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Andris Piebalgs

European Commissioner for Development

Opening speech

2011 European Development Days

Warsaw (Poland), 15 December 2011

Excellencies, Esteemed Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by saying how happy I am to see you all here at the European Development Days. Moreover, this year we are very lucky to be meeting in Warsaw.

My thanks go to the Polish Presidency and Minister Stanowski for the wonderful job it has done in organising this event and making us all feel so welcome.

We could hardly have chosen a more fitting venue and time for this year's focus on "development and democracy". Not so long ago, Poland, the other Soviet bloc countries and some occupied countries emerged from the totalitarian shadows onto the road to democratic transition and EU membership. Today the Arab Spring continues to remind us that others still yearn for freedom and a better future. And as we look to the future, governance, democracy and human rights will form a central part of our vision for EU development policy going forward.

That vision is set out in our proposed Agenda for Change. Its more strategic approach to reducing poverty is structured around two main pillars. The first is a better focus in EU development policy on good governance and human rights; the second, a concerted effort to create inclusive and sustainable growth in developing countries. What unites them is the fact that they are both central to a country's efforts to reduce poverty and get on the development ladder.

Let's take the governance pillar first.

The thirst for freedom and for a chance to make the best of one's life is not a cultural or national phenomenon – it is a universal human trait. That is surely why the Arab Spring has struck a chord with people around the world. For their courage, young people in the Arab world deserve our support.

The Arab Spring has confirmed our belief in the need for EU development policy to be better able to respond to the challenges that our fast-changing world can throw at it. And it has shown us how important it is for good governance to be given greater weight in determining the ways and means through which we provide assistance.

Our Agenda for Change and our modernised approach to budget support will pursue this course.

Our support for better governance will be multi-layered. We will encourage a stronger role for parliaments, civil society and NGOs in holding governments to account. We will focus more on budget support as a contractual partnership and a vector for change in promoting, inter alia, human rights and good governance and the fight against corruption and fraud. Human rights will be a central consideration when we analyse a partner country’s profile and suitability as a recipient of general budget support.

The financial instruments we propose using in development cooperation over the coming budgetary period will enable us to embed human rights and democracy even more deeply in our practices. They will provide a wide variety of assistance in support of structural reforms and democratic governance. Funding will be determined based on a partner country's needs, capacities, commitments and performance. More attention will be given to a country's record on democratic governance, and in particular on human rights and gender.

We will pursue political dialogue with partner countries so that human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance are systematically addressed at country level.

The glue that could hold these layers together is coherence in our actions. To achieve this we should seek to ensure that our financial instruments complement one another. Moreover, the EU and its Member States could liaise more closely on governance issues in partner countries and work together to push governance issues up the international agenda.

In short, development policy can lead to better governance; and better governance can be a crucial factor in poverty reduction. So development and democracy should go hand in hand. With such a wide range of options available in our development policy toolbox we will have what it takes to make sure that they do.

The second pillar I would like to mention briefly here is growth. If countries are to leave poverty behind for good, they need growth to propel them away from it. But we are not looking to create growth at any price. Growth is generated by people and must benefit all population groups. We thus need to improve human development, so that people are healthy, educated and able to benefit from wealth creation and job creation. Growth therefore needs to be inclusive.

By the same token, growth which does not last – or at best comes in fits and starts – is never going to keep a country firmly on the path to prosperity. Growth therefore needs to be sustained and sustainable.

To conclude, our proposed Agenda for Change is designed to take us beyond current practices and heighten the impact of our cooperation on the democratic future in our partner countries.

Millions of Europeans, including me, grew up not knowing how it felt to live in an open society, with freedoms and opportunities. The EU has ample experience of helping countries like mine make the transition to democracy. Indeed, it has now gathered together the transition experiences of Member States like Latvia and Poland in an online and interactive database called the European Transition Compendium. So our readiness to help partner countries along the path towards better governance is no hollow sentiment. Sharing experiences and good practice can only be of benefit to all concerned.

Of course the learning process is a two-way street. As I suggested earlier, our partner countries have many things to tell us about their experiences and the areas in which we can help.

We must start advancing down that street today. This event is very much a meeting of development minds. That's why I'm sure our discussions here in Warsaw will get us off to a bright start.

We have many interesting avenues for discussion to explore over the next few days. For example, I am keen to hear your ideas on taking EU development policy forward, and your insights into how we can better promote democracy with the instruments we have.

The EDDs already have a reputation as a place where we can get important business done. Let's keep that reputation intact.

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