by RAY FLEMING l TONY Blair's hopes of a successful G8 meeting at Gleneagles in July were boosted somewhat yesterday when European Union ministers surprisingly agreed to commit themselves to doubling the level of their aid to developing countries within the next ten years. Although such aid is not confined to Africa, the fact that some of the richest countries in the world have given this lead should help Mr Blair in his bid to put Africa's problems at the top of his G8 meeting agenda and to persuade the United States and Japan to take a more positive stance on his proposals for debt relief and other economic measures than they have so far been willing to do. Before euphoria takes over, it should be remembered that the target the EU countries have agreed to achieve by 2015 has been a UN goal since 1970 and that only four countries in the world have met it, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden. The target is 0.7 per cent of national income; Britain currently reaches about three per cent while the United States scores just under 0.16 per cent, a disgraceful record given the big stick that it wields when talking about Africa and other developing parts of the world. There are, of course, arguments about what precisely constitutes development aid and whether bi-lateral aid with strings attached can be regarded in the same way as multilateral aid channelled through the United Nations, the EU and other international organisations. Nonetheless, when all reservations have been noted, yesterday's news from the European Union was very good news indeed, even it came thirty years too late. Credit should certainly be given to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for their consistent lobbying in international forums for the problems of the Third World, especially those of Africa, to be taken more seriously and approached in new and more realistic ways. They have succeeded in getting this subject at the top of the international agenda; the task now will be to keep it there.