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25 Feb 2008 : Column 845

The Lisbon treaty could therefore have a damaging effect on international aid. In practice, it could lead to the further concentration of EU aid on the EU’s near neighbours and political priorities. Already, three of the top five recipients of the Commission’s aid are middle-income countries—Serbia-Montenegro, Turkey and Morocco—that lie within the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. Countries with the lowest incomes are notable by their absence, with only the Congo and Afghanistan making the top five. The Committee will realise that there are special reasons in the case of Afghanistan. With the Lisbon treaty, we can expect the EU’s political aims to be further prioritised over those of the least developed countries. That may have led to the words “developing countries” specifically being omitted from the treaty’s objectives for financial and technical co-operation, a deficit that we would remedy with amendment No. 273.

A lot of competing quotations from BOND were cited during the previous debate. The Government prayed it in aid, and Conservative Members rightly pointed out some of its concerns. Let me put on record something that BOND said on the treaty as a whole:

On Second Reading, the Foreign Secretary was keen to give the House the impression—I choose my words carefully—that there was considerable support for the treaty among the NGO community in this field. Bearing in mind that BOND represents a collection of important NGOs, I think that the Foreign Secretary over-egged his case, to put it mildly. That is why it was important that I had the opportunity, which I have been pleased to take, to read that point into the record.

I shall conclude my remarks so that other hon. Members may speak. Amendment No. 245 is designed to remedy one of the treaty’s major defects on international aid. It would make the EU’s aid budget independent from its foreign policy and allow it to be used to the best advantage of the least developed countries in particular. Specifically, it would take responsibility for EU development aid away from the EU Foreign Minister and remove the risk of the EU’s aid budget being diverted to the furtherance of the EU’s foreign policy. Amendment No. 273 would allow financial and technical co-operation to be targeted to developing countries.

Given the dangers that I have outlined, I ask the Minister to give the Committee two specific assurances. First, if Lisbon is ratified, will the EU have its own development commissioner, independent of the Foreign Minister—yes or no? Secondly, if Lisbon is ratified, will development officials working in the External Action Service be responsible to that development Commissioner, if we have one? If we do not, will they report directly to the EU Foreign Minister? I hope that the Minister will attempt to answer those two clear questions, not least because we must consider whether to press the amendment to a Division.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): It will not be a surprise to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) that there will never be common ground between us on the high
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representative and the development of the common foreign and security policy. I am sure that the authors of the BOND paper will be delighted by the slightly higgledy-piggledy manner in which every bit of it seems to have been quoted this afternoon. In the previous debate, I used one of the quotations that the hon. Gentleman cited, so I do not think that it is a killer quotation in favour of his broader point.

8.15 pm

I say to the hon. Gentleman that one big thing that we press for all the time is greater co-ordination—within the United Kingdom, in the European Union and in other multilateral institutions. We want better co-ordination among political foreign policy objectives, development issues and, where relevant, defence matters. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) said, the lines between some of those matters are necessarily blurred on occasion. I wonder whether we should be a bit more pragmatic in our approach to the high representative and the other aspects of the new CFSP arrangements, notwithstanding my having asked in the previous debate for some reassurances on the high representative having administrative staff dedicated to this area. We have the prospect of a proper focus on poverty alleviation at the heart of the treaty, which is a pretty good guarantee that it will remain the major focus of development assistance and a vast improvement on what we had before.

Finally, will the hon. Gentleman consider the example of Kosovo, because I am not sure where he would put that on the great spectrum of development, foreign policy and defence-type issues? Although it is clear that a proportion of its population has to endure extreme poverty, Kosovo would not usually meet the benchmarks for most recognised assessments of extreme poverty. However, in the context of the past couple of weeks, surely we have an ongoing responsibility to Kosovo. The new set of arrangements will allow us to meet that, but a much more clear-cut separation regarding development would not.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I support amendment No. 245, which strikes at the heart of a long-standing problem in the EU: funds being diverted away from aid, especially aid for the least developed and poorest countries, towards achieving foreign policy objectives involving countries that might be poor by our standards, but not compared with the poorest countries in the world.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Is not my hon. Friend’s argument that aid is given to certain causes for political aims? The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), too, raised that point. Such causes might be very good, but that process can take aid away from the least developed countries.

Mr. Clappison: That is exactly the problem that amendment No. 245 confronts. Are we talking about aid given purely on the basis of development criteria—how poor a country is, its position with regard to human development and various measures of relative poverty—or aid given as part of a wider objective
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relating to political and strategic considerations? The amendment is very apt in that context. Having heard the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) about the impact of the new high representative, the European External Action Service and the reinforced European common foreign and security policy, I think that they might come together to make the existing situation worse.

In saying that, I do not draw a veil over the existing problems of EU aid policy, which are long-standing and widely recognised. European Union development co-operation and aid have stretched back as far as the EU itself, certainly throughout the 25-year history of the Lomé convention. The EU has provided a significant proportion of world aid throughout its history. However, has the money that has been spent by European Union institutions—as opposed to money from individual states—been well used? There is often a sense that the European Union’s relatively wealthy nations are trying to compensate developing nations for the effects that EU policies have had on them.

An academic study by Karin Arts and Anna Dickson concluded that over the long term, the European Union’s policy on development has fallen short, saying that

That is absolutely relevant to my hon. Friend’s amendment. Are we going to have an EU policy in which the EU is an actor going through the motions with other objectives in mind, or an EU aid policy that delivers aid to the poorest people?

Various views were attributed to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) during our earlier debate. She put it succinctly when she said that the European Commission was

Her successor, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), to whom hon. Members have rightly paid tribute for his sincere convictions on this subject, put it in his own way. On the subject of European development aid, he told the Select Committee on Science and Technology:

Coming from the right hon. Gentleman, and knowing the terms that he tends to use, that is even more damning than the conclusion of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood.

Time and again, reform has been promised. We were promised it in the treaty, and we have to see that reform against the criterion in my hon. Friend’s amendment. We have heard time and again—I think that I heard shades of it in the speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), when he summed up on behalf of the Government—the classic bureaucrat’s defence: “Things have not been as they should, but we are putting them right.”

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The Select Committee on International Development put its finger on some of the long-standing problems in European Union policy when it reviewed the effectiveness of the promised reforms in 2002. It said:

To be fair to those involved in the European Union’s aid effort, lack of transparency and ineffective bureaucracy are hardly unique characteristics of the European Union, but they are important when we debate whether more and more policy making in aid will fall within the remit of central European institutions rather than that of individual member states.

In 2003, the International Development Committee said that it was waiting to see whether European Union reforms would result in a greater focus on poverty reduction, but it has been and remains the case that too little of the EU’s international development effort is devoted to the poorest countries in the world. For the purposes of the amendment, we need to ask whether so much EU aid will continue to go to countries in eastern and central Europe and the Mediterranean region—countries that may be less developed than we and other western European nations are, but hardly count among the poorest in the world.

Far too little EU aid goes to the least developed countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. That is the situation that we confront now, and we must see the amendments in that context. If my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Rayleigh is right in his analysis of the impact of the high representative, the EU’s new foreign policy-making institutions and its new drift towards integrated EU supranational control over foreign policy, the situation could get even worse—but my goodness me, we have grounds enough for concern already.

Less than half the European Union’s aid goes to the least developed countries and low-income countries. Less than 40 per cent. of aid goes to sub-Saharan Africa. I heard the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for International Development about how matters had improved since 2002, but since 2003, the proportion of EU aid going to sub-Saharan Africa has fallen. I quote figures very helpfully supplied to me by the House of Commons Library, which tells me that the amount of EU aid going to sub-Saharan Africa as a proportion of the EU’s overall budget has fallen from 38.9 per cent. in 2003 to 35.6 per cent. today. This debate is taking place against the background of a falling proportion of EU aid to sub-Saharan Africa.

When one considers the amount of aid being given to individual countries, the situation is even starker. In support of his amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh rightly highlighted the case of Mediterranean and eastern European countries; I think that he mentioned Turkey, Morocco and Serbia in his list of the top 10 recipients of EU aid. In fact, according to the note helpfully supplied to me by the Library, those countries are the top three. Turkey receives the most aid, Morocco the next most and Serbia the third most.

In terms of aid received per capita, the situation is starker still. According to the Library’s calculations, Serbia receives about 60 times more aid per capita than
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Bangladesh, and a total of three times more in overall aid budget. I may be wrong, but I imagine that when those figures on the distribution of EU aid were produced, Kosovo was counted as part of Serbia. We can therefore read them in the context of European Union policy towards Kosovo and Serbia. That might be worthy on its own account. It might be intended to achieve just results, self-determination and a peaceful solution to the long-standing problems in the Balkans; there might be other issues as well. It is a complicated part of the world, and I do not propose to go into detail during this debate about all the merits of those issues, but the point of the amendment is undoubtedly that aid is a focal point for EU foreign and security policy. It appears from the statistics that the aid disbursed by the European Union is driven by the EU’s common foreign and security policy objectives. It certainly cannot be driven by the relative poverty of Serbia or Kosovo, for instance, when compared with the very poorest countries, including Bangladesh.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The International Development Committee has conducted a number of inquiries into European Union aid. It appears to me that the hon. Gentleman is talking about the European Commission aid programme, which is highly skewed towards the near abroad—the Mediterranean countries, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and so on—because that is its purpose. Aid to sub-Saharan Africa comes largely from the European development fund, and 90 per cent. of that fund’s aid goes to the least developed countries. He is talking accurately about EC aid, but that is only part of the European Union’s total aid package.

Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He makes a further point in support of my own, as the European Union’s skewed aid policy is disguised within the subdivision of budgets. It is nevertheless money being spent, and it is counted as European Union aid. It may be divided up into different budgets, but as far as taxpayers and people interested in aid in this country are concerned, a very large sum of EU aid is being spent in countries that are relatively less poor, and a much greater amount is being spent in countries such as Serbia, Morocco and Lebanon. The European Union has political and security concerns about those countries, but they are not among the poorest nations in the world. The Department for International Development has set a target for 90 per cent. of its bilateral aid to go to the poorest countries—but the same imperative does not seem to govern European Union aid. Will the Minister for Europe give his estimate of how much of what the Government regard to be aid from EU institutions goes to low-income countries?

8.30 pm

The expert analysis given by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) in the earlier debate on the motion about the Lisbon treaty was hardly comforting for the Government on that point. My hon. Friend spoke from his own particular perspective, but he said that he did not regard the treaty as a great step forward. He said that we were talking about a total non-debate that added to the democratic deficit. We have often heard it said that the European Union has comparative advantages because of its size and other factors, but the evidence of the lack of poverty focus,
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ineffective bureaucracy, lack of transparency, slow delivery and possible fraud seems to suggest that it does not perform as well as others in the field, such as nation states. To all those problems may now be added that caused by the role played by the European Union’s reinforced common foreign and security policy. The issues that my hon. Friend raised were important.

The situation is dominated by long-standing problems that have riddled the European Union’s whole aid history. We need to be extremely careful that we do not make an unsatisfactory situation worse by handing over more influence and authority to the centralised European Union foreign policy institutions that the treaty introduces; my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh was right to mention those issues. I do not draw the reassurance that I would like from the Government’s position on the issue, although I heard what the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West, said.

Mr. Bone: I am following carefully my hon. Friend’s powerful speech. Is it not one of the problems with the new high representative—or Foreign Secretary—that if the European Union decides collectively on a particular foreign policy objective, its implementation is down to the high representative? He could mess around with the aid budget at will to achieve that objective.

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend makes a germane point, which is relevant to the amendment. It does not matter what we call the high representative; everybody else in the world is calling him a Foreign Minister, but he was originally described as the European Union’s foreign policy Minister. That has been changed to high representative. The fact remains that the post is a new institution, and the holder has been charged with the implementation and delivery of European Union policy, according to strategy and guidelines issued by the European Council. How he implements that strategy is a matter for him and for Foreign Ministers in the Council of the European Union. He has the right to bring initiatives before the Council. The Council then decides on the initiatives, often through qualified majority voting.

The point is that we are dealing with an individual who has been charged by the European Union with getting results in the field of foreign policy, and the levers of power have been put in his hands. The high representative is not only a member of the Commission, but chairs the Council of Ministers. He has all the levers of power for implementing European Union policy in his hands. There is therefore a risk that he will get his hands on the lever of European Union aid policy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh said, and that it will become part of the European Union’s overall foreign policy, as opposed to being compartmentalised as development policy, under which development money would be spent according to strict development aid criteria such as relative poverty. I have heard the Government’s defence on that point, which relates to the insertion of the poverty criteria in the treaty, but their defence does not seem to be much more qualified than that. It does not strike me that that is something that the Government have been keen to trumpet in the past.

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Shortly after an initial meeting in June to set out the framework for the intergovernmental conference mandate at the European Council meeting, the Government issued a document called “The Reform Treaty: The British Approach to the European Intergovernmental Conference, July 2007”. It set out the Government’s position after the European Council, and the decisions taken there by the previous Prime Minister. The document was to set the scene for the intergovernmental conference that came later in the year in Lisbon. It goes into detail about the Government’s position. It gives a detailed analysis of what the Government regard as being the principal changes made to the treaty—the innovations and the Government’s policy towards them. There is barely any mention in the document of development aid policy. When the Minister for Europe winds up, I challenge him to tell me what important announcements are made in the document about European Union development aid policy and our Government’s policy towards it.

What the Government said about the change in the treaty is very thin indeed. There is mention of poverty, but not poverty in any particular country or the most disadvantaged countries. No refinement or clearer targeting is given. The fear in my mind is that the substantial EU aid funding, which comes in part from taxpayers in this country, will be spent according to wider objectives and not strictly according to development aid criteria. That is a fear for all of us who are concerned about development and aid.

Our wish is for aid to go to the poorest countries in the world, without being diverted because of other issues and priorities. It should go to the very poorest people in the world to give them the chance of a better future—to countries such as Bangladesh, to sub-Saharan African countries, to countries that are ravaged by AIDS and have terrible problems. Those are places where it can really contribute to development and to lifting people out of the direst poverty. We do not want it to go towards alleviating poverty in countries that might be poor by our standards but that are in a much better position than the poorest countries in the world. My hon. Friend’s amendment hits the nail on the head: there is some risk of desperately needed aid funds being diverted away from the people who need them most.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I shall refer to the consolidated texts of the EU treaties as amended by the treaty of Lisbon, because I always think that it is useful to know what the wording would be if the European Union reform treaty—the Lisbon treaty—were agreed by the 27 member states, unamended. I start with article 3 of the treaty on the function of the European Union, which is on page 38 of the consolidated texts. Article 3, paragraph 1 is about common fisheries policy, the customs union and so on, but I would like to make a point about competence, which is mentioned in paragraph 2, although I stand to be corrected by the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). Paragraph 2 says:

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