Achieving the pledge of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind also requires focusing on least developed countries (LDCs), which have the highest need of resources to lift people out of poverty. This year marks the intermediate year to reach the target of providing 0.15% to 0.20% of gross national income to LDCs, which the EU and its Member States committed to and renewed in 2015. Our new policy paper assesses which EU actors are championing the LDCs by meeting their international commitments and supporting sustainable development in LDCs.

The need to provide official development assistance (ODA) to LDCs, which are less likely to attract other sources of funding, is further emphasized by the COVID-19 emergency that is accentuating inequalities globally.

Our findings reveal that several EU actors are championing least developed countries; dubbed ‘LDC champions’. Each category is based on different measurements that exemplify efforts to support sustainable development in LDCs.

Bilateral official development aid disbursements to least developed countries (2014 – 2018)

Percent of national income going to aid in least developed countries (2014-2018)

Percent of bilateral aid going to least developed countries (2014-2018)

However, there remains a deficit of nearly €5 billion in order to reach the international target of providing 0.20% of gross national income to LDCs. That is why we put forward a series of recommendations to the EU and its Member States ahead of the Council Conclusions on ODA targets that are to be approved in spring 2020 by the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), and in June by the European Council.

At the core of these recommendations is that EU donors increase their efforts towards LDCs. An increase in efforts does not only refer to financial commitments, but also that EU donors should adapt their development cooperation models to work more effectively with LDCs by introducing more dynamic practices that recognise the additional risks of working in these contexts.

Recommendation 1: Prioritise grants-based finance and programmatic aid
Non-grant modalities, such as loans, lead to intolerable debt burdens that impose catastrophic consequences on LDCs. That is why CONCORD recommends that the European Commission prioritise grants-based finance in the implementation of the EU’s “Communication on the Global EU response to COVID-19”. There should be no grant (or loan) conditionalities that would necessitate further cuts to public services – especially in LDCs.

In the light of COVID-19 outbreak, programmatic aid should also be prioritised over project aid as negotiating multiple projects would not be efficient time-wise. Additionally, the European Commission should redirect some of the private finance instruments towards grant-based support for countries most in need.

Recommendation 2: Timely fulfillment of commitments
The European Commission and Member States should fulfill their commitments and speedily allocate at least 0.15% of gross national income in ODA to LDCs in the short term, and 0.20% by the deadline of the 2030 Agenda. Additionally, EU Member States should fulfil their commitments by allocating at least 50% of their bilateral ODA to LDCs while implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

The call to leave no one behind is more compelling than ever as it has been projected that poverty will become increasingly concentrated in LDCs and fragile states in the coming years. It is encouraging that since 2016, EU ODA going to LDCs has increased and, if the preliminary data for 2019 will be confirmed, this positive trend may continue in the years to come.

However, given the high degree of uncertainty, it’s difficult to predict the impact of COVID-19 on ODA levels. However, our experts agree that ODA volumes will probably decrease for 2020 and beyond, with a high risk of turning back the clock 30 years on global poverty and devastating consequences in LDCs.

If the EU and its Member States are to champion their ODA commitments, it is critical that adequate and timely mechanisms be adopted while placing the most marginalised countries like LDCs at the forefront of the EU response.