Amid all the distraction of the Paul Wolfowitz affair it’s easy to forgot that life goes on – in abject poverty – for the billions earning less than a dollar a day.

Europe has been vocal in its call for the Wolf to leave his lair. It is once again burnishing its pro-development credentials. But are they all that they are cracked up to be?

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the German development minister, said this week that the EU was ahead of its target to dedicate 0.39 per cent of gross domestic product to aid in 2006, hitting 0.42%. The bloc already provides half of the world’s development aid. While she is not known as "Red Heide" just because of the colour of her hair, campaigners beg to differ.

Concord, the alliance of European NGOs released a damning report last week. It said around a third of aid was debt relief, housing refugees in the EU and even paying for foreigners to be educated at European universities. Belgium even tries to pretend its peacekeeping mission in Congo is aid. No doubt any Congolese chicory growers are benefiting from the troops’ presence.

In short, G8 pledges to double aid to Africa were not being met.

Similar questions have been raised about EU altruism in its new economic partnership agreements with the former colonies in the Africa, Carribean and Pacific regions. While agreeing to open much of their markets to ACP produce – exceptions so far are rice and sugar, with bananas still being haggled over – some NGOs say the price to be paid is too high.

Traidcraft, the UK charity, said that rather than building regional markets as the EU says it wishes, it could undermine them.

Kenya’s trade with its neighbours could fall 15 per cent as EU subsidised goods pour in, it said. A recent trade deal with South Africa has led to cheap sugar spreading across its neighbours, knocking local growers and refiners out of business.

The regional trade blocs need decades behind tariff walls as the EU enjoyed in its early days, Traidcraft says.

Trade commissioner Peter Mandelson says, however, that decades of privileged access for a few basic commodities have not helped countries out of poverty and kept them dependent on their former colonial masters. Change certainly needs to come, but how – and how quickly?

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