Previous Section Index Home Page

Major independent development policy think-tanks such as the Overseas Development Institute are calling for more development aid to be channelled through Europe. There are clearly different interpretations of what happens, but it appears that progress has been made, so it is essential that we build on it. It is important that we continue to restate the principles that will be embedded in the treaty if it is carried: for example, that the primary objective of development policy is the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty; that humanitarian aid is
25 Feb 2008 : Column 803
recognised as a fully fledged Union policy; that the EU’s development co-operation policy and the policies of individual member states reinforce each other; that we should be working towards that end; and that development policies should operate independent of political stance. It is vital that we maintain that independence and that we promote all those principles.

I have seen positive work carried out by the EU. Children from one of the poorer villages in my constituency have been to Burkina Faso, one of the most deprived countries in Africa, to help to dig a well. They have raised money for schools and projects in the country. It was exciting for them to be able to participate in even a minor part of that work. The EU has financed the construction of more than 900 classrooms and more than 300 primary schools and the establishment of canteens in the country’s three poorest regions. That is extremely important work.

The International Development Secretary set out what has been done by the EU and our country to promote democracy and advance in a terribly troubled country—the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I saw that work at close hand when, with other members of the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention, I visited the country to monitor the elections last year. It was a humbling experience and I can testify at first hand how extraordinary it was to see the work being done by the EU and MONUC—the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Soldiers were making sure that the elections were fair, and they transported thousands of tonnes of ballot papers. It was an extraordinary experience to see at close hand so many people taking part in a peaceful registration process and election in an area of such conflict. The EU, DFID and our officials in the country are greatly to be commended for their work.

Pride can be taken in that achievement; the country is still extremely troubled and progress is difficult, but there is no doubt that the situation is now different. The latest estimate is that in the period of civil war, more than 4.5 million people died as a result of starvation or poverty, or directly from conflict and violence. Interestingly, the last study that was done—I have met its authors, who produced it by analysing what people knew of deaths in different periods—showed some evidence that in the east, the most troubled area, the number of deaths had started to fall. That might have changed again recently, but the fall in the number of deaths presumably occurred because more effort and assistance had been put into that area since the worst of the conflict than into areas that were not so troubled. There is thus hope for the aid process, but there are clearly an amazing number of areas in which a huge amount of work remains to be done.

Taking the DRC as an example of a country in which the EU should and does play a major role, one of the key issues is the reform of the security sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) pointed out that we want to maintain the independence of the policy aims of our development work, but that work necessarily correlates with work on security, military intervention and protection in conflict zones. Security sector reform is, and will
25 Feb 2008 : Column 804
continue to be, a critical issue in the DRC, and the European Union deserves praise for the creation of EUSEC—the EU security sector reform mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I hope that Ministers will ensure, as far as they can, that we maintain the work of EUSEC and do not start withdrawing it in the coming period, when it will continue to be important to work on security sector reform and to maintain a presence in the DRC. Such action will be critical; without it, we might be prevented from ensuring that our development efforts have an impact on the dreadful problems that that country faces, which we need to deal with.

The EU has also played an important role directly in security in the DRC through the role of EUFOR and the troops that we have there, which helped the MONUC forces to secure the 2006 elections; the work of the EU’s special envoy to the great lakes; and the significant role played in the recent Goma peace accords. The EU’s role is important and must continue to be important. I want a treaty that embeds further the principles that we want to adopt and makes that work more effective, not one that states that we will withdraw our co-operation.

Structural reform is important, and points have been made about the possible shortcomings. Although there will be fewer Commissioners in the EU, I hope that we can keep one with direct responsibility for development. I hope that we will pursue that as a Government.

We had an interesting debate earlier about British Overseas NGOs for Development, and we can all cite different quotations from it. The secretary of our all-party group spoke to BOND earlier today to establish its position. As I understand it, it says that it is not its job to take a position on the treaty itself or on issues such as a referendum. It states that it

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) pointed out what it had said about now being the opportunity to improve the treaty and the development and legal framework. BOND goes on to say that its issue is not with anything in the treaty, but about how its principles will be translated into practice. Any failings in EU policy should mean not that we tear up the good proposals and changes in the treaty, but that we consider how to operate them in practice. Arguments that the EU does not always work properly are not arguments against the treaty as such.

Mr. Streeter: I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady’s thoughtful speech. What is there in the treaty that will make the European institutions deliver aid more effectively? If nothing in the treaty would do so, how does she intend to see that that is brought about?

Judy Mallaber: It is important that the treaty should include at its heart the principle of eradicating poverty, as well as a legally binding statement on the rights of children. Such issues are important. A treaty of itself does not make practice and implementation work; it sets out the framework within which they happen. That should be our aim in the treaty before us.

At a meeting in January with the all-party parliamentary group, Louis Michel, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, admitted that
25 Feb 2008 : Column 805
there had been problems with the time taken to implement EU programmes. We need to streamline the processes, but there are massive difficulties. There is corruption in countries such as the DRC, and it is not easy to implement policies in a country with only a few hundred miles of paved road. One can meet women there who say, “Our problem is that our children can’t go to school until they’re old enough to be able to walk the distance to get there.”

There are huge problems, and it is hardly surprising that there are difficulties in implementing programmes. One cannot write into a treaty how to implement policies on such issues. That is not to say that those issues are not important, and it does not take away from what the treaty says, but changes clearly need to be made to the treaty to make it work for a Commission involving more countries. Streamlining is needed; there can be no doubt about that. There are also other issues that we need to take on board. In the DRC, the issue of illegal logging is critical, as are climate change and the sustainability of rain forests and local communities.

I take exception to one point in the BOND document. BOND is opposed to the creation of a European voluntary humanitarian aid corps, which is a huge shame. I do not understand why. The treaty refers to establishing

and says that rules and procedures for the operation of the corps will be worked out. BOND has expressed concern about the potential dangers. Obviously, that issue needs to be dealt with, but I have seen so many young people fired with enthusiasm who have had fantastic experiences and learned so much in other countries that I am concerned that BOND has taken that viewpoint. I think that the creation of the corps is a positive item in the treaty, and I support it. For a number of reasons, I support the treaty. I hope that we can take it forward and deal with the issues raised.

5.42 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber). To begin precisely where she ended, the issue with the volunteer corps is that it will be linked with humanitarian situations. As many of us have experienced, the first thing a developing country suffering a crisis wants is for professionals to come in with expertise and specialist skills to try to assist; perhaps the last thing it wants is a group of young people with good intentions who may not have the skills and expertise to be able to help with the situation. Let the EU do things that member states and international non-governmental organisations cannot do—it has a role, of course, as a multilateral aid provider. Gathering together a lot of young people and sending them overseas to increase their experience is a tremendous thing, but it is already being done by many different countries and international NGOs. Why does the EU need to trample on that territory?

I shall start with a highly controversial statement: I think that the European Union has been incredibly effective in the past 40 or 50 years in providing international development. It has been perhaps the
25 Feb 2008 : Column 806
most successful organisation ever in delivering one kind of development. I see looks of horror from certain colleagues, so I shall explain my remarks. If we define development as helping a country to become strong and acquire the rule of law, a market-based economy, a strong civil society, freedom of speech and organisation and an emphasis on human rights—if we define it as raising living standards—it is true that in the past 30 or 40 years, the European Union has been an incredibly effective framework for development in countries such as Spain, Greece, Portugal and the Czech Republic, as well as the Baltic states. In years to come, the impact will be felt in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, which are already members, and in countries that have yet to enter the European Union.

The best thing about the European Union is the fact that the most effective form of development is the journey to join it. Countries have to jump the hurdles that we rightly set before them to become members of the European Union. Living standards for individuals in those countries are transformed in five, 10 or 15 years in a way that I have not seen happen anywhere else in the world through any other form of development. I make that point because it is important that the European Union focuses on its core business, and on doing what it does very well. That is why I strongly support enlargement.

I recognise that from time to time, treaty amendments are needed to enable ever more countries to make decisions in a coherent way. It is a pity that the Lisbon treaty goes well beyond that. I have travelled in the former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and in countries on the east of Europe, and the only political vision that those countries have is to work their way towards membership of the European Union. That is the journey or underpinning that makes those countries strong. I wonder what Europe would be like today if we did not have the framework of the European Union. I wonder how all those small countries would end up, and whether they would have the momentum for political progression and change, and for improving living standards, if we did not have the framework of the European Union.

Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend might have suspected that I would intervene at this point. When he speaks about European union, does he have in mind the European Union, with all its accumulated functions, as set out in the treaty, which merges all the existing treaties, or does he have in mind—I do not want to tempt him too far down this road—more of an association of nation states, through which we can co-operate to achieve objectives, but without a strict legal framework, which could be counter-productive on international development issues?

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend asks an important question. I certainly have in mind a European Union of looser association. Wider, not deeper; that is my vision for the European Union. That is how we can make the biggest difference to the world.

Hugh Bayley: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that EU enlargement has been an important driver for development, but he will agree that there must be some
25 Feb 2008 : Column 807
geographic limits on enlargement. The EU has association agreements with countries that it would not accept into membership, including countries in north Africa and the middle east. Surely it is right that the European Union, which has been very good for development in central and eastern Europe, should apply that same expertise and those same strictures further afield, particularly in the poorest countries.

Mr. Streeter: The hon. Gentleman anticipates my second point, which is that of course enlargement has natural limitations. We can count the number of countries that we know could fit comfortably in the European Union. Of course, enlargement must happen at a pace that the whole enterprise can cope with, but it is membership and the journey towards membership that brings the benefits. My thesis is that when the EU starts to undertake a different kind of development—external development—it does not do it very well. That triggers a debate on whether it should do it at all, in the way that it is trying to do it, or whether external development is better left to member states or other agencies. If I have time, I hope to develop those thoughts.

Putting aside the great success of enlargement, my observation is that the performance of EU development over the past decade or two has been woeful. We have considered statistics on the performance of the EU. In the three years in which I shadowed the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), then Secretary of State for International Development, there were a number of international humanitarian crises and disasters. On every single occasion, the aid that DFID was able to provide was immediate, proportionate, relevant and helpful, but the assistance that I saw ECHO try to provide was nearly always far too late, was bureaucratic, did not work or did not arrive. There was a huge gap between the assistance that the UK could provide in a humanitarian crisis, and what the EU was able to deliver.

I do not want to taunt Labour Members, but we used to say that they did not understand the difference between spending money and making an impact on the ground. I am sure that they would deny that that is the case now, if it ever was—Members might have their own observations to make on the subject—but there is a huge difference between the EU spending money on development, aid and assistance and making an impact on the ground. Having visited various parts of the world, I have not seen the impact that the combined dollar spend and the euro spend by the EU should have made. We have heard that the focus is on the wrong countries, and that can be demonstrated with a startling statistic: 81 per cent. of the UK aid budget goes to the lowest-income countries, as we heard earlier, but the proportion of the EU institutions’ budget that does so is 32 per cent.

It is not just that the EU has spent money in the wrong places, but that, as I said, it has tended to spend money slowly and bureaucratically. A number of international NGOs are desperate for finance for projects, and often come to us to discuss those things. Someone may suggest, “Why not apply to the EU for
25 Feb 2008 : Column 808
some money?” and the reaction is nearly always: “It’s just too complicated. It’s too long-winded, we never get there, and it’s just not worth it.” Interestingly, DFID looked into what was going wrong with EU aid some years ago, and it found out that some of the delays were due to

A study by the European Commission itself found that 40 per cent. of delays to aid projects were due to

Only 25 per cent. were due to administrative problems in the developing countries that received the aid.

Some 35 per cent. of aid from all other donors arrived on time, but for the EU, the figure was a miserable 14 per cent. On average, 3 per cent. of aid from all other donors arrived over a year late, but the EU has managed over the past 10 years to hit a staggering figure of 21 per cent. What is the point of DFID giving the EU £1 billion a year if it helps to fund such a bureaucratic, slow and unfocused performance? That is not the only problem. DFID has reported that it spends 5 per cent. of its total budget on administration. The EU has various development budgets and departments—we know that it is complicated—and it has a much larger budget, so the percentage spend on administration should be lower, but in fact, the administrative cost is 8.7 per cent., which is a huge amount of money.

EU aid is not effective in far too many cases, and it is right to conclude that EU development aid and the institutions that seek to deliver it are often not fit for purpose. That is not to say that everything they do is bad or wrong, but the disadvantages and disbenefits outweigh the benefits. What is the solution? I am not an isolationist—I do not want us to withdraw from active involvement in the European Union—but there is a case for one of two alternatives. It is disappointing that in the run-up to the Lisbon treaty those alternatives were not more actively pursued by the Government. First, there is a case for bringing more of the spend back to the member states so that we can spend it more effectively. We should not spend it on other things, but we can spend it more effectively on bilateral aid, where needed, around the world. The fact that some countries do not have much of a bilateral aid programme does not undermine the general thesis that the United Kingdom and many other countries, including Germany and France, have significant bilateral aid programmes, and the money would be better spent that way than by pushing it through the EU’s coffers, where much of it is wasted and misplaced.

The first point that should have been more actively discussed in the run-up to the Lisbon treaty is that member states should have more control of the way in which that money is spent. Secondly, the Government should consider the fact that the US spends most of its aid money through USAID—the United States Agency for International Development—which is independent. If I am right that the EU institutions and aid departments are not fit for purpose, what is wrong with the prospect of setting up a new EU international aid agency? It should be semi-detached, not lost in the corridors of that astonishing bureaucracy in Brussels, and it should operate as something through which the
25 Feb 2008 : Column 809
EU can channel its aid. It would be a multilateral effort, but it would be done in a more effective and focused way.

I know that the Minister is concerned about some of the EU’s decisions on its development budget, so will he say in his winding-up speech how much longer the Government will wait for the EU to improve its performance before taking a more radical approach? The Prime Minister made an important speech in India just before Christmas—it may have been just after Christmas; I am not entirely sure—in which he discussed the importance in the globalising world of the 21st century of multilateral organisations. I agree with him. We are living in a time of interdependence and globalisation, and we need to tackle some of our problems in collaboration with other states and multilateral organisations. He mentioned in particular the UN, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank. Interestingly, he did not mention the EU. The problem with the multilateral approach is that it works only if those organisations are properly organised and deliver what they intend to deliver. My theory is that the EU does not do so, so it is time for a rethink.

Finally, the aid agenda is changing rapidly, and rightly so. If one goes to almost any African country and asks people what is the biggest problem in their country, they hardly ever say that it is poverty—they say it is corruption, which at every level is endemic to those societies. There is corruption in government, and corruption throughout civil society. We need to focus more on the democratic capacity of institutions in those countries, and bring to them values and benefits that we enjoy in this country and take for granted. Our aid and development focus should underpin and promote such values in every country that is open to receiving that message. The UK can play an important role by working to develop democratic institutions, whether through the rule of law or by helping political parties to become stronger and make a more coherent case for running their country more appropriately. The work by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and party-to-party work are incredibly important. I remember attending a conference on democracy in Istanbul about two years ago, and the NGOs and some of the bureaucrats seemed to assume that one could do democracy without politicians. We cannot: we need people who are prepared to put their head above the parapet.

The EU is not well placed to promote democratic values. It certainly cannot promote party politics and underpin the important role that parties and politicians play in the developing world. If I am right that we need a greater focus, not a lesser one, on governance and democratic issues, the EU is not the institution to provide such a focus. It should let the member states spend that money more wisely, or set up a new agency that can do so effectively.

Next Section Index Home Page