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Poul Nielson

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid

The Commission's role in coordinating the Member States' efforts to increase development aid to reach UN targets

IPPF meeting on challenges and solutions to European financing for population, development and sexual and reproductive health and rights

Brussels, 10 September 2002

Madam Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure for me to join you here today to discuss an issue which is of great importance to me: how can we increase financing for population and development, in particular for the protection of the sexual and reproductive health and rights of those most in need? I have always attached great importance to the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development which took place in 1994. The Programme of Action agreed at Cairo represents a major positive paradigm shift for the international community's approach to Population and Development. I am now saddened by the current efforts in some quarters to turn back the clock and to vanquish the concept of sexual and reproductive health and rights. In my view, religious extremism is challenging the dignity of mankind and womankind.

The European Commission remains firmly committed to the Cairo principles and to ensuring adequate support for sexual and reproductive health. Over €1 billion have been committed since 1994 to support work in developing countries that is in line with objectives set out in the ICPD Programme of Action. Where possible we have found additional resources to target an ever-broadening range of interventions, and while other donors have decided to cut funding in this area, we will continue to keep reproductive and sexual health and rights high on our agenda.

Most of the EU Member States have also continued to support reproductive health. Indeed, the past year's lengthy discussions in Council and Parliament about the revision of the legal base for a reproductive and sexual health and rights budget-line demonstrated a strong commitment from our Member States and Members of Parliament to continue to uphold the principles agreed in Cairo.

You are all aware how dismayed I am at decisions taken by the US Administration to reinstate the Mexico City Policy and to cut funding for IPPF and UNFPA. I firmly believe, and I have said this repeatedly, that these kind of decisions will cause increased maternal morbidity and mortality and decreased contraceptive prevalence; they may also result in increased HIV prevalence and a rise in under-five mortality. Overall, they could have a devastating impact on economic and social development in general, and they threaten the progress we have made to empower women and achieve gender equality. In other words, the impact of the US decision will be much more than just its immediate effects.

To match our words with deeds, we recently committed €32 million from the 8th European Development Fund for a programme that will be implemented by IPPF and UNFPA in 22 of the poorest African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, with the objective of improving the capacities of those countries to deliver basic reproductive health services to vulnerable and under-served communities. Furthermore, we are engaged in intensive dialogue with the ACP States on the provision of further support under the 9th European Development Fund. The mechanism of decision making is that we do not decide alone everything is decided on the basis of a real input from the ACP. They are all involved, and their involvement is real and not just token. It is not an easy process, but the beauty is that it really is a partnership and it adds to the political weight to the final decision.

Let me now say something about the Commission's role in co-ordinating the Member States' efforts to increase development aid to reach UN targets. In 2000, the European Commission elaborated a new development policy that has at its core an emphasis on eradicating poverty and sustainable development: this approach is one which is shared by the Union as a whole. In affirming the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development targets, we have committed ourselves to achieving a 50% reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 and a wide range of other targets for health, education, food security, gender equality, environmental sustainability and global partnerships.

In order to ensure that we achieve these goals, the worlds' leaders at their meeting in Monterrey (Mexico) in March agreed to revitalise efforts to mobilise resources for development including domestic savings, trade, direct investment, debt relief and official development assistance (ODA), and to use these resources more effectively. ODA is especially important in those countries that are least able to attract private investment, where it can support health care, public infrastructure and rural development. At Monterrey we recognised that a "substantial increase" in ODA is required, especially to the world's poorest countries. We also reaffirmed the United Nations' target of developed countries committing at least 0.7% of their GNP as ODA, and we committed ourselves to intensify efforts to harmonise operational procedures, to untie aid, to work with nationally driven and owned development frameworks, and to improve targeting of the poor.

The EU already contributes more than half of the developed world's ODA €26 billion in 2001 making it the biggest donor to developing countries. At the meeting of the European Council in Barcelona in March, before Monterrey, EU Heads of Government welcomed the renewed commitment to increase this to 0.7% of GNP of ODA. Those Member States (Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Ireland) whose assistance has already reached this benchmark will remain at that level. The remainder have pledged to increase their ODA volume over the next four years so that a collective EU average of 0.39% of GNP will be reached by 2006, with each country committing at least 0.33% within its own budget allocation process. Some have agreed to face the challenge of really trying to catch up. While the increases in ODA may seem modest, they should result in an additional €22 billion being made available between now and 2006, and an extra €9 billion a year from 2006 onwards. The mechanics of it will mean that the extra funding available each year will continue to increase beyond €9 billion, even if we don't meet the 0.7% target overall. The Commission will strive to maintain an overview of the ODA position of all of the EU, and will highlight particular successes and failings as necessary. We will also seek to harmonise policies and procedures of the Commission and the different Member States in order to increase the efficiency of our aid.

With regard to the development funds that the Commission currently handles itself, I am pleased to tell you that our performance has recently improved significantly. Payments increased by 20% in 2001 compared to the previous year, commitments were spread more evenly over the year, for the first time since 1990 there was a decrease in the level of commitments remaining to be paid, and clearance of outstanding commitments speeded up. We are not there yet but we are clearly moving in the right direction.

The Commission has also made a commitment to ensure that at least 35% of spending is allocated to what is normally called "the social sectors". We expect to honour this commitment in 2002. In fact, for the Middle East, Asia and Latin America we expect to reach 40%. This makes sense: these are better off, middle-income countries where an increased focus on this type of activity is justified otherwise why are we working there? For the countries supported through the European Development Fund (mostly in Africa) the figure is expected to be 25%, but in addition some 30% will be committed for macroeconomic budgetary support, most of which has direct social sector conditionality. Indirectly we are spending money on health and education, but it is channelled as budget support. In this way we are beefing up support to a sector wide approach. This approach makes sense because it puts the country in the driving seat and increases national ownership, but it is not easy to present our assistance as targeted social sector support.

At Monterrey we acknowledged the central role of a country's own policies and strategies in achieving its economic and social development, and we expect national governments to take the lead in developing poverty reduction plans and sectoral strategies. To this end the Commission will wherever possible support sector programmes rather than specific projects with funds earmarked for social development, as well with our macroeconomic budgetary support. Creating a basis for sustainable growth has a positive impact on health, including reproductive health.

For most of our development assistance it will therefore not be possible to precisely define how much is committed for sexual and reproductive health, since increasingly funds will be committed towards improving health outcomes in general. This is a different way of working from the past, and with health in particular a whole range of interventions outside the sector itself can lead to improved outcomes. For example, improved water and sanitation, better food supply many of these things are interrelated. With this is mind we will take our place around the table with national governments, development partners and other organisations to discuss priorities and strategies. Of course, in these discussions we will expect a high priority to be given to reproductive health within national strategic plans and expenditure frameworks. We will work to make sure that this is the case and will carefully monitor progress through suitable indicators. Of course, we are not alone in this, but in view of the weight of our support it's important that we play a major role in these discussions.

At the end of the day this will mean that we cannot any longer say how much we are spending on reproductive health, except where we have made specific EC commitments. We will, however, continue to make funds available for non-governmental organisations and other partners under our special thematic instruments such as the reproductive health budget-line. But exactly like the protection of tropical forests it is only a fraction of our total support. It is important that we sell this fact widely.

The 21st century has brought to a head several enormous development challenges: the widening gap between rich and poor, the threats to the environment at global level, dwindling natural resources, the AIDS epidemic and the neglect of the problem of malaria amongst them. However, Monterrey represented a sea-change, with the commitment of the international community to a new global partnership for development. Achieving the Millennium Development Goals is not simply about improving the life of those in the less developed countries, but in general it is about making the world a better and safer place for us all.

The issue of reproductive health came up at the recent World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. There was a very deliberate effort in some quarters to roll back previous commitments. In Bali it was not an accident that reference to human rights was omitted from the draft plan of action. On the EU side in Johannesburg we strongly supported the Canadian efforts to repair the imbalance in the text of article 47 to include "human rights and fundamental freedoms" in the final version. It was a big battle fought on procedure but we managed in the end to get the reference in, although we had to accept that the word "all" would not be included. I would add also that in paragraph 58, where there is reference to equitable access to health services, we wanted to add the word "and" to make it read "equitable access to health care and services". The intention was to show that it's not just a matter of services alone.

In Johannesburg it was all about maintaining our commitments to the Programmes of Action agreed at Cairo and Beijing. It was good that we retained this commitment in the final text but we had to fight for it. I thought it would be worthwhile to give you this update.

Thank you.

After his speech, Commissioner Nielson signed the financing agreement for the Joint EC/UNFPA/IPPF Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme, to be implemented in 22 ACP countries for a total of Euro 32 million, allocated from the 8th European Development Fund. Additional support is reserved from the 9th EDF.

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