By Stephen Mulvey
EU reporter, BBC News
The European Union's aid programme is criticised for being slow, inefficient and poorly targeted, in a new report from the Open Europe think tank.
There are more than 600 healthcare projects under way in Tanzania
The report says member states should channel all their aid through their own national programmes, leaving the EU with no more than a co-ordinating role.
It also says EU aid comes with too many political strings attached.
But Brussels says a "single, effective EU programme" makes more sense than 27 donors acting separately.
Focus on Africa
The European Union is the world's biggest aid spender, with a budget of $34bn in 2004, of which $26bn was spent by the member states themselves and $8bn by the EU institutions.
The European Commission wants member states to channel more of their aid through the EU, but Open Europe - which campaigns for radical reform of the EU - says "it makes no sense for the EU to be a '28th donor' with a large bureaucracy in parallel with the member states".
It also argues that:
- Only a third of EU aid goes to the poorest countries
- A fifth of EU aid arrives more than a year late
- The EU spends up to 8.7% of aid money on administration, compared to 5% in the case of the UK's Department for International Development (DFID)
- There are numerous examples of aid being mis-spent
- The EU links aid to other objectives such as migration control and the removal of trade barriers
The report says that the proportion of EU aid going to the poorest countries has halved since the start of the 1990s to 32%, compared to 81% of UK aid.
But the European Commission responded that almost half of EU aid went to Africa, and that more than half of planned future increases would be spent there.
Commission spokesman for Humanitarian Aid and Development Amadeu Altafaj described the idea of ending the central EU aid effort as a "recipe for inefficiency".
"Efficiency argues in favour of a single, effective EU programme not disparate smaller national ones," he said.
Recipient countries, such as Tanzania, where there were more than 600 healthcare projects in progress, wanted more co-ordination, not less, he said.
"EU countries made their promises on aid together... now we have to work together to keep those promises," he added.
The author of a report on EU aid for the Centre for European Reform, Aurore Wanlin, said criticism of EU aid delivery as inefficient was "old-fashioned".
'Too many actors'
It was very poor in the 1990s, but had been steadily improving, she said.
Countries receiving aid were having to deal with "too many donors", she added.
"The more actors you have on the ground, the less efficient it tends to be - the poor countries spend too much energy and time on paperwork."
Open Europe cited a report by a group of NGOs, including Oxfam, which said poor countries would suffer from being pressured to drop trade barriers quickly in return for EU aid.
The think tank also praised the UK for decoupling aid from foreign policy, by carving DFID out of the Foreign Office.
But Ms Wanlin said the EU had a strong record at taking a "comprehensive" approach to aid, linking it to trade, development and political reform.