The European Union and the rest of the world

The European Union has a major influence on the rest of the world. Because of far-reaching cooperation, Europe can play an important role in trade, peace and development.

EU as trading partner

The EU is the biggest trading area in the world. Up to 20% of all import and export in the world passes through the EU, which means that the EU has a big influence on the distribution of goods and means worldwide. It negotiates with other countries and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) about the trading conditions of goods and services.

An important target of the European Union is the equalization of trading conditions between rich and poor countries, through which welfare can spread across less developed areas as well. The EU frequently negotiates with developing countries about opening their markets to each others’ goods and services, so that the markets for producers can be increased. Besides direct negotiations with countries, the EU on behalf of its 27 member-states, also participates in negotiations with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

EU development aid and emergency aid

More than half of all development aid worldwide originates from countries that are part of the EU. The total EU budget for development, between 2007 and 2013, is determined at 17 billion euros. Besides that, each year the member states deposit a certain amount to the European Development Fund (EDF). The budget of this fund, between 2008 and 2013, is set at 22.6 billion euros. Altogether the EU has almost 40 billion euros to spend in seven years! On top of

Destruction after an earthquake


the money they spend on development aid through the EDF and the deposit to the EU, member-states have also agreed on contributing to development directly. From 2015 each member-state has to spend 0.7% of their gross national product to development aid. Four countries have been doing that already: Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the Netherlands! 

Previously, the EU donated development assistance mainly to African countries and the construction of infrastructure in poor areas. Nowadays the EU also gives money to other regions like Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, and to things as humanitarian aid, poverty alleviation and the improvement of human rights. In order to comply to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) more money has been spent on care and education as well.

In addition, the EU has made money available for the assistance of other countries in need, for instance after the tsunami in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti.

EU defence policy

Defence used to be about defending a country against attacks. Now, sending out an army is more often meant for preserving peace or assisting in building a country that has been destructed by war or internal conflicts. With the Treaty of Maastricht the EU agreed on a common foreign and safety policy. The EU can express its opinion about human rights and armed conflicts but doesn’t have an army. However, the EU is working on a common defence policy.


oorlog en vrede


Since May 2002 the Ministers for Defence of each member state come together with the goal of formulating a defence policy. On the 12th of July 2004 the EU Defence Agency was established, in which all member-states (except Denmark) participate. In 2010 all EU countries agreed on a Spanish proposal about the further development of a European Rapid Reaction Force. In times of humanitarian crisis or other forms of crisis, this force has to provide assistance on the spot as fast as possible.