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Session 2008 - 09
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European Standing Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Gary Streeter
Borrow, Mr. David S. (South Ribble) (Lab)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey (Cotswold) (Con)
Crabb, Mr. Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
Fisher, Mark (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development)
Kaufman, Sir Gerald (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Moore, Mr. Michael (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD)
Sharma, Mr. Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Spellar, Mr. John (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)
Stunell, Andrew (Hazel Grove) (LD)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

The following also attended (Standing Order No. 119(6)):

Cawsey, Mr. Ian (Brigg and Goole) (Lab)

European Committee B

Monday 9 November 2009

[Mr. Gary Streeter in the Chair]

EU Aid Effectiveness
4.30 pm
The Chairman: I call the hon. Member for Hertsmere to make a brief explanatory statement on how this matter was referred to the Committee.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Streeter. I know that members of the Committee wish to raise a number of points about European Union aid, but first, as you anticipated, I should like to say a few words on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee about why it decided to recommend this subject for debate.
There were two important Commission communications on EC development policy and the millennium development goals in 2008 and 2009, one of which was debated in a European Committee. Both had a great deal to say about the need for greater effectiveness of EU aid. Against that background, the operational framework for the EU to promote aid effectiveness has been prepared jointly by the Commission and the Swedish presidency. It responds to the Council’s May 2009 conclusions, which called for an operational framework to be presented before the end of 2009. It looks ahead to the fourth high-level forum on aid effectiveness, to be held in Seoul in 2011. On that occasion, to quote from the introduction to the paper,
“the European Commission and Member States will be held accountable for the commitments made in the 2005 Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for Action...of 2008. The EU was a driving force behind much of the content of these agreements, and therefore has a special obligation to ensure that we deliver on our commitments. While, individually, the Member States and the Commission are making progress on their commitments, achieving the targets in the short time remaining before Seoul presents a formidable challenge. The purpose of this operational framework is to catalyse EU action to achieve the massive change necessary to meet this challenge.”
The Council agreed four EU aid effectiveness priorities: division of labour between donors; enhanced use of national systems by donors to deliver aid; predictability of aid; and mutual accountability for results, including less conditionality. The proposed operational framework identifies concrete actions to improve the EU’s performance against its aid effectiveness commitments, including under the Paris declaration, before the 2010 deadline.
In their explanatory memorandum to the Committee, the Government professed themselves “strongly committed” to delivering their
“aid effectiveness commitments, ensuring that development is driven by partner countries and helps build capable, accountable, and responsive states.”
The Government stated:
“We strongly support the EU’s focus on aid effectiveness.”
They saw an
“urgent need for EU members and the Commission to step up efforts on implementing aid effectiveness commitments”,
given that the Commission’s 2009 report on EU performance against its aid volume and aid effectiveness commitments indicated that in 2008 the EU as a whole was off track on at least four of the 10 2010 Paris targets. The Government saw increased effort as important because
“the EU, influenced by the UK and other donors, played a lead role in securing an ambitious international agreement on aid effectiveness at the Accra High Level Forum in 2008.”
They welcomed the operational framework
“as a way of achieving meaningful and concrete actions before the 2010 deadline for the Paris targets.”
It may help the Committee if I say that, in the view of the European Scrutiny Committee, effectiveness is generally understood as the capacity to achieve the results desired. On that basis, it is plain that the EU has much room for improvement. Given that the EU—the Commission and the member states—provides nearly 60 per cent. of development assistance to the world’s neediest countries, it is all the more important that the Commission and member states respond to the “formidable challenge” to which the document refers at the outset, and achieve
“the massive change necessary to meet this challenge.”
It was with those considerations and the wider background in mind that the Committee recommended that this document be debated.
The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Clappison. I now call the Minister to make his opening statement.
4.34 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Michael Foster): I join the hon. Member for Hertsmere in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Streeter. Given your interest in international development, it is appropriate that you are chairing this sitting.
The European Scrutiny Committee requested that we examine the draft Commission and presidency paper on an EU operational framework for aid effectiveness. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the paper with this Committee. Aid effectiveness is a crucial agenda. In the current economic climate, with developing countries suffering from falling investment, export income and remittance flows, and with the UK facing pressures on public spending, it becomes even more essential to ensure that every pound of aid we spend is effective and delivers value for money.
The EU is hugely important for development, with the Commission and member states providing 59 per cent. of global official development assistance in 2008—the equivalent of £39 billion. Therefore, improving the effectiveness of EU aid goes a long way towards ensuring and improving the effectiveness of global aid. We believe that the Paris declaration on aid effectiveness is the right framework in which to improve the effectiveness of international aid. The DFID White Paper “Eliminating World Poverty: Building our Common Future” reaffirms that commitment.
The document before the Committee forms the basis of an EU operational framework that has been subject to much debate and negotiation between the Commission and member states over recent weeks. The UK is broadly happy with how those discussions are progressing. Following that process, the framework, along with the draft Council conclusions, will be put to Ministers for endorsement at this month’s meeting of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council.
I reiterate that the aid effectiveness agenda is a political and not just a technical agenda: each donor’s behaviour is determined largely by its own domestic political agenda. The UK has been recognised internationally for its leadership on aid effectiveness, thanks in part to the positive role Parliament has played and the strong support from UK non-governmental organisations. We welcome the draft EU operational framework as a means of ensuring both concrete action and a renewal of strong political commitment by the EU ahead of the 2010 deadline and the fourth high-level forum on aid effectiveness.
The Chairman: We come now to questions to the Minister. I remind Members that questions should be brief and that they are entitled to ask supplementary questions. We will then move on to a debate, so Members will have an opportunity to have another bite of the cherry.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I begin by welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Streeter, and by saying how pleased the Opposition are to work with you.
Given that, as the Minister has just said, the document will be largely approved at this month’s meeting of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council; that we are so far off meeting most of the millennium development goals, and that DFID is generally regarded as one of the most effective aid agencies in the world, can the Minister assure the Committee that the EU is working to the same high standards as those to which this country works, rather than the other way round, and that we will not be pushed into adopting a common EU position with a lower standard than that which we currently have?
Mr. Foster: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the UK is recognised as an international leader in the field and assure him that that leadership will continue, which will mean pushing the boundaries of development policy in the EU and across the world. I can also assure him that we will not be dragged down to a lower level of commitment. Certainly, our bilateral commitment to achieve the 0.7 per cent. target by 2013, two years ahead of the date agreed by the EU, shows that leadership. We have also shown leadership on the limit of overseas development assistance that we think can be transferred to deal with any climate change funding package that might be agreed in Copenhagen. We have set that limit at 10 per cent. Again, we are one of the only countries, if not the only country, to have shown that lead. As you and the hon. Member for Cotswold will know, Mr. Streeter, the Prime Minister put on record at our party conference in September the fact that we will introduce legislation to ensure that aid expenditure at 0.7 per cent. of gross national income will be enshrined in the law of the land. Again, we are the only country in the world that has taken that course of action.
Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend make it clear that the framework document is not simply about the way in which the EU development budget is spent, but goes back to the Paris declaration and the Accra agenda for change and recognises that aid effectiveness is enhanced when a group of countries that are giving aid to another country—this includes EU funds—co-ordinate their action? Part of the framework document is therefore about the way in which the EU co-ordinates its development budget with the development budgets of the 27 member states.
Mr. Foster: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The document’s focus is on the division of labour between donors, on donors’ enhanced use of country systems to deliver aid and on technical co-operation to enhance development capacity. Those three key measures will lead to greater effectiveness in EU aid spending, but they will also involve greater collaboration with our non-EU partners, such as the United States Agency for International Development, the Australian Agency for International Development and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency.
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Streeter. I have some questions about the division of labour in the document. The annexe on page 24 sets out some of the fast-track decisions that have been taken. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall and I have just returned from a Select Committee on International Development visit to Nepal and Bangladesh, and some of my questions arise directly out of the meetings that we had in those countries.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the EU donor that takes the lead on Bangladesh. The document records that the Netherlands is the co-lead with the European Commission, with the UK as one of four supporting facilitators. Is the Minister happy with that? Does it reflect what is happening on the ground? The International Development Committee met the DFID representative in Bangladesh, who was chairing the donor co-ordination committee—no representative of the Netherlands appeared to be present.
Mr. Foster: I cannot account for the Dutch representative’s absence from that meeting, but I know that our programme in Bangladesh is strong. We obviously have strong historic links with the country, and I visited it myself earlier this year. We have a strong DFID set-up there, and the head of the DFID office, Chris Austin, would certainly not be averse to taking the lead on certain issues if he thought that that was in the best interests of the people of Bangladesh. I will have to look into the details of why the Dutch have lead responsibility for Bangladesh to see whether there is a particular reason for that, but I do not have that information at my fingertips. I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman with my findings.
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Prepared 10 November 2009