European Union- Exploiting or helping developing countries?

European Commission

Viviane Stroede investigates the exploitation of developing countries by the European Union in order to support its own economy.


The European Union, consisting of 27 member states, is one of the major political and economic forces. From the very beginning the Union aimed to create a unified economy. The single European market was a key driving force for EU integration and therefore was mainly concerned about economics from the outset.

This itself is not the problem, though we need to question the way it is being implemented. The purpose of the EU is clearly to maintain internally open markets and the free flow of capital, as well as pressing externally for the advantage of European businesses around the world.

In the Treaty of Lisbon, 2007, Chapter 1, Article 10 A (2d) it states that “the Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to: [d)] foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty.”

Additionally the Lisbon Treaty in Article 208 implies that all EU policies must be in support of developing country’s development needs, and not contradict the aim of poverty eradication. “The Union shall take account of the objectives of development cooperation in the policies that it implements which are likely to affect developing countries.”

Here you can find the full text for the Treaty of Lisbon .

The EU is a major force in development aid. Last year the Union provided €53.8bn, more than half of global aid. As stated in the Treaty of Lisbon it is the Unions target to eradicate poverty and support the development of poorer countries. Though these rules are not legally binding to the EU and with the following cases it becomes clear that the Union fails to follow its own rules.

Currently there are negotiations between leaders of India and the EU about new trade rules regarding the production of generic pharmaceuticals in India. The Council of the EU authorized the Commission in 2007 to negotiate the Free Trade Agreement with India and decide whether the two economies will agree on a trade pact and forge a new commercial relationship. The impact of these regulations on the people in India would be severe.

The EU is backed by multinational pharmaceutical companies that try to impose new intellectual property rules on India. This means generic pharmaceutical companies in India will not be able to produce cheap drugs and therefore medicine is not affordable for the poor anymore. The new trade rules could deny hundreds of millions of people access to affordable medicines in order to treat AIDS and HIV.

“In 2001one of the key victories of civil society was to get a waver in the WTO (World Trade Organization) trips agreement on intellectual property rights which ensured that it will still be possible for countries like India to produce generic drugs, particularly in the fight against AIDS. The European Union seems to want to get around this precisely so that it can continue to champion the interests of big pharmaceutical industries in Europe against the needs of people who would be able to otherwise have access to Indian generic drugs”, states John Hilary from War on Want.

India plays a critical role in the global medicine market by producing over two thirds of all generic medicines, which are affordable versions of drugs licensed by multinational companies. Currently over 80 % of AIDS and HIV drugs are manufactured by generic companies and if new trade rules are implemented the prices of life-saving treatments will drastically increase.

“The negotiations between India and the European Union are yet another example of the EU taking sides with pharmaceutical industries”, stated Kenneth Haar from Corporate Europe Observatory. According to Haar the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies have been very dear to the European Commission and there are a number of cases where the interest of the companies has been put above that of the people.

According to K. Haar the EU has such a tremendous influence on countries outside its own member states because they are, like for example in India, bargaining with access to the European market. “Indian companies are very interested in the EU market and if they do not get that access it is a major problem for them”, he adds.

When asking John Clancy, EU trade spokesperson for Commissioner for Trade, Karel de Gucht, he states the “European Parliament is probably one of the most important defenders of human rights and development in the world and so it is hard to imagine a Free Trade Agreement that would be so damaging to the rights of access to medicine in the developing world ever winning their approval.”

925 million people throughout the globe suffer from hunger. It is a universal human right, which all states are mutually obliged to respect, protect and fulfill, to secure access to food. The European Union has a special responsibility in this being the world’s largest actor in agricultural trade.

In the case of the marine fishery in Cape Verde, in West Africa it fails to pursue these securities and rather plays the actor causing the problem. According to John Hilary the fishing grounds around Europe are exhausted and therefore the Union has sought more and more rights for its trawling fleets to go wider out into the oceans and particularly to the very rich stocks of Western Africa, undermining some of the poorest communities in the world, who rely on them for work and food. “Instead of people in West Africa being able to use their own seas and continue their small scale fishing, suddenly what you see are European trawlers getting rights to fish all the way down the western African coast. That includes the occupied waters of the Western Sahara, through the Europeans deal with Morocco, which extends to waters Morocco has absolutely no sovereignty over at all”, states John Hilary.

Fishermen near Accra

This case clearly shows the, “economic but also political damage the European Union’s expansion is causing”, Hilary adds.

According to Kenneth Haar the development in Africa is very concerning as the “European Union is demanding quite strongly that weak African economies open up their markets entirely to European companies. That can have even in the medium term disastrous consequences because they will be off competed.”

Haar adds that, “the trade policy of the European Union makes it quite clear. The EU puts its power at the disposal of the biggest companies in Europe to promote interests globally. Many times there is indeed a contradiction between popular interest in Africa and the trade policy of EU.”

The key of the human security concept is the fundamental right to life, physical safety and freedom from premature and preventable death. The Union’s security and development agenda recognizes there cannot be “sustainable development without peace and security, and that without development and poverty eradication there will be no sustainable peace”, Haar states.

Security policies in many EU member states show clashes between economic and security interests.  Although provided in the EU agenda, the EU exports arms to notorious human rights abusers and conflict hotspots around the world. The Union is the biggest arm exporter after Russia and the US and granted over 800 million euro worth of arms export to Libya, under Gaddafi rule. Additionally Saudi Arabia received 20 % of the UK’s exports of arms in 2010, according to Daniel Puglisi, from CONCORD. This is another example showing that the capitalistic interest is put above the security and lives of people in developing countries.

When looking at those cases one might ask how this is possible?

According to John Hilary the European Union remains an important source for trade and investment for many countries. This means that countries like India find themselves drawn into deals which are actually not in the best interest of its own people.

The corporations and their lobby organizations in Brussels have a tremendous influence. According to Kenneth whenever a piece of legislation is coming up that touches of the economic interests of the business sector they would normally be able to both influence the legislation before it is released to the public and during the political process, both in the European Council and European Parliament.

The overarching problem with this is that capitalistic interests are being put before social interests. According to Kenneth the problem lies in the fact that the Union is based on a treaty that is not very democratic.

The cases above show clearly that for the purpose of economic growth the European Union is acting morally wrong. Although setting itself an agenda which is aimed to support developing countries it is not able to fulfill this.

When looking at the statistics made by CONCORD (European NGO confederation for Relief and Development) between 2009 and 2011 only 7 out of 164 impact assessments of proposed new policies by the European Commission have looked at their impact on developing countries, even though 77 were potentially relevant to them.

Reality differs a lot from what is written in the Lisbon Treaty. The problem itself starts with the fact that the treaty is not legally binding for the EU. The treaty reflects what the EU set as its own rules, though when looking at the cases above the Union does not fulfill these.


You can find further information on the topic on the homepage of World Development Movement :

Corporate Europe Observatory is very useful in finding out more about different case studies:

Go to Concord Europe to find out more about their campaigns:



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