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Commissioner for Development
Solidarity – Made in Poland, Exported by Europe.
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Warsaw, 17 May 2010
Dear Mrs Kapuścińska, Ladies and Gentlemen
As Development Commissioner, it is easy to believe the world is always in the grip of one crisis or another. In the newspapers or on TV there is often the worst kind of news. I can understand that people sometimes think there is only bad news and, worse still, that there is nothing we can do about it.
We see this with the tragedy that struck your country so recently. President Barroso has already conveyed condolences of behalf of the European Commission. But allow me to use this opportunity today to personally express my deep sorrow.
If there is one word that acts a calling card for Poland it is "solidarity". And during these difficult last few weeks, it is exactly the word which expresses what we all feel.
In a relatively short period of time, Poland has managed to transform both its political and economic system. Thirty years ago, a small group of shipyard workers established a trade union. Within a year its membership grew to include 80% of the country's workforce. Solidarność or "Solidarity" went on to become a major political force. History was on the move.
Solidarity's influence led to the spread of similar ideals and movements throughout the countries East of the Berlin Wall. And the success of Solidarity's candidates in the 1989 Polish elections helped spark a succession of events which ultimately led to the enlargement of the European Union.
In Poland, the word "solidarity" is to this day associated with that brave social movement. But it also has a wider meaning: uniting together in a common cause, for example to help others in need. And it has taken its place alongside the great men and women of Poland's recent past.
We cannot mention great men of Poland without also mentioning Ryszard Kapuściński himself. A brilliant journalist, writer and storyteller, he understood that sometimes you have to put yourself in the frontline rather than stay in the comfort zone of a newsroom.
In books such as "Imperium", "The Soccer War", and "Shah of Shahs", Kapuściński told of his adventures in some of the world's trouble spots. He tells us as much about global politics and human development as much as about himself. His books convey meaning, no matter in which language you read them.
But Kapuściński was more than just an adventurer. He had a keen desire to understand the world and its people. Furthermore, he wanted to share his knowledge and experiences and invite us to look at things in ways in we had not previously contemplated. He wanted to bring us all a little closer.
So imagine if Kapuściński had been there in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti. Imagine the tales of destruction and destitution told through his words.
Just 3 weeks ago I visited this devastated country. I was able to see for myself the destruction caused by the earthquake on 12 January. I saw the refugee camps and walked amongst the rubble that was once homes, schools and hospitals. The scale of the tragedy is immense. But it also made me realise the decency of mankind and the determination of countries to work together to overcome this humanitarian crisis.
In Haiti, Europe is working together. Europe does make a difference. Member States and the Commission have been able to unite their efforts to make sure that aid is targeted in the most effective way. Cutting out waste and duplication, focusing on results and working with the Government of the country. This is what we mean by solidarity. And solidarity is a fundamental part of EU development policy.
But development policy also goes much further than our natural instinct to help others in need. The aid Europeans give is not a panacea. It must be more a catalyst for change. Our commitment must be measured by more than just the Euros or Zlotys we spend. The aim of development is not to only to give people enough food for today, but to help them build a better tomorrow for themselves and their children. It is about learning from experiences, sharing ideas and values and understanding opportunities.
That is why Poland has so much to contribute to Europe's development policy thinking. Poland's familiarity with transition, the lessons of democratic change and economic reform are qualities that have inspired your neighbours. They can also inspire Europe's interest and solidarity with developing countries across the world.
This is not about Europeans imposing a one-size-fits-all approach on others. As a former physics teacher, I am reminded of the Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus. He put forward the idea that the earth was not the centre of the universe. There has been a similar "Copernican revolution" in development, to realise it is not the donor which is at the centre of things, but the recipient partner country. For our efforts to have a sustainable impact, we must respect the history, culture, and choices of the countries we work with. Just as much as our citizens expect us to be accountable, so we must expect partners countries to be, first and foremost, the ones accountable for their actions.
We live in a world where we are all interconnected. We see pandemics in Mexico spreading across the ocean, poppies in Afghanistan becoming heroin in European capitals, or pollution from Indian industries melting the ice caps in the Arctic. We cannot shield ourselves from such challenges beyond our borders. Many of these have their roots in poverty and under-development.
Our development policy must be about the long-term response to these threats, because we cannot tackle poverty without taking account of global challenges such as climate change, security, migration and trade. There is indeed, no possibility for development without security and no chance of security for any of us without development for every world citizen.
Some may think that eradicating poverty is impossible. Perhaps this is what Kapuściński was thinking when he wrote "Our salvation is in striving to achieve what we know we'll never achieve".
But he knew we had to endeavour to succeed. And in our efforts to halve world poverty by 2015 – the so-called Millennium Development Goals, we have made real progress and we can succeed.
In the last decade we have seen the incidence of tuberculosis significantly reduced, millions more children are going to school, and billions more people have access to safe drinking water. Around the world, we see that aspirations have been unleashed, and lives have been transformed in positive ways.
We should be proud of these examples. They show what can be accomplished when we work together. More importantly, they are a wake-up call to redouble our efforts. Because we still have a long way to go.
We see that children are dying from mosquito bites. Thousands are dying every day from HIV/AIDs. Around 1.4 billion people - nearly three times the population of Europe - still live in extreme poverty. This is why the European Commission has proposed a 12-point action plan as a stepping stone to help developing countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
This is the moment where we must come together and commit to our shared responsibilities and opportunities. The Action Plan calls for EU countries to keep our promises to increase aid. It will be far from simple to meet our commitments in today's economic and financial environment, but if we do not meet our promises on development policy, why, for example, should developing countries believe our promises to assist then in dealing with climate change? If we are not credible about respecting our commitments, we will simply lose the trust from third countries. Solidarity means delivering on our commitments to help tackle poverty. The Action Plan is also about getting better value for aid, making it more effective. And it is a plan for ensuring other European policies such as trade and migration also work for development.
In setting out how Europe can keep its promises, we also want the rest of the international community to play its part. We have put forward ideas about how developing countries themselves can increase their own resources. This means involving them in international efforts to tackle tax evasion as well as strengthening their tax systems at home.
Europe puts forward this plan from a position of strength. The EU accounts for over half of development assistance in the world. The experience of regional integration in Europe is the most advanced in the world. And the EU has taken a lead on global issues like climate change and trade, so why not development?
Later this year, a UN Summit in New York will be held to try to get the world back on track to the Millennium Development Goals. The Action Plan which I have put forward shows how Europe can take a lead in tackling poverty. Europe can export to the world the solidarity that was made in Poland.
As we look ahead to next year, Poland will play a key role in the EU. The Presidency in the second half of 2011 will be a chance to raise the profile of development. Raising public awareness of development in Poland is one of my priorities. I am pleased that next year's edition of European Development Days will take place here.
And explaining the importance of development across the rest of the EU is also crucial – that is the idea behind this series of Kapuściński lectures. I want to draw this particular lecture to a close with a quote from Martin Luther King who said: "We are faced with the fact…that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late."
It is not too late for the Millennium Development Goals. It is not too late for development to make a difference. And it is not too late for me to try and answer some of your questions.
But before I do, please allow me a final reflection. Ryszard Kapuściński himself probably sat in this very room. From these seats, from this University, he made the leap to become an internationally-recognised figure. This afternoon, let him be our inspiration. We are entering a new decade for development. One in which Poland and Europe can take a lead. Let's not miss this chance.
Dziękuję serdecznie za uwagę
(Thank you very much for your attention)