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European parliament

Development Committee encouraged by new Council President

Members of the European Parliament's Development Committee were pleasantly surprised when the new Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Helle Degn, addressed them at their meeting in Brussels on 18 February. Representing the Danish Presidency of the Council, Mrs Degn set out an ambitious agenda designed to give greater impetus to development policy in the coming months. She began by outlining the general priorities of her Government in the development field, which included fighting hunger and defending human rights and democracy. Significantly, she also underlined the importance of achieving compliance with the longstanding commitment by developed states to provide 0.7% of their GNP for development assistance. In fact, Denmark is one of only two EC Member States to have met this target (the other is The Netherlands). Mrs Degn spoke of seeking 'to inspire countries which have not yet achieved the target to take their full share'.

Mrs Degn also served notice that certain specific issues which 'have been played down in recent months' would be given greater prominence. She focused specifically on the role of women and on the environment. As regards the former, the Minister said that the Danish Presidency would 'insist' that the Commission take steps to increase the role of women in development programmes. As for the environment, she argued that it was essential to build on the agreement which had been reached at the Rio de Janeiro conference. The Presidency, she said, intended to ensure there was a concrete follow-up to the commitments made by the Community at the Earth Summit.

Another thorny subject which Mrs Degn would seek to tackle was the issue of tied aid-in other words, assistance which is made conditional upon purchase of the related goods or services from the donor country. The Minister argued that this should be 'untied' so that 'the developing world can get more out of the aid that is available'.

Mrs Degn also dealt with a variety of other important issues including effective coordination between Community and national development policies,population policy, emergency aid and the importance of an independent judiciary and police forces that are free of corruption in the context of human rights and democracy.

In the subsequent question and answer session, the Minister was widely praised by MEPs from all sides although one member did suggest that she might be 'pushing her luck' in putting forward such a bold programme. Several members expressed doubts about whether her aspirations for other Member States to meet the 0.7% GNP target were realistic in the current economic climate.

Vice - President Marin looks to the future

Later in the day, Commission Vice President Manuel Marin had his first meeting with the Development Committee since his reappointment. His development portfolio has been expanded to include relations with developing countries outside the Lomystem, that is to say economic cooperation with the countries of Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and the southern Mediterranean. He has also been appointed Commissioner with responsibility for humanitarian aid.

Mr Marin used the opportunity to sketch out the Commission's working programme in the development field for the coming two years. He began by stressing the complexity of development processes, pointing out that there was 'no miraculous solution'. He affirmed that 'respect for human rights and democracy are built into the very body of Community development policy' and praised the 'decisive work' of the Parliament in this area in recent times.

The Commissioner also sought to reassure the Committee that there was no question of excluding Parliament from the process currently under way leading to a reformulation of development policy. He said that the Commission 'is very attentive to the various criticisms and reservations of some MEPs as regards the content of the 'Horizon 2000' document whose only purpose was to provoke a comprehensive and open debate on the future of our development cooperation policy'.

Mr Marin spoke about making aid more effective in quality terms and emphasised the advantages of having all the Commission services dealing with cooperation and development policy under a single Commissioner.

Turning to more short-term issues, the Commissioner referred to the forthcoming negotiations with the ACPs on the second financial protocol to LomV. (The Convention is valid for ten years, but the financial arrangements are set out in a Protocol which must be negotiated anew after five years.) He saw the negotiations as an opportunity to introduce changes elsewhere in the Convention, stressing that this would not be changed for its own sake, but in order to bring it up to date. He pointed out that it was impossible to ignore the transformation of the international scene, and the changes which had taken place inside the Community in recent years.

Mr Marin also spoke at some length about the growing area of humanitarian aid. The Community, he said, had helped people in the past without discrimination and this was something which must continue-the sole task in emergency situations being to help the victims. In this connection, he said that one of his immediate tasks was to get the EC Humanitarian Office (ECHO) working. The Office, he said, can act as a coordinating agency between the various Commission departments as well as in its work with Member States, third countries, international organisations and NGOs operating in the same field.

There then followed a lengthy session during which members of the Committee posed questions on a variety of issues. Several members expressed general concerns about the process leading to the reformulation of development policy and about the future of the Lomystem.

Responding to specific criticisms of the 'Horizon-2000' document, Mr Marin said that the text was a 'starling point and not a conclusion' and urged committee members, as part of the debate, to come up with constructive criticisms.

As regards the possibility of changes to the fourth Lomonvention, Mr Marin sought to reassure MEPs by stressing the 'open and transparent' way in which he was pursuing the initial debate-both with the ACP representatives and with the European Parliament. He reiterated his view that a comprehensive updating of the Lomonvention was needed.

Foreign Affairs Committee

Two days prior to meeting with the Development Committee, Vice - President Marin also attended, for the first time since the redistribution of portfolios within the Commission, the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee of the European Parliament. Both sides enjoyed the opportunity of having a first, frank exchange of views. Mr Marin highlighted, as he was to do later in the week, the guiding principles behind his development thinking: good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, and development as a long-term process, the ultimate goal being mankind and his wellbeing. He also reviewed recent development performance and set out the shortterm priorities by respective geographical areas of cooperation (ACP, Maghreb, Mashrek, Asia and Latin America).

MEPs took the opportunity to put specific questions to Mr Marin. These ranged from such issues as humanitarian aid and the difficulties of putting it into practice ('15 000 tonnes of wheat intended for Armenia were stolen'), the problem of defining borders ('Africans ask how Europe can teach them a lesson when it is in Europe that borders are currently being fought over'), East-South competition for development funds ('private firms cannot be dictated to but as far as public resources are concerned, we will not abandon the South') and the renewal of the Lominancial Protocol ('tome needs to be modernised and brought up-to-date').

Commissioner Marin also criticised the Bretton Woods Institutions-the IMF and the World Bank-for their 'inflexible approach', insisting that young democracies needed support in order to avoid creating conditions that are worse than before. He pleaded for complicity between the Commission and the Parliament in order to try and avoid having 'Member States defending one policy in Washington and another in Brussels'. One field of cooperation between the two institutions which, as revealed in this first meeting, is already operational, is in respect of democracy and human rights. The Commission and Parliament are working hand-in-hand to keep these issues at the forefront of future EC development policy.