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European Commissioner for Development
Achieving the MDGs and looking to the future
At the European Parliament's DEVE Committee / Brussels
9 October 2012
Madam Chair, Honourable Members, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Many thanks to the DEVE Committee for your kind invitation to speak to you about "achieving the MDGs and looking to the future". This issue is set to feature highly in the international development debate. Indeed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has set up a High-Level Panel to look at the future development agenda.
I am delighted that Mr Ban has asked me to serve on the panel, for two reasons in particular. First, because meeting the MDGs and building on their legacy is a key priority for me; and second, because my appointment reflects the high regard in which the EU's development ethos is held around the world. The EU now has a golden opportunity to help shape the post-MDG future.
Post-MDGs; three pillars of a Decent Life for All
It is a future in which we have rid the world of desperate poverty.
And it does not have to be as far away as we might think. In fact, I would put it to you that we can rid the world of desperate poverty within a generation. I am convinced that we can build on the amazing progress that the MDGs have enabled us to make in order to do this. The only question we need to ask ourselves is: do we really want to do it?
And the only answer, of course, is a resounding YES.
Therefore, the high-level panel's first task must be to inspire a step-change in MDG achievement between now and 2015, with poverty eradication remaining our main focus. Then, looking further ahead, the MDGs should act as a springboard towards greater progress beyond 2015.
I'd like to take a moment here to share with you some of my initial thinking on what a future development agenda could look like – or, more specifically, which issues it ought to address.
Since the MDGs were discussed and agreed in the late 1990s, the world has undergone extraordinary change. It has changed economically, financially and technologically, but also politically. For instance, we have all seen how quickly a country, given good governance and intelligent support, can move from desperately poor to middle income status. I therefore believe the conditions are in place to enable us to eliminate poverty within the next generation.
When the MDGs were set, to suggest a target to completely eliminate global poverty in a single generation would probably have been viewed as naïve. Not so today – and this shows quite how far we have come in such a short space of time.
This progress is due, not least, to the success of the MDGs and the response to their challenges, not just by donors such as the EU, but above all by so many of the developing countries that have used the MDGs as a baseline and guide for their own national plans.
The elimination of poverty must therefore to be at the very centre of our future work, and our first and overriding priority and focus.
However, I think that we can – and should – go even further than this.
Given these global advances and the opportunities that technology brings us, we should not limit our ambitions to tackling issues of material and human poverty in their narrowest sense. Naturally, such issues, on which the MDGs largely focus, are of enormous importance in themselves; but they will not provide a decent life for all.
And it is this that I believe should be the key goal or vision underpinning our work: namely, how to guarantee a Decent Life for All by 2030.
In the late 1990s, for very good reasons, the MDGs were seen as a tool focused on the world's poorest. Yet today, citizens across the whole world, both in rich and middle income countries, are also increasingly touched by issues that require global answers – issues central to guaranteeing them a decent life. Furthermore, in many wealthy regions of the world, including our own, we have many very poor citizens.
A framework of personal relevance to all, generating a real feeling of "inclusiveness", would be a powerful tool.
To find answers to these challenges and move ahead in a post-MDG world, the Commission has held a wide-ranging public consultation across Europe, which closed recently. With more than a hundred substantial contributions, it is clear that European citizens strongly support the MDGs and greatly value the development policy and commitment shown across the EU. They continue to support our high levels of ODA spending, even during these difficult times at home.
Furthermore, EU citizens are keen to see a new framework that takes the work forward into the future.
Many have said that one key shortcoming in terms of missing or weak areas is that the MDGs did not tackle the root causes of poverty, including conflict, economic growth, governance and anti-corruption, decent work and social protection, population dynamics, and climate change adaptation.
Bearing all this in mind, I suggest that under the core vision of a "Decent Life for All" we should focus 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. It is clear that poverty eradication remains an absolute priority.
These "MDGs plus" would provide 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. So our second pillar would focus on the drivers for prosperity, creating jobs and guaranteeing justice, equity and human rights.
And third, we all know that we are living today, quite literally, unsustainably.
If we go on like this, when faced with a global population of 9 billion by 2050, together with increased demand of 50% for food and of 40% for energy, we will simply undo 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 focus on "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.
More than this, however, good stewardship might also cover the sound use of income from natural resources and managing, reducing or indeed eliminating their depletion.
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 with a Decent Life for All.
As President Barroso said recently, 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 for spreading these values, helping those who look to the EU for leadership.
Meeting the existing MDGs - MFF
In the meantime, it goes without saying that we must also remain focused on meeting the existing MDGs.
The MDGs have been a success story, and the EU, true to form, has been their greatest supporter. 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.
We have a great deal of which we can be proud. But we're not there yet. The MDGs leave us with unfinished business.
Above all, 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, then, 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 that are most off track. Extra funding like the 1 billion euro MDG Initiative shows just how committed the EU is to seeing our MDG efforts through to the very end.
The MDG Initiative also shows that, alongside smart policy-making, we need proper financing to back it up. And for that we need the support of this House. I know that like me – and like the Europeans who responded to our consultation – you appreciate the continuing importance that ODA in helping partner countries achieve their 2015 and post-2015 targets. However, we also understand that, in the post-2015 environment, other factors – including remittances, growth-friendly policies and trade – will have their own roles to play in bringing about a fairer distribution of resources across the developed and developing worlds.
That's why, for instance, while doubling its collective aid in real terms since 2000, the EU 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.
We must maintain these commitments. We must maintain and promote our core European values, both at home and abroad.
And we must demonstrate to the EU's citizens and taxpayers that the large amounts we spend on development assistance are producing the maximum possible results.
Let me state clearly once again that I take the responsibility of spending European taxpayers' hard-earned money on development assistance very seriously indeed. The fact that times are tough here in Europe is reason enough for us to be spending wisely. But let me reassure you that I would be just as strict with our resources today if we were in the middle of an economic boom.
We are already doing well in this regard. The EU is widely recognised by independent bodies as a very effective donor. Only last week "Publish What You Fund" watchdog singled the European Commission out for leading on aid transparency internationally and internally and ranked it among the top 5 most transparent donors in the world.
So there is a widespread understanding among fellow aid practitioners that the EU brings clear added value to development cooperation – in short, that EU aid works. Aid groups back EU development funding as among the world's best and would like to see it maintained in the EU's next seven-year financial framework to take us up to 2020.
For me, being "among the world's best" is good – but it's not good enough. I started my professional career as a teacher. The EU's school report for its development policy would say something like: "Much good work done – could do even better". EU development policy can deliver more and better value for money. The EU must be the star pupil that others look to emulate.
No one ever improved by standing still. The world is still changing, and changing fast – and if we are to be the best, we must change with it.
To its credit, the EU has recognised that as a major trading block, leading political player and the biggest donor of development assistance in the world, it cannot afford to be a spectator – but must instead help shape the new world order.
An outward-looking Europe with adequate financial means, promoting its values and interests and taking an active political role in global governance, can deliver real added value.
The alternative would be a Europe with no voice and with no influence in the world.
The Lisbon Treaty defines an ambitious framework for EU external action and clearly sets out poverty reduction as the overriding aim of EU development policy.
The next financial framework must ensure that the EU meets these ambitions. Therefore, the Commission has boldly proposed increased funding for an external relations package composed of nine instruments.
The proposed amounts would contribute to the EU's formal collective commitment to dedicate 0.7% of our GNI to ODA by 2015, and thus be a decisive step towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The Commission's package of proposals reflects the new international context and the need for greater impact and results from external spending. For instance, while the architecture of instruments will not alter radically, there will be changes to how these instruments are used.
In development terms we have to channel funding and technical assistance into areas where development policy can have a comparative advantage and bring real added value. Indeed, higher impact and more and better results lie at the heart of our Agenda for Change. I am convinced that turning the Agenda for Change into action on the ground will provide better and more visible value for money for EU taxpayers.
For this reason, we will be more strategic. We will channel support into no more than three sectors in a country and focus on large, meaningful and targeted actions. And we will target resources to the poorest and neediest, and where they can have the greatest impact, while offering other relevant forms of strategic cooperation to more advanced countries with enough resources to finance their own development.
With public funds under strain, innovative financial instruments such as grant/loan blending will enable us to combine EU grant resources with additional flows to gain leverage and could make otherwise costly large infrastructure projects possible.
And in the interests of efficiency and impact, we will seek to make our actions simpler and more flexible.
All in all, I believe we have the principles and instruments needed for an EU development policy that is at once more effective, more transparent and more outcomes-oriented; a policy that seeks greater aid effectiveness, policy coherence and donor coordination; a policy of the kind that this House has rightly called for.
But we will have nothing to show for these principles and instruments unless we have the right funding to make them work for poverty eradication and lasting development in our partner countries. And we look to the European Parliament to show its support for our development cooperation aims by supporting our funding proposals for external action under the next MFF.
The MDG framework provides a good departure point for our future development agenda; however, it must be an agenda that reflects new realities. And our central concern should be that the fight against poverty is by no means won.
We need first and foremost to listen carefully both to the experiences of those who have succeeded, and to the aspirations of those who have not.
With 2015 still some distance away, the process that we embark on will matter for the end result. We need to consider the outcomes and follow up of Rio+20, as well as other international processes, and bear in mind that we should end up with an agenda that everyone is willing to sign up to.
In this respect the EU has first and foremost to get its own house in order, and with the Agenda for Change I believe we have the right policy directions in place to be able to contribute to such a global agenda. In the Commission's MFF proposals we have suggested a level of resources which is ambitious, but which is also achievable and necessary. For this is no time for us to be turning our backs on the world.
Indeed, with a sound financial framework in place to take us up to 2020, we will be able to set about meeting our development goals in earnest. This process will include an active role for the EU in the global debate on development post-2015.
In the more immediate future, it will involve investing responsibly in sustainable development and lasting opportunity for all people in our partner countries. In this way we will be giving the world's poorest and most vulnerable a real chance to escape the spiral of poverty and insecurity and participate in society to the best of their ability. And the benefits to them and to us in the long term will far outweigh the investment we make now.