Cooperation with developing countries goes back to the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957.
Beginning with arrangements between the EEC and former colonies of some Member States, relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), Asia and Latin America, Mediterranean countries and the Middle East and Eastern neighbouring countries have progressively developed with the aid of instruments such as the European Development Fund (EDF), and a range of agreements, conventions and partnerships.
Development policy has undergone important reforms over the years, most notably since 2000. A particularly significant milestone was the establishment of the EuropeAid external cooperation office in 2001.
Ten years later, on 1 January 2011, the EuropeAid Cooperation Office (AIDCO) and the Directorate General for Development and Relations with ACP States merged to form Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid.
That same year, the European Commission adopted the Agenda for Change Communication. The Agenda for Change equips the EU with high-impact development policy and practice to speed up progress on poverty eradication.
As of 1 January 2015, the Directorate General becomes "Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO)".
1957: creation of European Development Fund (EDF)
The EDF was established with the EEC under the Treaty of Rome in 1957. It is financed through the voluntary contributions of the Member States and is the main European financial aid resource for ACP countries.
The first EDF was implemented in 1958. Applied in five-year cycles, it generally follows the partnership agreements and conventions. The tenth EDF runs from 2008 to 2013.
African, Caribbean and Pacific countries
The post-independence context of the 1960s and 70s marked a dramatic shift in relations between the EEC and French-speaking African countries. The Yaoundé Conventions, which defined this relationship, were followed by the Lomé Conventions (1975-2000), made with British ACP colonies, as well as all of sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2000, the Cotonou Agreement, transferred accountability for development actions to ACP countries, developing a pathway for the coming 20 years. Cairo also hosted the first EU–Africa Summit of Heads of State in 2000. This effort was continued seven years later at the second Summit in Lisbon which adopted the new Joint EU–Africa Strategy.
Asia and Latin America
Cooperation began in 1976 with the launch of a financial and technical assistance programme for developing countries in Asia and Latin America (DC–ALA regulation). This was replaced in 2007 by the further-reaching Instrument for Development Cooperation.
In 1994, the EU’s Asia Strategy was launched, followed closely, in 1995, by the EU-Latin America and Caribbean Strategic Partnership.
Mediterranean countries and the Middle East
Although bilateral cooperation agreements between Mediterranean countries and the EEC had been in place since the 1970s, it was not until 1995 that they were formalised by the Barcelona Process, which aimed to create an area of peace, stability and free trade between the EU and Mediterranean countries.
Over the next ten years, the MEDA programme financed cooperation between the European Economic Community (EEC) and the Mediterranean. This was replaced in 2007 by the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). The following year, the Union for the Mediterranean was founded, bringing together 43 countries from the EU and the southern Mediterranean.
Eastern neighbouring countries
Cooperation with Eastern neighbouring countries began following the collapse of the former USSR. Up to 2006, TACIS was the EU’s main financing programme to ex-Soviet republics, while the PHARE aid programme was also applied to Central and Eastern European countries. In 2007, TACIS was replaced by the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI).
Between 2004 and 2007, the composition of the EU changed dramatically with the accession of 12 new member states, primarily from Eastern Europe. From 2007, for those still on the road towards membership, the new Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) replaced all other aid programmes for candidate countries.
Since 2000, EU external assistance has undergone a series of important reforms. They have included: the establishment of the EuropeAid external cooperation office in 2001, the adoption of the European Consensus on Development in 2005, and the adoption of a voluntary Code of Conduct on the “division of labour” to improve harmonisation in 2007.
The EU has placed the fight against poverty at the heart of its cooperation policy, notably as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were enshrined by the UN in New York in 2000.
In 2005, the EU signed the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness to improve coordination, harmonisation and transparency. The Declaration was accelerated and extended through an action programme adopted at the third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held in Accra three years later.
For more information on the history of EuropeAid, including European added value, and our guiding principles, read our factsheet: The EU and development aid: a longstanding resolution.