|The Courier N° 143 - Jan - Feb 1994 Dossier: Fighting Poverty - Country Report : Niger (EC Courier, 1994, 96 p.)|
- Poverty alleviation gets top priority
- Need for better aid coordination
- A new approach for LomR>- A new member welcomed to the ACP Group
Aid donors should regard action to combat poverty as a basic component of development, rather than lust as one other aspect of their cooperation work, since chronic poverty is one of the central problems of the developing countries and not a secondary effect of underdevelopment. This was the message sent out by the European Union's Council of Development Ministers at their latest half-yearly meeting in Brussels. And there was an equally firm message to the governments and societies of states which receive development aid: 'The objective of reducing poverty can be achieved in each country only on the basis of a clear and lasting political will based on national consensus and directed In particular towards reducing the uneven distribution of the benefits of growth and unequal access to productive resources and social services. 'The poor must be helped to develop the capacity to provide for their own needs and be involved in the process of political, economic and social decision-taking, since 'democratisation processes, the rule of law and proper public administration (...) are important conditions for the fight against poverty.'
A resolution from the Council says that action to combat poverty should be a central theme in dialogue with the developing countries, especially the least advanced among them, and in cooperation agreements between them and the Community. Aid and action must be targeted on the poorest or most vulnerable sections of the population, and women must be fully involved in ail measures to alleviate poverty, since the part they play is often decisive in ensuring that such polices, and development measures in general, are effective.
Poverty has generally persisted in the developing countries over the last ten years and even worsened in some, especially in sub-Sahn Africa. Among the reasons for this, ministers singled out debt and trends in commodity prices, and admitted that the policies pursued so far had been inadequate.
The Vice-President of the European Commission, Manuel Mann, who is responsible for development cooperation, reported briefly on progress in the top priority areas for policy coordination between the EU and its Member States: health, food security, education, population policy and women in development. Written reports on these will be produced over the next year.
There has long been pressure in some quarters for action to rationalise aspects of the European Union's food aid policy. NGOs recently reported, for example, that subsidies for exports of EU meat to various West African countries were putting farmers in the Sahel out of business. Food aid given in cash equivalent, not in kind, would stimulate local production and markets. At December's Development Council the subject came up again, when the representative of Belgium said food aid should be given only in real emergencies and not as a form of indirect budget assistance; it should not be seen as a way of offloading the Westrn world's surpluses. Reviving an old suggestion, Denmark thought it would be a good idea if a joint Council on agriculture and development could be held to consider the effects of the EU's own common agricultural policy on farmers in the developing countries. But objections from other Member States scotched this suggestion.
Ministers were in favour of EU participation in the World Health Organisation's AIDS control programme and wanted a coordinated approach to the forthcoming Cairo conference on world population. They believed that the role of women in development must be taken into account, as a matter of course, in all development programmes.
The last time development policy complementarity and the practicalities of operational coordination between the European Community and the Member States were debated was in 1984, but the subject is bound to become a burning issue again now that the treaty on European Union has come into force. Under the Treaty, Community policy in the sphere of development cooperation has to complement the policies pursued by the Member States; this extends to coordinating their polices and consulting each other on their aid programmes in international organisations and conferences. Where the Member States are concerned, this includes the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, on whose boards the Community as such is not represented. The Treaty entitles the Commission to take any useful initiative to promote this coordination (though any proposal it makes must, of course, still be adopted by the Council before it can be acted on). The Development Council decided, however, that Council resolutions would be the prime means of laying down guidelines and lines of action for the Community and the Member States in their respective policies. In other words, national governments are not willing to allow the Commission or the European Parliament a greater consultative or advisory role in policy coordination. Even so, the Commission's representatives are to work with those of the Member States in recipient countries as the main channel for operational coordination on the spot. This will promote greater coherence in discussions by either party with the local authorities. Pilot projects in coordination are to be run in three or four developing countries, although the Council did not decide which. Exchanges of information about projects, informal meetings of Directors-General for Development and contacts between experts in particular fields, notably officials of the European Community's Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and national humanitarian aid departments, will serve to make coordination more efficient.
In the end, the feeling left by the Council's resolution was that there is still an underlying problem of inadequate coordination between the Member States themselves, whether for lack of political will or lack of a structure. In any case, with some Member States set to cut their development aid budgets, there is going to be less to coordinate at all in future. And the question of whether or how to take a coordinated stance in international bodies was left unresolved. As to the EU's development cooperation policies complementing those of the Member States, which is seen as the next stage on from coordination, the Council merely noted that this needed to be worked out in greater detail before a workable policy could be arrived at.
The previous Development Council, in May 1993, decided to use European Development Fund money to finance a rehabilitation programme for certain African countries recovering from natural or man-made disasters. December's Development Council heard that of the ECU 100 million earmarked, ECU 84 m had been paid out by 2 December and the rest was committed but could not, under the Financial Regulation governing Commission payments, be paid until the work concerned had been carried out. The Council concluded that rehabilitation programmes should be decided case by case and in consultation with the United Nations and other donors, but the Community's procedures should be simplified so that it could act faster. Funding should come from the EDF and the Community budget; the 1994 budget in fact includes ECU 45 million for rehabilitation, which will go some way to meeting the cost of the projects still needed, intimated by NGOs (who usually carry them out) at between ECU 250 and 350 m.
The Council considered a report on progress towards the midterm review of the LomV convention, which is to begin by May of this year. The report was drawn up by a working party set up by the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the Member States' Ambassadors to the KU, to prepare a negotiating brief for submission to the EU's General Affairs Council later in December. National delegations supported the Commission's proposals in several areas. They agreed that the Convention should include a 'democratic clause' making respect for democracy (and not just human rights) a condition of EU aid for ACP countries. The Belgian Presidency, the Commission and some Member States thought a clause explicitly suspending aid for non-observance was essential, while others preferred positive measures and consultation to unilateral sanctions and said they would not tolerate the ACP countries being treated more severely in this regard than other developing countries, especially those in ASEAN and Eastern Europe, with which the Community had cooperation agreements.
There was general agreement that financial aid planning needed to be more flexible, at a time when all the Member States were having to rein in their budgets. The Commission proposes, and the Member States have accepted, that national indicative programmes should be divided into yearly instalments, payment of each instalment being dependent on how well previous tranches have been used. This would prevent build-ups of unused money which cannot be put to use elsewhere and persuade taxpayers that their contributions towards aid were being used more effectively. The financial guarantees which recipient countries enjoyed would remain, but they would be expected to show proof of their capacity to absorb EU funds in the interests of their own peoples. As the President of the Development Council, Eric Derycke, put it, the intention of the Member States was chiefly to make ACP states share more of the responsibility for their development. Care must be taken, however, to avoid marginalising the least developed countries.
Thirdly, the Council agreed that management procedures in the existing Convention need to be streamlined to make aid more efficient, and were interested in the idea of extra financing being available as an incentive for projects in special priority areas such as the environment.
On the subject of EU red tape, Mr Marin said he thought that the procedural requirements in the Lomonvention which tied the Commission's hands were unreasonable in the modern day. The procedures under the Protocols with Mediterranean countries, for example, were much faster - and the ACP states were now in competition for aid with those countries, not to mention Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. On financing, the Commissioner reminded Ministers that the package agreed by the Edinburgh European Council in December 1992 implied spending of ECU 25 to 30 per head in Eastern Europe and only ECU 5 per head in the South. This was a political decision which meant that the EU's development cooperation instruments with the South, especially Africa, absolutely had to work properly. The spirit of Lomould only be safeguarded if the Convention were modernised.
In an exchange of views on relations with South Africa, Ministers discussed practical EU support for the elections announced for April 1994 and trusted they would take place as scheduled, with all political groups taking part. For relations thereafter, it would be for the Council to decide in due course whether, from Europe's point of view, Loma bilateral agreement between the EU and South Africa or cooperation via the Southern African Development Community would be the best framework.
The Council asked the Commission to look into the possibility of 'labelling' environmental and sustainable development projects being carried out in pursuance of the Rio Conference of June 1992, so as to make both governments and public opinion more aware of them.
The Italian delegation made a statement welcoming Eritrea to the ACP group, praising the work it was doing to promote good relations among its neighbours and calling on all governments to help the young nation and thereby promote peace and security in the region. _