Statement by Minister of State Kitt to the Development and Cooperation Committee of the European Parliament
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen
As Ireland assumes leadership of the Council of the European Union for the sixth time, I am delighted to have the opportunity to address this distinguished committee on the subject of Ireland's Presidency programme in the development cooperation field. Our Presidency takes place at an exciting period in the EU's history: 2004 will see the enlargement of the Union to 25 and also, we hope agreement on a new Constitution for Europe which will strengthen the Treaty provisions on development cooperation.
Given your collective depth of experience of development issues, I see this meeting both as an opportunity to inform you of Ireland's Presidency intentions, and also as an occasion for you to advise me of Parliament's interests in the coming six months in development. If I may, I will use my speaking time this morning to outline some of the main themes and events of the Presidency which I think will be of particular interest to you.
Cornerstones of the Presidency's development cooperation programme
Let me begin by outlining the key development messages that Ireland would like to emphasise during our Presidency. Firstly, we believe that the overriding aim of EU development assistance should be to eradicate poverty. Our efforts should be directed towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, which will provide the best guide as to whether we have lived up to our promises. Secondly, Ireland considers that the EU needs a stronger voice in multilateral institutions such as the UN, the international financial institutions and the WTO. Enlargement will give us greater weight internationally to help focus efforts on improving the lot of the world's poorest people. Thirdly, the EU needs to improve coherence in its various policies to better meet the concerns of developing countries. And finally, we believe that the Union needs to continue its efforts to maximise the effectiveness of its aid, in particular building on the recent reform of Community aid, the real improvements from which we are now beginning to see. This is essential in order to play our full part in meeting the MDGs.
Orientation Debate on the Effectiveness of EU External Action
All of these overriding policy aims will be taken up at the Orientation Debate on the effectiveness of EU external action at the General Affairs and External Relations Council next week. The uniqueness of this Debate is that it deals with issues both in the Community-based first pillar and the Intergovernmental second pillar of the Union's external action. In this way the debate is aimed at increasing the coherence of the EU's external policies. The importance for development cooperation of this integrated cross-pillar approach can be shown clearly by reference to the Union's new Security Strategy. Security, as the new strategy recognises is the first condition for development but, it is also accepted that development is a precondition for security. For example, global poverty reduction can serve the Union's wider foreign policy aims in areas such as immigration, asylum and the fight against terrorism. We need, therefore, to ensure that the development implications are considered in relation to decisions on the Union's external action.
With a view to achieving a focused and operational outcome to the Orientation Debate, we have prepared a Presidency paper with three main goals. The first is to ensure that EU development assistance forms part of a coherent external relations policy, underpinned by effective multilateralism; the second is to ensure that the reform of EC external assistance continues; and the third goal is to push for further progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
International HIV/AIDS Conference
A major priority for Ireland's Presidency is the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is also our desire to see HIV/AIDS mainstreamed within EC development policy. An International AIDS Conference will take place in Dublin next month. The Conference has the theme: “Breaking the Barriers: A partnership to Fight HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia”. For the first time Ministers from the EU, Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Central Asia will sit down together to work out how this entire region can work together to protect young people from the threat of AIDS. Only by working collectively can we deal with a threat which is beyond the capacity of any one country to defeat. We hope to obtain Ministerial agreement to a new Declaration - “The Dublin Declaration” -, which will provide a basis for stronger regional cooperation across 55 countries to fight AIDS, to tackle discrimination, to provide care and treatment and to save lives.
Development items on the Council's agenda
A number of important development cooperation items have been placed on the agenda for various sessions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council during the period of our Presidency. The Council in February is scheduled to consider the important issue of budgetisation of the EDF. Budgetisation is of course of particular interest to the European Parliament because it would increase Parliamentary oversight of an area of EU spending which up to now has been intergovernmental in nature. The decision on budgetisation – whether in favour or against - will in any event set the scene for EU-ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) relations for the next decade. As Presidency, Ireland will seek to ensure an outcome to the budgetisation debate which takes into account the legitimate concerns of interested parties on all sides.
In March, Ministers are scheduled to consider another important issue for the Union: the EU Water Facility. We will try to establish the financing, scope and modalities of the Facility to ensure it adds value to development efforts in the poorest countries.
The Council in April is perhaps the most important date for the Union's development agenda on the Presidency calendar as it will allow Ministers to consider a cluster of development cooperation items intended to contribute towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Items will include the follow-up to the Monterrey Conference on International Financing for Development; ACP-EU relations, preparations for UNCTAD XI; and Land Reform in Developing Countries. By focussing on the follow-up to Monterrey, we can provide an impetus to Member States and the Union as a whole to meet the Barcelona commitments made in preparation for Monterrey, particularly in relation to aid volumes. We also hope to see an initial stocktaking done on the extent to which the Millennium Development Goals are being achieved, in preparation for a UN stocktaking exercise in 2005.
The Presidency will seek to advance the Community's rolling programme of work on development issues. I do not intend to go into detail on all of these issues today as you are already closely involved in many of them, and Commissioner Nielson covered this ground in his speech here yesterday.
Africa is a continent beset by seemingly insurmountable problems: conflict, debt, poverty and HIV/AIDS to name but a few. As Africa is the main recipient of both Community and Member State development assistance, the continent is of course a primary focus for the Presidency. The many conflict areas of Africa, including Sudan, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ethiopia-Eritrea and the Great Lakes Region, require use of all the relevant instruments at the Union's disposal to advance the cause of peace. Improving and reviewing such instruments is an urgent requirement if our efforts are to be successful. To this end, Ireland will organise a conference on the role of NGOs and civil society in conflict prevention to take place in Dublin on 31 March and 1-2 April. The Conference will bring together civil society representative and EU crisis management and development experts.
Of course the Union has already taken a major step through its support for the African Peace Facility. This will help the African Union to address many of the conflicts affecting the development of the Continent. It is intended that the Peace Facility will be operational in 2004. Aspects of conflict prevention, including the Peace Facility, will be discussed at Ministerial Troika meetings during the Presidency with both the African Union and with ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.
Two important meetings between the EU and the ACP States will take place during our Presidency. The first is the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Addis Ababa from 16 to 19 February, which many of you will attend. As Presidency representative I will address the Assembly on issues of mutual concern. The second major meeting will be the ACP-EU Ministerial in Botswana on 6-7 May. The agenda is not finalised, but will cover important topical issues such as the Peace Facility, revisions to the Cotonou Agreement, a joint declaration on UNCTAD XI, and the EU Water Fund. This Ministerial meeting will also involve contacts with representatives of civil society in ACP countries and the EU. HIV/AIDS will be the chosen theme for the civil society part of the Botswana meeting.
Informal Development Ministers Meeting
Following the abolition of the Development Council, it has been the practice for Presidencies to host an informal meeting of EU Development Cooperation Ministers. I will host a Development Informal at Dublin Castle on 1 June. While I have not yet finalised my thinking on topics for discussion at the Ministerial, one of the issues I am considering is the follow-up to the February Conference on HIV/AIDS. The meeting will also be the first Development Ministerial which the ten accession states will attend as full EU members.
Trade and Development
In the light of the continuing failure to restart the negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda, trade and development will remain another important issue during the Irish Presidency. We must work to rebuild the confidence of developing countries in the WTO process in order to get the Round back on track. We will work with partners to renew the EU's commitment to addressing, in an effective and equitable way, the concerns and needs of developing countries. In order to help achieve real benefits for developing countries in the short term, the Union in my view should identify practical commitments on which it can deliver.
In concrete terms, I believe that the EU should be as accommodating as possible in its response to developing country concerns and needs in relation to Special and Differential Treatment provisions and the Singapore Issues. A comprehensive multilateral agreement is desirable which will protect the interests of developed and developing countries alike.
I would also emphasise the strong leadership role which the EU must play at the UN Conference on Trade and Development - UNCTAD XI - to be held in Brazil next June. I firmly believe that the EU's role in UNCTAD can help send a positive message for the success of the multilateral trade negotiations by strengthening the capacity of poorer countries to participate in the WTO process. We also welcome the opportunity that UNCTAD XI presents for debate, confidence-building and better mutual understanding.
As you are all aware, high levels of external debt in many poor countries have resulted in debt service obligations that have consumed Government revenues and reduced critical public expenditure on essential basic services and social and economic infrastructure. The Heavily Indebted Poor Country (the so called HIPC) initiative has provided significant levels of debt relief for many poor countries. It has not, however, provided the “sustainable exit” from the debt treadmill that had been envisaged.
EU Member States have provided significant relief of bilateral debt owed by developing countries and have also financed the relief of multilateral debt through the HIPC trust fund and through separate initiatives. If the substantial resources we have provided are to be effective in achieving the desired objectives, further initiatives will be necessary, including measures that address the way that loan financing of development is administered and how this impacts on debt sustainability. There is much that the Union and Member States can do to relieve the huge burden imposed on the poorest developing countries by debt servicing requirements.
Before I finish, let me make a brief mention of the IGC and its implications for development cooperation. If agreed, the new Constitution for Europe will provide for innovative institutional arrangements in EU foreign policy. Among other things, the new Treaty will confirm the importance of development cooperation as an instrument of the EU's external action. During the drafting phase of the new Constitutional Treaty, I joined six of my EU Development Cooperation Ministerial colleagues in submitting a joint position paper to the Convention on the Future of Europe. I am pleased to note that poverty eradication is now defined in the draft Treaty as an objective of the Union, and especially of its external policies. Humanitarian assistance has also been given treaty status for the first time. Moreover, the principle of coherence of EU policies has been maintained in the final text of the draft Constitution. By enhancing the role of development cooperation in the EU external assistance, the new Constitution will provide a sound footing on which to pursue the development policy objectives of an enlarged Union in the years ahead.
I am of course happy to answer questions you may have on the Presidency's development cooperation programme.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.