HL Deb 07 June 2000 vol 613 cc159-62WA
Lord Christopher

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Development Council held in Brussels on 18 May. [HL2664]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In his opening statement at the Council, Development Commissioner Nielson made clear that the past record of EC development efforts was poor and that major improvement was needed if the strategic goal of EC development policy should in future be to combat poverty. He was committed to increasing the proportion of EC aid going to the poorest countries and to the poor in middle income countries, although he said that this was constrained by political priorities and the budget process. Mr Nielson thought that EC aid should focus on a limited number of areas where it could add most value, and that compatibility with internationally agreed strategies was vital. He said that a focal point would be set up in DG Development to analyse coherence between EC development policy and other EC policies affecting developing countries. Mr Nielson thought that the planned reform of EC aid management would increase the sense of responsibility within the Commission and improve the quality of programming.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development welcomed the focus on poverty, impact and effectiveness in EC aid. She said that ensuring coherent support for development across EC policy was vital and that it had improved since Seattle. She added that closer integration between development policy and the Common Foreign and Security Policy was needed, and that in a globalising world the EU could no longer only be concerned with the near abroad. She emphasised that reform needed to address issues such as the pressure which drove proposals for unjustified levels of EC funding for the Western Balkans. She said that a strategic and regularly updated action plan was now needed to implement the reform process. Subsequent annual reports, if they showed significant improvements in line with this plan, would give member states the confidence to reduce their control of individual EC projects. The Presidency concluded that discussion would continue, leading to the adoption by the next Development Council of a joint statement on EC development policy from the Council and the Commission, with the European Parliament involved in the process.

At dinner, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State led the discussion on Sierra Leone. She said that the international community needed to be more willing to take risks to provide security, which was a prerequisite for development. She added that the UN had the moral authority to promote conflict resolution, but lacked the necessary tools to do so effectively. France and Italy praised the UK's action in bolstering the UNAMSIL operation. There was general agreement that the UN's credibility was at stake in Sierra Leone, that more support should be given to UN peacekeeping forces, that the whole approach to peacekeeping needed reviewing urgently and that Commission funds for the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme should be released more quickly in future. Discussion turned to Guinea Bissau, which the Presidency (Portugal) said now merited EU financial support. Finally, France described recent events and the constitutional reform debate in Côte d'Ivoire. It was agreed that the decision on whether or not to suspend EC aid would depend on the forthcoming Heads of Mission report.

The Council adopted conclusions which recommended further improvements to operational co-ordination between the Commission and member states in developing countries. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State stressed the importance of wider co-ordination around poverty reduction strategy papers led by the partner countries. The Council then adopted three items without discussion. The UK supported the resolution on structural adjustment (budget and sector support for developing countries), which makes poverty reduction its ultimate objective and incorporates many examples of best practice. The UK also supported the procedural conclusions on integrating the environment and sustainable development into EC development policy, and in particular the link with poverty reduction and reinforcement of the importance of policy coherence. We are now keen to help devise a comprehensive strategy to implement these conclusions. The UK also supported the conclusions on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which call on the Commission to examine what else the EC could do to confront major poverty diseases.

The Council followed up last year's evaluation of humanitarian aid by adopting a resolution which seeks to guide the Commission without micromanaging them. The proposal that the EC Humanitarian Office should add to its funding role by developing an emergency response capacity was not adopted; the UK view is that the case for this is not proven. This was followed by a discussion of conflict and crisis situations introduced by the Presidency, during which my right honourable friend reinforced her message on Sierra Leone. It was concluded that discussions on more rapid and effective instruments for conflict management should continue under the French Presidency.

At lunch, Italy opened the discussion on Ethiopia and Eritrea. My right honourable friend, supported by most member states, observed that the moral low ground was alternating between the two countries and that we needed to act firmly now to help resolve the conflict. Belgium then argued for more assistance for Burundi. She said that we should back Nelson Mandela's efforts to facilitate the implementation of the Arusha Accords, including by holding a pledging conference, but added that it would be premature to consider budgetary assistance for Burundi at present. This line met with broad agreement. Denmark then underlined the importance of election monitoring in Zimbabwe. She noted that the land question was currently being used as a smokescreen for terror tactics against the opposition. The Council agreed that the UNDP exercise on land reform should not offer money which was additional to the offers of finance which had been on the table since 1998. My right honourable friend supported the call from Germany and the Netherlands for the Commission to speed up implementation of the European Development Fund contribution to the HIPC trust fund. Ireland introduced the issue of HIV/AIDS, which France said would be a priority for its Presidency. She noted that the cost of anti-retroviral drugs would remain prohibitive, even after the announcement by a major pharmaceutical company of a price reduction for developing countries. The Commission said that this issue would be addressed at the EU-US Summit in Lisbon.

Under other business, the Presidency said that the outstanding differences between the Council and the European Parliament on the proposed environmental integration and tropical forest regulations would go to conciliation within the next few weeks. The Commission presented an information note on the Third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries in May 2001. Denmark presented a note on development aspects of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change in November.