Recent European Union (EU) policy discussions emphasize the need to reinforce linkages between the EU’s external policies. This has spurred criticism of the EU’s development policy losing its status as a self-standing policy area, instead being increasingly instrumentalized for broader external action purposes. This article seeks to contextualize and contribute to this debate by means of a long-term analysis of the status of development policy within the EU’s broader external action. More specifically, it analyses how EU development policy has been (re-)framed in key policy documents over time, analysing three distinct periods i.e. (1) the period before the Maastricht Treaty, (2) the period between the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaty and (3) the period from Lisbon onwards. In so doing, we looked at the discursive evolution of three main dimensions that determine its status, namely the underlying motivation of development, the assumed ‘road to development’ and the perspective on policy coherence. The article concludes that recent policy trends represent a ‘return to form’ of EU development policy rather than a new phenomenon.