The European Union – the Commission and the member states together – is the largest donor of development aid worldwide. At the same time, it is also a major trading partner for developing countries and grants particular privileges to the least-developed countries in accessing the European market.

In 2009, the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) qualified to implement projects funded by the European Commission (delegated cooperation). Since its accreditation, ADA has received about 190 million euros for EU projects in developing countries. In return, since 2008, ADA has delegated about 14.3 million euros to the European Commission. Additionally, ADA has been contributing to EU funds in the amount of 25.5 million euros. In this way, the various stakeholders pool their resources, know-how and management skills and make mutual use of them. On behalf of the Commission, ADA is engaged in various thematic clusters. EU projects implemented by ADA range from improved water supply and administrative reforms to promoting organic farming.

Foundations of European development policy
The Treaty of Lisbon defines poverty reduction as the primary goal of European development cooperation and stipulates that different operational levels must take this into account as well (Policy Coherence for Development). The European Consensus on Development of 2005 outlines the shared values, goals and principles of EU development policy, such as the promotion of human rights, rule of law & good governance and regional integration. The Agenda for Change sets out the development-policy strategy until 2020 and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 have superseded the Millennium Development Goals as the international frame of reference. 

EU external assistance programmes
Cooperation with third countries makes up a major pillar of EU foreign policy and is implemented by various external aid instruments.

The geographical instruments comprise the European Development Fund, the Development Cooperation Instrument, the Pre-Accession Structural Instrument or the European Neighbourhood Instrument.

Moreover, there are also thematic external aid instruments, such as for humanitarian aid, the promotion of human rights or the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), etc.

The European External Action Service and the three Directorate-Generals for International Cooperation and Development, for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations and for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection are in charge of implementing these external aid instruments.