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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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European Standing Committee Debates

EU-Africa Strategic Partnership



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Mike Hancock
Armstrong, Hilary (North-West Durham) (Lab)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey (Cotswold) (Con)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian (Leeds, North-East) (Lab)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Moore, Mr. Michael (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op)
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey (Coventry, North-West) (Lab)
Thomas, Mr. Gareth (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development)
Walter, Mr. Robert (North Dorset) (Con)
Yeo, Mr. Tim (South Suffolk) (Con)
Celia Blacklock, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

European Standing Committee

Tuesday 23 October 2007

[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]

EU-Africa Strategic Partnership

The Chairman: I invite those Members who have not already taken their jackets off to do so if they want to.
4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I welcome the opportunity to discuss progress on the development of the strategic partnership between the European Union and Africa. As hon. Members will be aware, the strategy has not been finalised, but we expect African and EU ministerial negotiators to discuss and approve the next version of the strategy next week. The final discussion by member states and African partners will be at the Lisbon summit in December.
Discussions between the EU and African partners have been supplemented by a range of civil society discussions via the web and by meetings in Europe and Africa. Many comments made by our partners in civil society organisations have already been taken on board in the strategy, and we expect further improvements.
The EU is the largest donor of aid to Africa, and Africa will receive the majority of European development fund moneys. Some €22.7 billion will be in that fund over the next six years, and Africa will receive the bulk of it.
The key objective of the strategy is to change the relationship between our two continents from a donor-recipient one to one based much more on partnership. In my letter to the Committee, I attempted to identify areas of change in the latest draft of the strategy, which included a renewed focus on the millennium development goals, the addition of sections on UN support for African peacekeeping and water and sanitation, and the suggestion that progress might be monitored annually.
The strategy breaks down into four sections: peace and security, regional integration and trade, governance and human rights, and key development issues. First, stability is, of course, crucial to Africa’s future prosperity and development. As I am sure the whole House is, we are pleased that the number of conflicts in Africa is declining, with Africa collectively taking much greater responsibility for trying to resolve the conflicts that remain. The EU Africa peace facility has been critical in supporting African Union missions to Sudan and Somalia, for example. The strategy recognises that a longer-term solution for that support needs to be found. I welcome the fact that the strategy considers not only peacekeeping but longer-term peace-building, peace-making and post-conflict reconstruction.
The third section of the strategy relates to governance. Again, I am sure that the whole House recognises that governance is a critical factor in determining whether development can take place. The EU has a special role to play in this respect, not least through its substantial support for electoral monitoring. We welcome the focus that the strategy gives to fighting corruption, as well as supporting African-owned initiatives on improving governance, such as the Africa peer review mechanism.
The last section relates to key development issues. It is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that the EU’s commitments to an average 0.56 per cent. ODA/GNI—official development assistance/gross national income— ratio by 2010 allowed the G8, back in 2005, to make its commitment to Africa of some $25 billion in available aid by 2010.
I am sure that the whole House will be pleased that, given the recent outcome of the comprehensive spending review, the UK is on target to meet its commitment to that 0.56 per cent. figure by 2010-11. Our constituents will clearly expect us to use those extra resources in Africa to help accelerate the efforts to reach the millennium development goals, and to work throughout the EU with our partners on that. The last section of the strategy reflects that priority, emphasising the need, too, to work in partnership on a range of issues such as climate change, agriculture, energy, migration, health, education, employment, water and sanitation, and gender equality.
Taking the strategy forward to implementation, action plans have been suggested to underpin it, focusing attention on the implementation arrangements for the next two to three years in specific areas. The original four governance partnerships that the European Union suggested—on energy, climate change, migration and employment—have been extended to eight. The additional ones are on peace and security, at the UK’s request, on trade, on the MDGs—again, specifically at our request—and on science, information society and space. There is still some work to be done on the detail of those action plans, and my officials and I are engaging heavily in that work.
Following the meeting of negotiators, we understand that the Egyptians propose to hold an EU-Africa Foreign Ministers’ meeting in December, prior to the summit in Lisbon. Final amendments to the summit’s political declaration are likely to be made at that point. With that short explanation, I commend the documents to the House.
The Chairman: We now have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. I remind Members who seek to ask questions that they should be brief, and I also ask the Minister to respond in that spirit. Questions should be asked one at a time. My practice is normally to give a Member who has a series of questions the opportunity to ask two or three in each go, and then to move around and come back for a second tranche when we have exhausted the first.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Mr. Hancock, it is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, and I welcome the Minister to the Committee. This is the first time that I have served on one of these Committees in 15 years as a Member, so I am very much learning how to do it.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said, but in all sincerity, I ask him whether the huge raft of aspirations that he has outlined, and to which the new partnership agreement will aspire, is not far too big. The original millennium development goals, which were set up seven years ago and are halfway through their process, are nowhere near being met. Would it not be better to concentrate on the original MDGs, rather than on a raft of new goals?
Mr. Thomas: I have been most remiss in not welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Hancock. The comments of the hon. Member for Cotswold reminded me of that, and I echo his observation that it is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship.
I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view that we should focus only on the MDGs. The European Union-Africa strategy deals with a range of issues, and without making progress on them, we could not make progress on the MDGs. For example, if the EU does not do more collectively to support our partners in Africa in making progress on delivering effective peacekeeping and security arrangements, the conditions will not be stable enough for development or for progress on all the MDGs to take place. We must continue to bear the MDGs in mind, but we must recognise that other elements are also key factors in making progress on the MDGs.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Many of the smaller countries often tell me that there is considerable confusion due to the multiplicity of donors. How will this process chime with, and what discussions have taken place with, other international donors such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund?
Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely appropriate point about the plethora of initiatives and donors and the considerable demands that that places on the often limited capacity of developing-country Governments. One advantage of a cross-European Union strategy for Africa is that it seeks to encourage all European member states that have separate bilateral programmes in Africa to work together to achieve common purposes.
The resources that are available from member states’ budgets, which are allocated through the European Commission for aid, help to ensure that the resources are not diffused and, through the European Commission, help concentration on areas where member states perhaps do not have particular expertise. For example, the UK does not have particular expertise in helping developing countries to build roads, but the European Union does, so we can help that crucial area of infrastructure to develop through the Commission.
Mr. Thomas: I share the hon. Gentleman’s sense of frustration that we have not yet seen the deal that we want to seek, not only because Doha is a key round of world trade talks and matters enormously for British and European business, but because it could genuinely deliver serious development benefits for developing countries.
In recent weeks, I have been encouraged by the increasing intensity of discussions in Geneva, where the negotiations are taking place, and by the growing number of conversations taking place between heads of state to try to move the negotiations forward. We are not there yet on a deal—substantial work needs to be done. We are obviously at a critical point if we want a deal to be done and to be implemented before the American presidential elections. That is a key time scale.
On economic partnership agreements, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the deadline of the end of this year was imposed not by the European Union but by the WTO. That was brought about by other developing countries, which do not get the benefit of the preferential arrangements that the ACP countries have, complaining to the WTO. It gave them three years—until the end of this year—to sort out a new relationship.
We are working closely with many of the developing countries that the hon. Gentleman mentioned to help find a solution, given that it would clearly be a disaster for development and for the developing countries if worse market access were to be on offer from 1 January because deals had not been completed. I am sure that he will understand that things are moving fast in the negotiations. We are still optimistic that genuinely development-friendly economic partnership agreements can be concluded by the end of the year in the vast majority of regions.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): May I say what a special pleasure it is for me to have this opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock, and to contribute to today’s debate.
I should like to take the Minister to the important issue of civil society involvement in progress. The documents talk at some length about the Africa-centred approach, which to me should mean not only involving the African Union and, of course, African Governments, but ensuring that there is a key role for African civil society: the non-government organisations, other ethnic groups and communities. I understand that a people-centred approach is one of the key aims of the joint strategy, but the Minister will know that there has been criticism of the lack of political will to ensure that civil society representing the diversity of the African continent is really involved meaningfully.
Will the Minister respond specifically to the concerns of BOND—British Overseas NGOs for Development—which contacted me, and probably other hon. Members, to raise its concerns that the consultation process was not clear enough, and that not enough was being done to encourage civil society to get involved? It notes in particular that invitations to the consultation sessions were sent out less than a week in advance. I am sure that the Minister will accept that those are important considerations, and I would be grateful for his answer.
Mr. Thomas: I am grateful for this opportunity to place on record our view of the excellent work that BOND does to engage civil society across the UK in the relationship with the European Union, and with a range of African civil society organisations. There have been substantial efforts to involve both African and EU civil society, but I accept that elements of the consultation have not been perfect. One reason why we have sought to ensure an annual review of the EU-Africa strategy is to provide an opportunity for civil society in Africa and the European Union to engage on the extent to which progress is being made and, in a sense, an opportunity to lobby member states and their own Governments to exert pressure for more change.
Mark Hunter: I accept that the Government want the process of civil involvement to be improved and intensified—I think that was the phrase in the Minister’s letter—in the run-up to the Lisbon summit, but will he give us an update on what progress there has been? Is he satisfied, on behalf of the Government, that civil societies from all walks of life in Africa are going to be heard? Will they have a voice at the summit? Will there be civil society representatives at the summit? If so, which ones?
Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me; I cannot give a list of every civil society organisation that is likely to attend at Lisbon. However, I have no doubt that a substantial number will be there, seeking to influence the discussions. He mentioned the letter from BOND, capturing a number of points that UK civil society, and African civil society lobbying UK civil society, have made regarding the further improvements in the document that they want. Several of those points have been taken on board, including in the revised strategy, which we expect to be produced in the next couple of weeks.
Mr. Thomas: The effort to continue that joined-up process is precisely the reason why we originally wanted the EU-Africa strategy and summit. The document focuses specifically on the contribution that the European Commission can make and, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, the substantial increase in moneys available for Africa through the European development fund will be targeted in line with the strategy. The European Union member states, in engaging with the preparation of the EU-Africa strategy, are by definition committing to be active participants in the implementation of the strategy.
One of the specific reasons for saying that we want the strategy to mark a change in the relationship between Africa and Europe is that the African Union, in the five years that it has existed, has taken an increasing responsibility for peace and security operations in, for example, Sudan and Somalia. We want to ensure that the European Union helps the African Union to expand its capacity to put in place effective peacekeeping operations on the ground. That is only one example of the hon. Gentleman’s point about the continuing need for more joined-up work across member states and the Commission. It is pretty good, but we can never say that it is perfect. The EU-Africa strategy will help to continue the improvements.
Mr. Walter: I want to deal with a slightly different point about the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon, which the documents look forward to. There seems to be some concern about the presence of Zimbabwe at that summit, some ambivalence on the part of our European partners and almost a policy of turning a blind eye on the part of the African Union. Will the Minister update us on the British Government’s position on that?
Mr. Thomas: The Prime Minister has made it clear that if Robert Mugabe is invited, he will not attend and no senior Minister will attend either. Invitations have not yet been issued by the presidency. We are in discussions with the presidency and with other member states on the invite list.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I refer the Minister to page 9 of the document that we were given for this Committee and to paragraph 2.27 of his own conclusions. I quote:
“The overall relationship must now move to the level of agreement by all concerned on a sustained programme of bench-marked outcomes. So, while the Summit itself will be of great significance, it will be the Action Plans that will be of most significance.”
Kurt Hoffman, director of the Shell Foundation, claimed recently:
“Since the 1980s, the development community has presided over a $600 billion spending spree that has left its principal clients—the world’s poorest countries—considerably worse off.”
We have a history of producing grand declarations at such summits that turn out to achieve little. Can the Minister give some concrete examples of what the British Government have in mind about the benchmark outcomes?
Mr. Thomas: I do not agree with Kurt Hoffman’s conclusion. We have seen considerable amounts of progress in helping the world’s poorest, certainly over the past 10 years and over the past 20 years, too. I agree with the implicit point that there is an awful lot more that we can do.
One of the reasons why the Prime Minister has sought to refocus attention on the halfway point, which is where we are, of progress towards the millennium development goals is to rebuild political momentum and interest in doing more for the world’s poor. That is one of the reasons why the comprehensive spending review settlement for spending on development is so important in continuing to show that the UK intends to lead on that issue. He has rightly focused on grand strategies, but we need to deliver results on the ground too. That is why the action plans that will underpin the implementation of the strategy are so important. We are still working on the detail of the action plans. One reason why we sought an increase in the number of action plans that the EU intended to bring forward was precisely to ensure that there was much greater and continuing attention on the millennium development goals, which was one of the hon. Gentleman’s key concerns in his opening question.
For example, 77 million children worldwide do not have a primary school place. Clearly, in the 21st century, that is an outrage. The Government will work with the EU through the action plan to continue to secure more resources to get those remaining children, specifically in Africa, into primary school. That is one of the things that we can push on with, using the strategy.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister let the Committee know when he has concluded his thoughts on the action plans and place a note in the Library? At that time, he could let us know what the Government think about the action plans in their totality.
Mr. Thomas: I am happy to confirm that once we have made further progress, I shall update the Committee. Given that things continue to move quickly, it may be appropriate for me to give an update after the Lisbon summit, which is the point at which things will be concluded. I will reflect on the exact timing, but I shall give an update.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: That is very helpful. My I add something about the impertinent question concerning peacekeeping asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset? One of the problems of, and limitations to, progress in Africa, apart from the dreadful examples of peacekeeping that we can think of—he cited Zimbabwe; I might cite Darfur or the Democratic Republic of the Congo—is the big issue of good governance. Will the Minister say something about what he hopes the concordat will achieve in terms of good governance?
Mr. Thomas: I hope that it will allow us to take forward implementation of the extractive industries transparency initiative. That is based on the relatively simple concept of asking the extractive industry companies in a country such as the DRC, to publish details about what they give to Governments by way of taxation revenues, and for Governments to publish the amounts that they receive from the companies.
We have worked with a series of African countries and we hope that the EU-Africa strategy will enable us to do more specifically on governance. More generally, we hope to make a tranche of additional funding available from European development fund resources to reward good governance. We are working with the Commission on an analysis of what constitutes good governance, which the Commission will use to inform its spending decisions on particular countries. The action plan on governance will help with that process.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I was at a conference in Uganda this weekend, the delegates to which came from a range of African countries. We got on to the subject of whether aid should be delivered through Governments or through NGOs, and the argument about building capacity. The reason why the British Government, supported by the Opposition, tend to deliver aid through Governments is to build their capacity. There was a plethora of complaints that money was creamed off in corruption and in substitution by bad Governments who spent it on the military, private planes for the president and that sort of thing. Will the Minister say what the conference hopes to achieve in terms of ensuring that EU aid actually reaches the people whom it is supposed to help and produces the projects for which it was designed?
Mr. Thomas: The Committee might be surprised to hear me say that I believe that accountants may be a force for good. Accountants working with the Governments of, and donors to, developing countries to improve public finance management could help to ensure not only that the money of EU member states or the Commission is well spent, but that taxation revenues raised in developing countries are well accounted. Basic public financial management is important.
There is also the matter of helping to build parliamentary capacity in developing countries’ governance to monitor spending delivery. A number of member states, including ourselves, have worked to set up the equivalent of a National Audit Office in developing countries, along with anti-corruption commissions and the equivalent of our Public Accounts Committee. All such measures help to improve good governance. They increase the scrutiny of how money is spent and Ministers in developing countries, and they help civil society to challenge decisions made in those countries. It is in that way—by building up civil society and accountability—that we can hope for good governance to continue to improve in Africa.
Mr. Clifton-Brown rose—
The Chairman: One more question.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Indeed, Mr. Hancock.
Another subject that we discussed at the conference at the weekend was China. It produces increasing amounts of so-called aid to, and trade with, Africa, but a lot of the projects that China gets involved with undercut the local economy and local rates of pay and labour. That was a strong complaint. What discussions has the Minister had—either unilaterally with China, or through the EU—to ensure that the EU’s programme for Africa and the Chinese programme mesh to achieve similar goals?
Mr. Thomas: There has been a series of bilateral discussions. We still have an aid programme in China, although it is declining, and our officials there have engaged with the Chinese development authorities on what their programme in Africa is. They are looking for ways in which we can both help the Chinese authorities to improve their development work and, when appropriate, work in partnership with them. The Chinese have sent over to the UK a series of often high-ranking officials who work on development so that they can understand what the UK does and talk to their counterparts, both in the Department for International Development and more generally.
The last point that I wish to make on China is that the European Union will have a summit with the Chinese—from memory, in November. The relationship in Africa will be one of the items on which we will seek to make progress.
Mark Hunter: May I press the Minister a little further on the significance of climate change and energy provision? The document mentions in some detail the EU-Africa partnership on energy, but it seems to focus rather more on energy security than on the development and establishment of renewable energy sources. However, the explanation of the EU-Africa partnership on climate change states that, not surprisingly, the least developed countries will be hit hardest by climate change.
It seems to many of us that climate change will be the biggest challenge to not only the developed world, but, especially, the developing world. If we do not want all the development that we have so far achieved in Africa to go to waste, there needs to be decisive action now. Will the Minister confirm that the British Government will encourage the EU to place the importance of developing renewable energy sources at the centre of its strategy? May I also ask him what the action plan will include? Might it include ways to encourage the private sector to invest in renewable resources in Africa?
Mr. Thomas: Let me confirm that I absolutely recognise the importance of renewable energy sources being developed in Africa to help to address not only the impact of climate change, but the hugely important issue of access to energy. A vast number of people living in Africa simply do not have access to electricity or the other energy sources that we take for granted. Given the huge cost of building the type of transmission systems that we have in the UK, the relatively low cost of renewable energy options will help to speed up access to energy for many in Africa over time.
The hon. Gentleman might know that the clean energy investment framework, which is a strategy for investment in renewable energy that is being prepared by the World Bank and the regional development banks, including the African Development Bank, is likely to deliver significant resources for investment in energy infrastructure. We also expect the action plan on energy underpinning this EU-Africa strategy to focus on more investment in energy infrastructure.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that as the strategy is not yet complete, I shall have to return to the detail in the letter that I have pledged to send to the Committee as a result of the comment from the hon. Member for Cotswold.
Mark Hunter: May I ask about trade reform of the African Union? As a supporter of the European Union, my party is never slow to praise when we think the EU has done something well, and it has done well in encouraging institutional reform and development of the African Union, as well as with AU-EU dialogue. I am pleased that that is taking such a prominent place in the strategy. During the continuing dialogue on the strategy, were there discussions on breaking trade barriers within the African Union as well as on harmonising trade rules and regimes? Does the Minister believe that the European Union is well placed to share best practice with the AU if it wishes to travel down that route?
Mr. Thomas: Probably the biggest long-term benefit from the economic partnership agreements that are being negotiated by all six ACP regions, including the four African regions, with the European Union is from the regional integration in each negotiating region. Money to help to deliver aid for the trade requirements for the implementation of those partnership agreements will be crucial. The European Commission has pledged €1 billion for aid for trade, and member states have committed themselves to match that with a further €1 billion. In that way, I hope that the Commission and member states with experience of the European Community will be able to offer some expertise in building the type of single market that has delivered so many benefits for the UK.
Mark Hunter: I would like to make a brief final comment about Zimbabwe—it would be remiss not to do so in the context of the debate.
The Chairman: Order. Is this a question?
Mark Hunter: Yes, it is a question.
Zimbabwe’s participation at the EU summit has been debated elsewhere. Will the Minister address the key question of who will represent the British Government at that summit in the absence of the Prime Minister? He has made clear why he will not be there, and I think that Opposition Members support that decision, but can the Minister confirm who will represent the British Government’s interests at the summit?
Mr. Thomas: I must gently tell the hon. Gentleman that I cannot give him the clarification that he seeks. If Robert Mugabe attends, the Prime Minister has made it clear that he will not attend and nor will any senior Minister. Invitations have not yet been issued, so I cannot give any clarification. We will make a decision when we see who else has been invited and who is attending.
The Chairman: I think that such matters are better left for the debate, and we seem to have exhausted questions.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union document No. 11326/07 and Addenda 1 and 2, Commission Communication: From Cairo to Lisbon—The EU-Africa Strategic Partnership; and welcomes the progress being made on development of the strategy in preparation for the December EU-Africa Summit. —[Mr. Thomas.]
5.9 pm
Mr. Clifton-Brown: We have had an interesting series of questions. One of mine related to action plans, because we must avoid the EU setting itself another series of targets so all-encompassing and idealistic that its good intentions can be used to explain subsequent failure. Evidence of failure of aid is not hard to find—either in relation to the strategy or to the end product. Indeed, the Scrutiny Committee’s report on the strategy states that
“consideration earlier this year of the EU’s performance in relation to its financial commitments—the so-called ‘Monterrey consensus’—also showed a similar gap between rhetoric and reality.”
I hope that our rhetoric in this Committee and at the European summit will be met with reality.
Mr. Thomas: I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s contention that the European Union has been in some way laggardly in trying to make progress on Monterrey commitments. The reason why Africa is likely to see the $25 billion that was pledged for 2010 is precisely that European Union member states have stepped up to meet their commitments. I accept that we must continue to monitor whether people follow through on those commitments, but the European Union—member states and, indeed, the Commission—deserves credit for the fact that so much in the way of additional resources have been committed and are slowly being delivered.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Yes, but at the conference that I attended at the weekend, it was stressed to me time and time again that the important question is not how much money is spent or the income, but the outputs—what is actually achieved. It will be interesting to see what the European summit actually manages to achieve. After all and as the Minister has said, we are half way through the millennium development goals process, and it looks as though a substantial number of those goals, if not all, might not be met by 2015. Good intentions on the part of the international community are not always met by absolute achievement. The Committee will be able to make a judgment on that from the statistics—some of them are shocking—that I shall give on Africa.
Currently, the rest of the world aims too high and often achieves too little. If we set our targets lower and focus on a clear strategy and actual achievements, we shall create a platform that will allow continual development. Our aid needs to be targeted and we need more bang for the buck. We should concentrate on keeping a strict paper trail of what happens to aid money; indeed, the Minister alluded to that in answer to one of the questions. If we put aid projects through individual Governments, we should make sure that invoices are paid only in relation to the work that has actually been done, rather than what is supposed to have been done. That way, the money might keep pace with what is achieved.
The document touches on many of the key issues and possible approaches in relation to Africa. There is still a lack of clear, coherent and defined strategy for piecing together the various strands and acknowledging their interdependency. The areas cited for change and improvement are highly relevant, but there does not seem to be enough focus on the sequential nature of development, whereby spending money on one issue makes another viable and economical. A typical example is that a little bit of pump-priming, such as for marketing, can often lead to greater increase in trade. However, last weekend I heard that, for some reason that the delegates could not explain, President Museveni has abolished all the marketing boards in Uganda, thereby making it far more difficult for Ugandan farmers to market their goods to the EU.
Each priority is interwoven with others and depends on changes in the next round of negotiations. With that in mind, we must first focus on the triumvirate of what is necessary for Africa: a peaceful environment, complemented by strong and corruption-free Governments. That will facilitate trade, and it is through trade, not aid, that the greatest opportunity for long-term sustainable growth will become a reality. Perhaps the Minister will say something about trade in his reply.
The recent Oxfam report entitled, “Africa’s missing billions” makes the conservative estimate that war costs Africa $18 billion every year—a truly startling figure. In view of that massive financial loss, I am sure that we can all agree that peace remains a pressing issue and is a prerequisite for development. It must be hard for anyone who has kept even half an eye on events in Zimbabwe, Darfur or the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fully believe the following statement on page 28 of the document before us:
“The EU has been a key partner for African countries to help create the conditions for stability and for the AU and sub-regional organisations to execute their ambitious peace and security agenda.”
Even once peace has been obtained, gains in other priority areas are subsequently limited by the amount of aid wasted through poor governance and corruption. Despite being one of the key things that the partnership seeks to address, that remains an immediate problem. Surely it is of some concern that the EU will be legitimising these regimes by bringing them into the process. We have already discussed Zimbabwe. There could be huge gains in putting a price tag of democratisation and good governance on AU membership, for as we all know, membership of the EU comes with conditions. That is precisely what the EU is doing at the moment in trying to negotiate Turkey’s membership, for example. Such a measure would further prospects for long-standing democratic stability throughout Africa, and assist and legitimise the EU’s continuing relationship with the continent.
There needs to be not a broad-brush approach to the future, but a systematic approach to the EU’s relationship with Africa that targets specific areas in order to yield maximum results in subsequent priority areas. I welcome, of course, the mention of trade. However, I must raise severe doubts about the concentration on economic partnership agreements, about which widespread concerns still exist. Those agreements potentially force low-income ACP countries into reducing barriers to exports from the EU before they are ready to do so. They undermine regional integration and take away significant amounts of revenue from domestic economic and social development programmes. I think that it was estimated in Ghana that the reduction in tariff barriers alone would equate to the same amount as that country spends on its entire education programme.
At the conference this weekend in Uganda, Paul Chow, the leader of the Seychelles Democratic party, told of his fears for the future of a tuna canning factory on the islands as a result of the EPAs as drafted. That business is likely to go straight to Thailand, which has lower costs. The loss of 100 jobs may not seem much to us, but we are talking about an island of only 80,000 people. It is the equivalent of a business with several million jobs in this country.
Concern must also exist regarding treating Africa as a whole; we are surely working for the good of a population of 850 million individuals. We must appreciate the difficulties faced in getting the current 27 EU members to agree on what the 53 AU member states should be doing in partnership with them.
I must also raise the issue of the level of African and European civil society’s involvement in the strategy. Like the hon. Member for Cheadle, I have been the subject of lobbying from BOND, which I agree with the Minister does an excellent job. There is concern about the involvement of civil societies and, indeed, of individuals in the whole of the negotiating process, because without the individual countries and the individual peoples of those countries buying into the process, it is far less likely to work.
On a similar note, the European directorate-general for development’s invitation to European civil society to an initial brainstorming was circulated less than a week before the meeting—and then the date of the meeting was changed. That is not a very constructive way to go about trying to involve people in the consultative process.
The limited mention of health care in the papers before us appears to be a fundamental flaw. Although I have suggested that the strategy is too broad in its remit, this is a surprising exclusion that has been lost under “other development goals”. With a reduction in child mortality, an improvement in maternal health and the combating of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases being three of the listed millennium development goals, that is somewhat of an oversight. It remains a sad fact that every year 800,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria. That raises the question: why do the millennium development goals feature under “other development issues”? Why are we creating new targets and ambitions in the summit process when we are struggling to meet the existing ones? The confusion can only be detrimental to the efforts of all concerned.
If we really want this strategy to benefit ourselves and Africa, we must be realistic about what can be achieved and where we are right now. It is clear that huge problems remain. To summarise page 47 of the Commission staff document, current annual growth for Africa is 4.3 per cent, which is behind the estimated 7 to 8 per cent. needed to meet the millennium development goals. Africa does not account for more than 2 per cent. of world trade in manufactured goods trade flow, and 40 per cent. of all Africans still live on less than one dollar per day. That is staggering! Some 460 million people in Africa live on less than one dollar a day. That is the scale of the problem and the challenge that we face. The magnitude of the task facing Africa and ourselves is clear. Let our policies demonstrate a simple and effective approach to the major concerns, so that we can start to right those wrongs.
African environmental issues, and some of the other issues labelled vaguely as “other development goals”, surely must be seen as subsidiary concerns at this stage, compared with the plight of individual Africans. They are the corollaries to growth and development that need to be dealt with at the correct time. Our focus must be on peace, good governance and trade. I have quoted Kurt Hoffman already. I know that the Minister disagrees but these are staggering statistics and I think that they bear repetition. Kurt Hoffman, director of the Shell Foundation, has declared:
“Since the 1980s, the development community has presided over a $600 billion”—
that is getting towards half the expenditure of the British Government in one year—
“spending spree that has left its principal clients - the world’s poorest countries”,
many of which are in Africa,
“considerably worse off”.
It would seem that this strategy might not help to alleviate the problem.
We shall be watching with great interest to see what this Committee can prod the Government into doing, and to see what the Government can contribute to the EU summit. Without exception, all of us in this House want an improvement in the conditions of the average African.
5.22 pm
Mark Hunter: I broadly welcome the approach to Africa that has been suggested in the documents before us on behalf of the European Union. For a long time, African nations and the wider development community have been campaigning for increased prominence for those issues on the world political agenda. I hope that at last we will see some success in that regard.
The document talks about the need for Africans to integrate and co-operate, which is where the European Union has the most to offer Africa, should it choose to take advantage of our expertise. We can assist the African Union in its institutional reforms in order to give it a stronger voice in the world community. A strong African Union will be good not only for Africa but for the EU and the rest of the world. I hope that this collaboration with the EU will allow the African Union to develop and flourish.
We should recognise, however, that Africa is not a single, homogenous area, and that the strategy requires a local focus. Funds need to be channelled at a local community and governmental level to help to tackle national corruption and allow more speedy responses to local circumstances and needs. I shall be grateful if the Minister says something about that in his response. As well as encouraging democracy nationally and regionally, the strategy should also address the issue of strengthening local governments and local democracies.
The countries of the European Union have a strong tradition of local democracy, and I hope that its importance is acknowledged in the EU-Africa action plans when they are finally agreed. Sustainable development cannot just be an add-on to an energy strategy; it must be central to it. The developed world has in the past been accused of pulling up the ladder on developing countries, by placing restrictions on their carbon emissions. I hope that the strategy before us, however, will allow the EU to play a vital role in encouraging and helping the African nations to establish a strong base of renewable energy resources, because without drastic action, Africa itself will suffer most; drought, flood and drastic changes to weather and climate will make it almost impossible for them to function. Climate change and the establishment of renewable energy sources must be mainstreamed with clearer targets and action laid out, when the action plan is finally revealed to us.
In conclusion, as other Members have said, it is difficult to pass overall judgment on the documents without the action plan being finalised. I agree with the European Scrutiny Committee that the strategy needs to be fleshed out. Although at times the documents express laudable and important ideas, the language is still a bit woolly. The strategy must include concrete actions that need to be taken in each of the areas, with timelines and targets. I hope that the final action plan will do so. We do not want a strategy that says everything and does nothing. Africa deserves better.
5.27 pm
Mr. Thomas: Let me start with Mr. Hunter’s last point. The timing of the debate was not of the Government’s choosing; nevertheless, we are happy to give feedback to the Committee on the progress to date on agreeing the strategy. I repeat the commitment that I gave to the hon. Member for Cotswold, who leads for the official Opposition, that I shall send an update to the Committee as matters progress.
I agree with the hon. Member for Cheadle, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, and Mr. Clifton-Brown about the importance of African ownership being reflected in effective detailed action plans to take forward the implementation of the strategy. One of the most encouraging things for people who are committed to progress on the millennium development goals in Africa has been the emergence of the African Union as an increasingly effective force for good. The peacekeeping operations that have been mounted under the African Union’s leadership in Burundi, Darfur and the Comoros Islands are examples of that.
We must recognise the fragility of the African Union and the capacity challenges that it faces, and the engagement of the European Commission in support of the African Union will be key in taking matters forward. I hear Mr. Clifton-Brown’s comment about the obvious need to follow through on action plans, and I and officials from the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to do so.
I hear, too, the entirely reasonable point from Mr. Clifton-Brown that we must follow through to ensure that the resources spent under the EU-Africa strategy lead to tangible progress. I shall give two examples to the Committee, offering some encouragement that money is being well spent. In Ghana, the Commission has spent some €90 million to help reduce the numbers of poor people, from 42 per cent. of the population in 1999 to some 35 per cent. in 2005. Some 500,000 people have been lifted out of poverty, and there are 10,000 new teachers in schools in Ghana.
In Zambia, a €70 million programme is leading to a steady improvement in the road network. In 1995, 20 per cent. of the roads were rated as good; by 2004, up to 60 per cent. were rated as good. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the crucial importance of that for trade and a variety of other things.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I recognise what the Minister just said and applaud those Governments for their achievements, but does he recognise that the examples that he cites are of democratic Governments, and that there is a clear link between good democratic Governments, good governance and economic performance? Therefore, it is vital that good governance is one of major aspects of whatever conclusion is reached at the summit.
Mr. Thomas: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was about to reflect on the need for progress on governance. One of the things that is particularly encouraging about the leadership that we have seen in recent years in Africa is the development of the Africa peer review mechanism, in which African leaders and Governments have reviewed other countries’ performance in terms of good governance. So far, there have been four reviews on the quality of good governance, and a series of recommendations for the four countries concerned. Those countries are now responding to the reviews by developing their own individual action plans to take forward the recommendations and continue to build good governance.
Another point on good governance that I can offer to increase the confidence of the House is that although conflicts such as Darfur have been savage in their intensity, the number of conflicts in Africa is at its lowest level for a generation. That is something that we should celebrate, but, obviously, we cannot relax and be complacent about it. As I said in answer to Mr. Hunter, we must continue to build capacity.
The Chairman: Two out of three I would have allowed, but you went on to score a third one by addressing Members by their surnames and not by their constituency. The practice in a Committee is that only the Chairman addresses Members by their name. Ministers and others have to address them by their constituency or ministerial title. I am sorry to interrupt you, but the Chairman of Ways and Means would not have forgiven me if I had not reminded you.
Mr. Thomas: I stand suitably chastised, Mr. Hancock.
There is huge potential for developing countries if we can agree a Doha deal. It is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister and other Ministers have been so engaged in trying to make progress in that area.
In March 2005, we published a document setting out the type of economic partnership agreements that we wanted. At the time, we were isolated in the European Union, but there has been substantial movement in our direction. Other Ministers and I are engaging extremely closely on the detail of progress on economic partnership agreements.
Hon. Members rightly made other points about the importance of progress on environmental protection and of recognising the impact of climate change on Africa. We will continue to take forward those issues in our work on the detailed implementation of the strategy. With that, I commend the document to the House.
The Chairman: I thank the Minister for his courtesy, and all members of the Committee for the way in which they have conducted this afternoon’s proceedings.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee takes note of European Union document No. 11326/07 and Addenda 1 and 2, Commission Communication: From Cairo to Lisbon—The EU-Africa Strategic Partnership; and welcomes the progress being made on development of the strategy in preparation for the December EU-Africa Summit.
Committee rose at twenty-six minutes to Six o’clock.
 
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