Brown clashes with Brussels over overseas aid

Gordon Brown has clashed with the European Commission over the European Union's aid programme for Africa, claiming it spent too much money on relatively rich regions such as the Balkans.

But the chancellor's comments drew a sharp response from Poul Nielson, the EU aid commissioner, who claimed Mr Brown was guilty of ?double standards?.

Mr Nielson also attacked Mr Brown's proposed scheme for reducing poverty and debt in developing countries, claiming that ?it smells too much of Enron accounting?.

But Bob Geldof, the musician turned anti-poverty campaigner and a member of Mr Blair's Commission for Africa, hit out at Mr Nielson, telling reporters in Addis Ababa: ?He's talking through his arse . . . He shouldn't have his job, if he doesn't want to help.?

The spat between Mr Brown and the Commission will further worsen relations between the chancellor and the Brussels-based body. Mr Brown, addressing a London conference of charities, said: ?It is nonsensical that less than 50 per cent of EU official development assistance is being spent on low income countries.?

He said that more than ?28 (?19) a head was being spent on aid in middle income regions such as the western Balkans, while Africa received only ?3.17 a head and Asia just ?0.30.

He called on the Commission to increase its aid to developing countries by at least ?1bn a year by targeting the poorest countries.

The chancellor's comments were rebuffed by Mr Nielson, who said that EU aid to the poorest countries had risen from 34 per cent of the total budget in 1999, when he took office, to 41 per cent in 2003.

He also argued that the budgetary priorities were set by member states, and that Britain was a leading supporter of aid in the Balkans. ?I don't appreciate double standards,? he said.

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