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European Commissioner for Development
Key Note Address by Commissioner Piebalgs
High-Level Forum on International Cooperation / Milan, Italy
1 October 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Development policy is a central part of European Union policy.
Indeed, the Lisbon Treaty makes it very clear [and I quote] that "Union development cooperation policy shall have as its primary objective the reduction and, in the long term, the eradication of poverty".
There are many reasons why the EU is committed to development.
First, and foremost, of course, is the moral obligation of rich countries to assist those that are not in a position, from their own efforts alone, to give their citizens the chance to live a decent life.
This alone is reason enough to commit ourselves.
During my mandate I have seen the effects of desperate poverty, of people born with no chance to escape a cycle of desperation.
We have poverty in the EU, and this must be addressed.
But this is completely different than the challenges of helping the more than one billion people that live on less than a Euro a day, and many on much, much, less than this.
However, supporting the World's poorest countries is important to us not just for this reason, although, once again, it is reason enough.
Minister Riccardi has spoken of the opportunities that development cooperation can bring to an outward-looking Italy. I echo that sentiment and support an outward-looking Europe.
That poverty breeds insecurity and, eventually terrorism, is self-evident.
We have seen it in Afghanistan, Somalia, the Yemen, and now see troubling signs in Mali.
This has to be tackled at source; because dealing with the symptoms, not the cause, will never solve this disease.
That poverty breeds illegal migration, and desperate refugees that deserve a better life, is equally self-evident.
That helping countries to pull themselves into middle income status, such as many Asian and an increasing number of African countries have done in the last few years, creates markets, growth and opportunities for all, is also obvious.
Indeed, Africa is now the fastest-growing region in the world. In one generation almost a quarter of the world's youth will live in Africa. They have the right to expect a decent life, one where they can strive to improve.
So; obligations, responsibilities and opportunities in equal measure.
The EU has seized these opportunities and responsibilities; we should be proud about the fact that we are the World's largest provider of aid.
Since the Millennium Development Goals were agreed in 2000, the EU's collective aid has doubled since 2000 in real terms, reaching 53 billion euros in 2011.
But the EU's efforts go well beyond its ODA provision.
It is also the main importer of developing country exports and the only major economy to give duty- and quota-free access to Least Developed Countries.
And I am absolutely convinced that we must maintain this commitment.
Indeed, even during these difficult times, we must maintain and promote our core European values, both at home and abroad.
As President Barosso recently said, EU citizens have the privilege to live in perhaps the most decent society that our planet has ever known.
It is not perfect, but at the end of the day, continuing to be the world's key development actor is an integral part of this decency; it is in our moral, economic and political interest.
However, the EU must not only be the World's largest donor, it has to be the world's best donor.
We spend a lot of money on development assistance.
EU citizens, taxpayers, have the right to expect that it produces the maximum possible results.
In fact, the EU is already widely recognised by independent bodies as a very effective donor.
But the World is changing fast around us, and we must adapt.
I would therefore like identify three key changes being made to EU development policy, our "Agenda for Change", making our spending even more effective.
First of all, we recognise that aid alone will never be enough to help a country pull itself out of poverty.
It can only be a catalyst.
One thing is certain; give a population basic good schooling and health care, good governance, nutrition, energy and decent communication infrastructure, and it will pull itself out of poverty.
So EU development policy is centred on helping a country provide these for its own citizens.
Over the next years, we will be focusing on;
- governance and the rule of law,
- health and education, and
- The drivers of growth; helping to create an explosion of investment notably in sustainable and resilient agriculture and sustainable modern energy services, the keys to growth.
The second change in our new development policy is the fact that many developing countries now have the resources to pull themselves out of poverty themselves.
Many have reached upper middle income status, a reason to celebrate.
These countries continue to need our help in terms of trade, technology and technical help.
But they do not need development aid.
We will therefore stop providing bilateral development aid to more advanced countries that are able to generate enough resources for their development, such as China, India and Brazil.
The third change I would like to mention is that we will focus particularly on aid delivery mechanisms that ensure that aid acts a catalyst, leveraging multiples of investment and change.
In particular, a much greater use of innovative financial instruments such as blending will enable us to combine EU grant resources with private or national government capital.
A good example of how this will work can be seen in the energy sector; one of the priorities that I mentioned earlier.
Aid alone will never provide the trillions of Euros need to bring modern energy services to more than one billion citizens that presently rely on charcoal to cook and candles or oil for light, causing deforestation and committing billions to a life of ill-health and poverty.
To do this requires a real partnership between donors, governments in development countries, and the private sector. A new form of development cooperation.
The EU, together with the UN and World Bank, are putting this into place; with the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
Through targeted investment using innovative financial instruments, accompanying national reforms in developing countries such as changes in tax, transparency and regulation, we can make a huge and lasting change, with each Euro in aid catalysing many, many more.
Imagine the benefits to us all, economically, and environmentally, if we can help the developing world power the explosion in population we expect over the next 30 years in a sustainable manner, providing a chance to grow?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope that this brief review gives at least a flavour of our efforts to equip the EU, and our partners in the developing world, with a development policy that will harness the extraordinary changes we are seeing around the world today.
I would like to finish my remarks by reflecting on the next great challenge in terms of development policy; the Millennium Development Goals and their successor in 2015.
The MDGs have been a success story.
They have heightened the political focus on poverty and indeed, the number of people living in absolute poverty has decreased by 600 million since 1990.
The EU has been the MDGs' greatest supporter: as I already mentioned it is the largest provider of official development assistance, it is the largest trade partner of developing countries, and the only major economy to give duty- and quota-free access to Least Developed Countries.
We have a great deal of which we can be proud.
However, we all recognise that the MDGs leave unfinished business; notably
- the goals only aim to reach parts of the poor or the hungry, not all of them, and
- progress has been uneven; in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, under-five mortality rates are still twice as high as in the next poorest region.
Our immediate priority has to be one last and committed push to meet the existing MDGs.
We will continue to press hard right up to the 2015 deadline, especially in countries and sectors most off-track.
Looking to the future, I am sure that we all recognise the historic opportunity that faces us.
Given the extraordinary changes that the World has seen since the MDGs were discussed and agreed in the late 1990s, economically, financially and technologically, we all know that it is possible to eliminate poverty in the next generation.
For example, if every poor person were funded at the same level as provided in the Millennium Village pilots, about $100/person/year, it would amount to no more than 0.15% of global GDP.
The elimination of poverty must therefore to be at the very centre of our future work, and our first and overriding priory and focus.
However, I think that we should even go further than this.
I believe the key goal or vision underpinning our work should be: how to guarantee a "Decent Life for All by 2030, focusing on three key pillars:
First, updated and modernised MDGs, providing decent living standards for all – a set of minimum floors below which no one should fall.
This would be a form of MDG+, providing the basic rights that every citizen on the planet should expect and demand from their governments at the very latest by 2030, with, where necessary, for the poorest countries, the support of the international community through continued ODA.
Second, as we are all aware, the MDGs alone will not guarantee a decent life. Without dignity, poverty remains. This means focussing on the drivers for prosperity, creating jobs and guaranteeing justice, equity and human rights.
Third; we all know that we are living today, quite literally, unsustainably.
If we continue as today, when faced with a global population of 9 billion by 2050, an increased demand for food by 50% and energy by 40%, we will undo so much of the progress thus far achieved, and impoverish future generations.
I do not underestimate the difficulties in addressing this question, and the results and follow-up to Rio+20 will be crucial. But it has to be tackled.
I would therefore suggest that the third pillar might be focused upon "good stewardship" of natural resources.
Every government must have its own obligations towards its citizens in terms of the good stewardship of its own precious natural resources, from forests to fossil fuels, from minerals to soil.
This might cover, for example, in addition to environmental sustainability relevant to their particular situation, the good use of income from natural resources and managing, reducing or indeed eliminating their depletion.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I mentioned, I am convinced it is perfectly possible to rid the world of desperate poverty by 2030, just a generation from today.
Taken together, and defined through clear goals and targets to which every citizen can personally relate irrespective of where they live, and which they can use to hold their governments to account, these three pillars could provide a framework that could provide everyone, a Decent Life for All.
As I mentioned earlier, we in Europe are privileged to live in one of the most decent societies the world has ever seen.
We should be deeply proud of this, and use the Post-MDGs as a platform, to spread these values, to help those that look to the EU for leadership.
I do not underestimate the challenge, but as the Roman philosopher Seneca once said,
"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult."
Thank you/Grazie mille.