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European Standing Committee B Debates

EU Document 8403/08 and Addenda 1 to 5 relating to The EU—a Global Partner for Development—Speeding up progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Peter Atkinson
Borrow, Mr. David S. (South Ribble) (Lab)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Lancaster, Mr. Mark (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
MacNeil, Mr. Angus (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Malik, Mr. Shahid (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development)
Meale, Mr. Alan (Mansfield) (Lab)
Moore, Mr. Michael (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Steen, Mr. Anthony (Totnes) (Con)
Hannah Weston, Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

European Committee B

Monday 9 June 2008

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

EU Document 8403/08 and Addenda 1 to 5 relating to The EU—a Global Partner for Development—Speeding up progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

4.30 pm
The Chairman: If hon. Members want to take their jackets off, I am quite happy for them to do so. Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement about the decision to refer the relevant documents to this Committee?
4.31 pm
Mr. Borrow: The new procedure for the European Committee forces somebody from the European Scrutiny Committee to explain why this particular set of documents has been referred to the Committee for debate. I shall explain a little bit about the European Commission’s communication and the various other documents before the Committee, and why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended them for debate.
In September 2000, the United Nations millennium summit agreed the eight millennium development goals. Since then, 190 countries have signed up to them. The goals are to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other preventable diseases; to ensure environmental stability and to develop a global partnership for development.
Each goal has associated targets and benchmarks to measure progress, and the end is to achieve all the targets by 2015. Among the papers that Members have is a detailed annexe showing the targets and the various measures that need to be carried out to ensure that they are met. The documents before the Committee come from a request by the European Council to the Commission for papers showing where the European Union is in terms of achieving the targets by 2015.
A high-level forum on aid effectiveness will be held in Accra between 2 and 4 September this year. A further high-level UN event will be held later in September and there will be a follow-up international conference on financing for development at the end of November. Later this month, the European Council will debate the communication. The European Scrutiny Committee felt that it was appropriate for the documents to be debated before that, so that the Minister would have an opportunity to explain to Parliament his observations on the communication and how he will deal with the issues when he or his boss represents the House and the Government at the European Council later this month.
Mr. Malik: I am pleased to be in the Committee for the first time for this type of European debate. It is a pleasure to do so under your stewardship, Mr. Atkinson.
The European Scrutiny Committee requested that we examine the EU’s recent package of documents on the millennium development goals—it will probably help me if I refer to them as the MDGs. I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss the documents with the hon. Members present.
The April package under discussion consists of five Commission working papers on progress towards the MDGs, including “Financing for Development”, “Effectiveness of Aid”, “Aid for Trade” and “Policy Coherence for Development”. Collectively, the papers set out the important progress made towards the MDGs, but they also underline the scale of the challenge in meeting the 2015 targets, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The papers also reflect the EU’s key role in development. It spends 57 per cent. of global aid flows and has a large potential impact through its non-aid policies, such as migration, trade and energy.
In response to the papers, the Council conclusions adopted by the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 26 and 27 May 2008 emphasise the commitment to development within the European Union, reaffirming member states’ commitment to provide 0.56 per cent. of gross national income in overseas development assistance by 2010, and 0.7 per cent. by 2015.
Importantly, the conclusions also requested that an EU agenda for action be prepared for this month’s European Council meeting. The document is still under discussion, but it is hoped that it will provide clear milestones and targets on MDGs for the European Union. That will set the standard in advance of a number of important meetings later in the year, especially the UN high-level meeting on MDGs on 25 September in New York.
The UK has played a prominent role in focusing attention and efforts on MDGs in 2008 through the Prime Minister’s MDG call to action initiative, which was launched late last year. The EU has a key role to play in demonstrating leadership and fulfilling its undertakings.
The Commission paper presents a mid-term assessment of progress towards MDGs. Rightly, it emphasises the fact that it has provided a clear framework for, raised awareness of, and promoted global commitment to, development objectives. The lack of clarity over accountability for delivery, and over the national, regional or global focus of MDGs is highlighted as an outstanding concern. For those reasons, I am pleased that the conclusions recommend an agenda for action because that will help to define and invigorate the EU contribution to the wider goals. The papers highlight the substantial progress that has been made, but they also note the challenge of ensuring that the goals are met by 2015.
The Commission paper on the Monterrey process for development financing raised concerns about falling EU aid volumes in 2007, when they should have been increasing to meet the 0.56 per cent. gross national income for overseas development assistance by 2010. Although the fall partly reflects the exceptionally high level of debt relief in 2006, the UK shares the Commission’s concern. It was therefore an important step in the recent May GAERC meeting that EU development Ministers strongly reaffirmed their official development assistance commitments. The council also called on member states to publish timetables to illustrate how they will meet the 0.56 per cent. target by 2010, and the 0.7 per cent. target by 2015. The UK has already done that through the comprehensive spending review, which committed us to meeting the 0.7 per cent. target by 2013, two years ahead of schedule.
The EU will play a key role in the follow-up conference on financing development in Doha in late 2008. A co-ordinated and ambitious EU position is critical to ensuring that the international community delivers for the developing world. The importance of economic growth and trade for developing countries is a concern shared by the Commission and the UK. The communication and conclusions on “Aid for Trade” highlight the progress that has been made by member states in increasing support for trade in developing countries towards the target of €1 billion by 2010, which was specified in October 2007 in the EU “Aid for Trade” strategy. The UK welcomes that progress, but shares the Commission’s concern that further efforts will be needed to ensure that the target is met.
The UK was involved in the development of the strategy and is actively helping to take it forward. The Department for International Development is currently producing its own strategy, which is expected to be ready by July 2008. It will set out how we will deliver on our commitments and increase support for “Aid for Trade”. Most of the UK’s increase in support will be focused on Africa.
This year—2008—is critical in the international effort to increase the quantity and quality of aid; the latter is as important to reaching the MDGs as the former. The Accra high-level forum’s drive for better aid stands alongside both Doha’s financing for development meeting for more aid, and the MDG call to action to promote better results on the ground.
The Commission’s papers and the Council’s conclusions underline the importance of those meetings. The UK welcomes the emphasis that the documents put on the European Union leadership to improve the predictability of aid. We also welcome the EU’s championing of aid transparency and accountability. The conclusions identify the need to speed up and improve implementation of aid effectiveness commitments such as ensuring better co-ordination and coherence between donors, more predictability in aid and the use of partner Governments’ planning and implementation mechanisms. Those areas reflect UK priorities on aid effectiveness, and we look forward to working with the European Union to ensure that Accra delivers real progress on the agenda.
The impact of non-aid policies on developing countries—both positive and negative—is a key challenge for the European Union collectively, as well as for individual member states. Through “Policy Coherence for Development” the European Union’s commitment is that all policies should support development, or at least not undermine it. The communication on policy coherence for development sets out progress in three areas: first, energy and biofuels, secondly, migration, and thirdly, research. The overall recommendations from the conclusions are to strengthen impact assessments and dialogue with partner countries as ways to improve the effectiveness of policy coherence for development. We welcome that recommendation, reflecting, as it does, the UK’s priorities for PCD—I apologise in advance that when one engages in discussion and debate about the EU acronyms invariably start to fly about.
The section on migration in the Council conclusions focuses on the brain drain of skilled labour from developing countries and urges continued dialogue with partner countries to investigate different ways of tackling the challenge. The issue is one in which the UK has a close interest, and we are working with our EU partners on taking the dialogue forward. The conclusions set out three recommendations on research: there should be more EU research that is directly relevant for developing countries; research capability in developing countries should be strengthened; and there should be greater co-ordination between member states on their work in research for developing countries. The UK is fully supportive of the conclusions, as they are consistent with our own policies as laid out in DFID’s recent research strategy.
Finally, the papers note the opportunities presented by biofuels for developing countries, although the conclusions recognise the possible negative impacts on food prices, the environment and climate change. The importance of EU policy being economically, environmentally and socially sustainable is clearly stated. As well as monitoring the situation and maintaining a close dialogue with producer countries, the EU will look at supporting the faster development of second generation biofuels that do not use food products in their production, and which should have less social and environmental impact. The UK has commissioned the Gallagher review to assess the impact of biofuels and until that is produced, and until the wider impacts are better understood, the UK is encouraging caution in expanding biofuel production.
The Council conclusions include a section on food prices outlining the EU’s concern about high prices, which bring about additional development challenges. The situation is placing great strain on developing countries, particularly on the weakest sections of society. The conclusions emphasise the fact that the EU is committed to a collective response to the food price challenge, addressing the combination of short-term and long-term issues. The UK supports that comprehensive and co-ordinated approach, and the EU’s role in an international response led by the UN and the World Bank.
The Commission’s paper and the conclusions present a positive set of statements encouraging greater and more co-ordinated EU leadership on a number of key development-related topics. Given the importance of 2008 to achieving the MDGs, the EU has created a platform that should help to spur on a reinvigoration of effort. We particularly welcome the agenda for action in that regard, and will work closely with our EU partners to develop it in time for the June Council.
The Chairman: I thank the Minister for that statement. We now have until 5.30 pm for questions. For those who are not familiar with the newer procedures in these Committees, hon. Members may now ask a series of related questions—I underline the word “related”—at the Chair’s discretion.
Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that there has been a dip. It was a projected dip due to the high levels of debt forgiveness and to CDC disinvestment. The dip was not unexpected; it was projected. We are confident that we are on track to meet the 0.56 per cent. target by 2010 and the 0.7 per cent. target, which I stressed in my opening remarks, by 2013. It was not a surprise to donor countries, including us, engaged in this work in the developing world that there was a dip. The important thing is that we still expect to meet the 0.56 per cent. target by 2010 and 0.7 per cent., which is the EU benchmark, by 2013—two years ahead of schedule.
Mr. Lancaster: I am grateful for that response, although the Minister did not really address the point that it undermines our authority in trying to convince others to do more that our contribution was heading in the wrong direction. I would like to pick up his statement that it is hoped that we will have reached the 0.7 per cent. target by 2013. Of course we welcome that and support it. It is in line with the call by the EU for greater predictability of aid. My concern is that, given that there is, to say the least, some economic turbulence at the moment and, with the greatest respect to the Minister, his party’s record when it comes to economic competence has been blown out of the water in recent weeks with various emergency announcements—
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