HL Deb 13 December 1999 vol 608 cc1-3WA
Lord Gladwin of Clee

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Development Council held in Brussels on 11 November. [HL142]

Baroness Amos

Poul Nielson, the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, addressed the Council for the first time. He set out five priorities for future EC development co-operation: increased focus on the poorest countries; improved effectiveness of EC assistance; greater complementarity with the work of other donors and greater coherence with other EC policies; better linkages between emergency aid, rehabilitation and development; and building greater public support for EC assistance.

The Council then discussed forestry, climate change and the integration of environmental issues into EC development policies. The UK stressed the need to focus on the International Development Target for the environment and to engage developing countries in the environmental agenda. The UK stated that the poor, who were dependent on environmental resources, should be placed at the centre of the discussion, and that this would help to build developing country support. The Commission said it would provide more environmental training for its staff. The Council adopted a resolution on forestry, conclusions on climate change and a report on environmental integration. The conclusions include a call on the Commission to prepare a strategy to integrate the environment into development co-operation. The Helsinki European Council in December will make an overall assessment of progress in integrating the environment into EC policies, as requested by the Vienna European Council last year.

Next, the Council discussed progress in the ACP-EU negotiations on a successor to the current Lomé Convention, which expires on 29 February 2000. Most member states, including the UK, favoured a compromise suggested by the Commission on how to raise the profile of good governance in the new convention. All member states except Spain supported agreement based on a Presidency non-paper on trade, which would ensure that ACP countries retained, at the very least, their current levels of access to EU markets. This is a key UK concern. The UK stressed the importance of ensuring that the agreement on trade would be granted a WTO waiver. Following a request from the UK, the Commission undertook to bring forward proposals to meet the commitment to improve duty free access for the least developed countries by the end of the next Trade Round. There was a discussion of the ninth European Development Fund (EDF9), which will fund the new convention. The UK pointed out that evaluations had shown the poor quality of past EDFs, and called for specific proposals for improvement to be brought forward next year. Discussions will continue at a meeting between ACP and EU Ministers on 7–8 December.

The Council adopted conclusions on East Timor which invited the Commission to respond in an appropriate and timely manner to the United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for the East Timor crisis; and to present, as soon as possible, a detailed programme of assistance to support the reconstruction of East Timor.

The Council then discussed the evaluation of EC development programmes. The Commission said that it would soon produce a detailed Action Plan for the implementation of the recommendations of the global evaluation of EC aid and the Council conclusions on evaluation of May 1999. The Commission outlined its plan for improving the effectiveness of EC aid, which included improving and simplifying procedures, and introducing a more rigorous monitoring system. An overall EC development policy statement would be presented to the Council and European Parliament in February 2000. The UK emphasised the importance of this statement, and that it must focus on the International Development Targets, have clear and measurable objectives, follow a wide process of consultation, and address coherence issues and aid untying. The Commission agreed to report in detail on the Action Plan and statement at the next Council in May 2000. Procedural conclusions committing the Council to follow up the evaluation of humanitarian aid were adopted without discussion.

The Council discussed operational co-ordination, complementarity and coherence. Most member states had agreed that co-ordination between their overseas offices and EC delegations had improved. Luxembourg called for the Commission to set up a system in co-operation with member states to deter NGOs from illegally seeking double funding. The Commission replied that it was for national authorities to deal with such cases of fraud; a further layer of bureaucracy was not the answer. The Development Council agreed that its decisions on policy coherence were not being implemented by other Councils. The Commission agreed to produce a list of policies which would benefit from greater coherence for other Council formations to consider.

Under Other Business, the Commission agreed to examine a French request to resume broader financial support for Burundi. The UK presented a case for more aid to strengthen statistical capacity in developing countries, and urged member states to send strong delegations to the OECD meeting in Paris on 18–19 November. At lunch, Belgium called for support to improve the capacity of developing countries to engage with the WTO. The UK, with support from several other member states, then spoke on the importance of improving the poverty focus of EC development assistance, which was worse than that of all other significant donors. The UK urged the Commission to produce a paper on how it would increase the proportion of spending on low income countries. The Commission said that poverty focus was difficult to achieve, but that it would produce a paper by next spring. Finally, the Commission called for suggestions for discussion at the EU-Africa summit in April.