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European Commissioner for Development
3 pillars to establish a poverty-free world
European Development Days 2012/Brussels
17 October 2012
Fifty-five years ago, on a continent which had been divided and devastated by the Second World War, and was now in the grip of the Cold War, a small group of six nations came together with a vision.
In that short time – the historical equivalent of the blink of an eye – what we have come to call "the European project" has succeeded in rallying almost all of Europe behind a set of mutual interests and shared values: human dignity, freedom, democracy, justice, the rule of law and respect for human rights. This unique project has now been rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. We should all feel hugely proud of this achievement.
We can be equally proud of what we have achieved beyond our borders.
Because the vision behind the European project was never an inward-looking one. It was about sharing European values and the all-important solidarity my esteemed predecessor, Louis Michel, spoke of so movingly yesterday. Sharing them with the people of countries like my own, making the transition from totalitarianism to democracy and EU membership; and with the people living of countries in the developing world struggling to escape poverty and embrace development.
I think perhaps Bono – the tireless anti-poverty campaigner – put it best when he talked to me last week of the European Union as a living reality. And the beating heart at the centre of it all is development cooperation.
The many creative ideas and visions we’ve shared together over the past two days have very much made this year’s EDDs about “people-centred development”. As development players, we’re always putting people first – but sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves of that.
As always, President Barroso gave the European Development Days just the start they needed. Let me stress here that he has been to all seven editions. If that doesn’t show that development is the EU's beating heart, I don’t know what does.
President Barroso reminded us of the opportunity we have to push the global development agenda forward. And he pointed to Rio+20 as giving us a set of priorities to work on.
Indeed, Rio+20 and the post-2015 debate have put sustainability under the spotlight, and I will come to that later. Sustainability is one half of the growth equation we have set ourselves in our Agenda for Change. The other half of that equation is inclusiveness.
I have said it before but will say it again now: no country can hope to set itself firmly on the road to development and not look back unless it is prepared to give everyone in society a chance to have a share in both creating wealth and benefiting from it.
This morning Vice-President Binay of the Philippines set out some practical steps to put human beings at the centre of development. He also described to us how a vibrant young workforce can drive forward development at home and in the wider region, and help drive down inequality. Behind his modesty lies a success story that can only get even better, now that the Philippines has finally been able to bring peace to its people and focus fully on its development.
At the 2011 EDDs in Warsaw we saw just what inequality and lack of life chances could do to a society. It had been a year since Mohamed Bouazizi had set himself on fire in Tunisia, in an act that had sparked youth-driven revolution across Tunisia and throughout the Arab world.
The protests were directed against systems that were not only corrupt and repressive, but which offered little prospect of a decent life for young people like him.
Another year on, and young people are still leaving Tunisia because they cannot build a decent life for themselves at home. It is clear, then, that we must do more to help Tunisia, other transition societies and all our partner countries offer their people real opportunity.
I was particularly pleased to hear the views and ideas of heads of state from our partner countries in Africa.
President Boni Yayi of Benin, also here in his capacity as acting President of the African Union, did not shy away from detailing the many challenges facing Africa, while also highlighting the opportunities that are there for us to harness and build on in the years ahead.
At a time of economic stagnation around the world, Africa is bucking the trend and showing that it can achieve impressive growth. As President Ali Bongo Ondimba put it so well, Africa is a continent on the move. And we can all feel safe, knowing that President Banda is in the driving seat!
The trick will now be to keep that growth going, spread its benefits to all, and ensure that it does not come at a social or environmental cost. That inclusive and sustainable growth does not need to be a top-down process alone. President Guebuza of Mozambique spoke in eloquent terms of the ability of local authorities, small business and individuals to get involved in creating such growth from the bottom up – as long as such a process is supported by sound institutions, responsible use of resources and good governance.
President Boni Yayi also summed up our aim in this area very nicely when talking of the need for all people to participate in and benefit from inclusive and sustainable growth, so as to make for a more productive society marching with determination towards poverty reduction.
So this year's Development Days have looked in particular at three areas – food security, the private sector and social protection – as contributors to inclusive and sustainable growth.
The bold Economic Recovery Plan which President Banda outlined to us this morning is a perfect example of how all three can come together to pursue the aim of delivering growth – growth that focuses on people, as President Christofias of Cyprus put it, in his passionate call for more action to rid the world of hunger.
In turn, all three of this year’s themes focus on people.
Firstly, food security focuses on people by seeking to ensure that they have the food they need to be able to play an active part in society. For us, it must have a strong focus on feeding children, This is not just about the basic human desire to prevent child mortality; it is about laying the foundations for a productive society. Children who have proper nourishment and are thus able to gain a proper education can then grow into the adults who help create wealth and provide for their families.
Our lively discussions on food security issues highlighted the challenges we face. They brought to the fore another recurring theme in this year’s discussions on all issues: namely the importance of you, as heads of state and government in our partner countries, being in the driving seat in order to make any development initiative work.
We heard how important it is to link humanitarian and development efforts.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague, Kristalina Georgieva, and all her ECHO staff on 20 years of activity in extremely challenging conditions. Their work has saved lives and prevented suffering. The increased public support for humanitarian aid she referred to yesterday is testament to ECHO's tireless work all over world down the years. So I am proud to have shared the stage with her this year.
I am proud also to be working with her on the resilience agenda. We have both been in rooms with children who were so undernourished that they couldn’t even cry. We are both absolutely outraged that in our world of plenty we cannot feed everyone. And we simply will not tolerate it. I look forward to a future in which the humanitarian and development aid link is stronger than ever – part of the truly joined-up development that Caroline Anstey of the World Bank Group spoke of yesterday.
This will require greater efforts from each and every one of us.
Secondly, the private sector for development focuses on people when it offers them decent, productive jobs. As by far the largest generator of employment, the private sector is our best chance of enabling people to participate in the labour market and contribute to economic growth and wealth creation that is lasting and open to all in society.
The key here lies in working FOR and WITH the private sector. A thriving private sector creates revenue for the state and enables growth to flourish. Yet it cannot do that unless there is a functioning state in place to provide it with the right enabling environment.
Our watchwords in this area should be responsibility and transparency. Minister Canfin highlighted the support we can give to public authorities for which negotiating with the private sector is a new thing.
Similarly, Jacques Moineville of the Agence francaise de développement reminded us that businesses in recipient countries need to be able to negotiate as equals so that they can put their ideas into practice.
We were also fortunate to be able to hear directly from the private sector about its involvement in development projects and its willingness to share its expertise and innovation.
Sabine Dall’Omo, of Siemens, spoke of the joy of closing a deal because you know you'll be helping people – best summed up in a short but emphatic statement: "We are in Africa for Africa". That's just the kind of responsible private sector involvement we want to encourage.
And thirdly, social protection focuses on people by not leaving them deprived and desperate when they fall on hard times, often through no fault of their own. Tackling inequalities is a clear manifestation of the empathy that lies at the core of our development work: the empathy that sets us apart as human beings.
Social protection breaks the link between poverty and vulnerability. It can help shore up resilience in society. And by not leaving people on the margins of society, unable to fend for themselves, it is the glue that keeps a society together.
It is also an integral part of our inclusive and sustainable growth agenda; our social protection communication was born out of that agenda. Growth is all well and good – but it is not a cure-all. Social protection is its natural ally.
That’s why we will be including social protection in our talks with partner countries. If we don’t include social protection issues, our support won’t make sense – nor will it produce results in the long term.
That’s not to say that our partner countries have ignored social protection issues; on the contrary.
For instance, Dr Gueye, from the Senegalese health ministry outlined the social protection initiative his country is putting in place as part of its economic and social policy agenda – and pointed to the need to make sure that it is the poorest and most vulnerable who benefit from social protection.
In this regard, our development aid can act as a catalyst in the form of transitional support to give countries’ social protection efforts a boost.
But looking further ahead, I want to see social protection take its rightful place alongside poverty eradication, human dignity, decent work and responsible resource management at the core of the post-2015 development framework that will take us beyond the MDGs.
We have begun shaping that framework that takes the success of the MDGs, builds on it and achieves even greater progress going forward.
It is my determination that the Commission and European External Action Service should play a strong and highly visible role in designing the new development framework.
I would like to thank Cyprus' minister, Ms Kozakou-Marcoullis, for her clear vision of a post-2015, post-MDG world. More than that, I'm delighted that, in endorsing a 3-pillar approach to deliver on the aim of providing a Decent Life for All by 2030, the Presidency is singing from the same hymn-sheet as the Commission.
And as we look ahead, I’m also very glad that the EU’s heads of state and government have maintained as a priority their pledge to set aside 0.7% of their gross national income as official development assistance. This is a smart decision on their part – because, in times of crisis, aid is not a millstone, but a stepping stone to a better world.
This morning, President Ondimba set out in clear terms how Gabon is committed to rid itself of poverty within a generation. I have made no secret of my belief that we can rid the entire world of desperate poverty within a generation. It will take a lot of hard work. But it can be done.
Ending poverty and empowering people is the lifeblood of our development work. Somebody once said to me that development is the ultimate human interest story. I think that over the past two days we have shown that every idea we come up with, every paper we publish, every policy we put in place is designed to have people at its centre. As a number of speakers have rightly said, our task now is to keep putting all our efforts into turning those ideas, papers and policies into reality.
As a forum for high-quality discussions and exchanges, the EDDs are second to none. Their added value is threefold: they galvanise us into action; they help us undertake initiatives straight away to build on what we've discussed and decided here; and they lead to results that will benefit partner countries and carry the international development agenda forward.
More action is what we're all about now – as we turn our Agenda for Change into real and better results on the ground; as we make a final push to meet the MDGs; and as we look to reflect on how to step up our action further in a post-MDG world.
In opening the EDDs yesterday, President Barroso referred to our shared "development cause" and commitment to overcome injustice.
Let's keep that unity of purpose fresh in our minds now as we go back to our development work in the field. Because, ultimately, it's through such unity that we will win the fight against poverty. It's a fight worth winning; and it can be won, sooner than we might expect.
Thank you all for your commitment to that fight. I wish you all a safe trip home.