperation of the European Union. Article 177 and the following articles lay down the goals of European development policy. The Community aims to promote sustainable economic and social development, integrate the developing world into the global economy, and combat poverty. Democracy, the rule of law, and human rights are to be strengthened. This is why human rights clauses form part of many agreements with developing countries. This political dimension is what distinguishes EU development cooperation from that of many other international donors.

In December 2007 the EU heads of state and government signed the Treaty of Lisbon. It expressly makes poverty reduction the general objective of the EU. This is to guide all external activities of the EU and its member states. It also provides for the creation of a European External Action Service, with the aim of improving the uniformity and efficiency of the EU's actions in the field of external relations. The institutional organisation of development policy within the future system is still being discussed. Since the Irish voters rejected the Treaty of Lisbon in a referendum it is currently uncertain when the Treaty will come into force.

European Consensus on Development

In November 2005 the European Consensus on Development was adopted. Some fifty years after European development policy was first launched, this was the first comprehensive political declaration on the EU's development policy. It brings together the European Commission and the EU member states in the design of their respective development policies at political level, and was approved by the European Parliament.

The European Consensus on Development takes all previous agreements one step further. It extends these to incorporate the outcomes of the most recent international conferences on development (the UN Millennium Summit, Cairo, Johannesburg, Doha and Monterrey). The Consensus lays out the goals, principles and methods of European development cooperation, and identifies the priorities of the EU. In line with the principle of concentration, while maintaining flexibility at country level, nine new core areas have been specified:

  • Trade and regional integration

  • The environment and the sustainable management of natural resources

  • Infrastructure, communications and transport

  • Water and energy

  • Rural development, territorial planning, agriculture and food security

  • Governance, democracy, human rights and support for economic and institutional reforms

  • Conflict prevention and fragile states

  • Human development

  • Social cohesion and employment

The document also lays out cross-cutting issues including the promotion of human rights, gender equality, democracy, good governance, children's rights and indigenous peoples, environmental sustainability and the fight against HIV/AIDS.


The reforms of the European Community's development cooperation launched in 2000 are already bearing fruit. They were a response to criticism that the instruments are too slow, and assistance too unwieldy and not sufficiently aligned to the needs of the poorest countries. The path chosen by the European Commission to enhance the effectiveness of development cooperation can be summed up in three terms:

Improved coherence is to ensure that development-policy goals are also taken into account in other policy fields. In this way for instance, agriculture and development policy are to be better dovetailed.

Increased coordination of the aid programmes of the Community and of member states can help avoid unnecessary overlaps and duplication of efforts.

The goal of complementarity means that the development policy of the European Community and of member states complement one another, forming a rational and coherent whole, rather than competing with one another.

In the meantime, responsibilities have been clarified, operations accelerated and authority focussed. Everything that can be better settled at local level should no longer be decided in Brussels. The lead time between the pledging of funds and the disbursement has been cut. Money can now get more rapidly to where it is needed.

German strategy and role

There are several ways in which Germany helps shape the development policy of the European Union. In a number of European bodies the German government actively pursues the following aims:

  • Gearing all activities to the overarching goal of reducing poverty

  • Making further efficiency gains and rendering assistance more effective

  • Improving consultation, coordination and the division of labour between the Commission and member states, and improving coherence with other EU policies

  • Promoting free and fair trade; this includes supporting developing countries within the scope of the Doha round of trade negotiations

  • Gearing development cooperation more to the imperatives of conflict prevention; European development policy should be seen as part of foreign and security policy, but should retain its own objectives.

The German government is also involved in every phase of implementation of EU development cooperation. All measures are prepared, implemented and monitored in consultation with member states and the pertinent Community institutions in Brussels.

German presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2007

From January until June 2007, Germany held the presidency of the Council of the European Union and thus the presidency of the EU. During this time, Germany represented the EU in its external relations, in other words in its dealings with international organisations and institutions and in discussions between the EU and individual countries or groups of countries. The German presidency also worked closely with the European Commission to manage the European Union's day-to-day affairs, implement decisions and lend new impetus to EU policy.

Germany used the presidency to fine-tune and refine European development policy. Alongside high-level meetings of Europe's ministers for development, informal meetings were held at various levels of government. Chairing the Council working groups for development also created some excellent opportunities to forge ahead with the reform of EU development cooperation.

Under the aegis of Germany's Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the EU member states for instance reaffirmed the importance of the European Consensus on Development in the Petersberg Communiqué on European Development Policy. Significant progress was made on negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states. The German presidency also launched a number of other initiatives on various topics including an energy partnership with Africa, an improved division of labour and the introduction of a code of conduct for donor countries, and on HIV/AIDS and gender equality.

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