Karel De Gucht’s vision of development policy presented in the European Parliament

Commissioner-designate for development policy Karel De Gucht exchanged views with MEPs on Tuesday, the 2nd of September 2009, on the challenges facing Europe’s development policy. A summary was available on the official EP website.

Development Committee MEPs questioned Mr De Gucht, Belgium’s former foreign minister, on the impact of the financial crisis on developing countries, how the Commission plans to help these countries to combat climate change and his professional experience.

“The volume of aid, its effectiveness, its transparency and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)” are among the main challenges for EU development policy, said Mr De Gucht, who was proposed on 17 July to replace Louis Michel, who has himself been elected an MEP. The Commissioner-designate said that in the coming weeks he plans to try to ensure “that development issues loom large in the minds of the G20 leaders”. The G20 summit due to be held in Pittsburgh in late September will be “a major opportunity to review the implementation of the April commitments for low-income countries”, he added.

The international financial crisis and the LDCs

“There is a clear risk not only that the EU will fall short of its commitments to increase public development aid but even that its aid levels will be cut because of budgetary pressures. My position on this is clear: I am convinced that by helping our partner countries cope with the crisis we are also acting in our own interests”, said Mr De Gucht, in reply to questions by Gay Mitchell (EPP, IE) and Thijs Berman (S&D, NL).

“When resources are scarce, it’s all the more important to use them efficiently. The code of conduct on the division of labour adopted by the Council two years ago has only been implemented very partially. My aim is to give fresh impetus to this matter”, added the former Belgian foreign minister.

Climate change

“The second key challenge will be the negotiations aimed at reaching an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen in December. Funding and burden-sharing will be the cornerstones of the agreement we hope to conclude. And that will also mean integrating development fully into the debate”, said Mr De Gucht.

“The developing countries will need €250 to €500 billion a year to fund measures to combat climate change, a large part of which will come from emissions trading”, said the Commissioner-designate.

However, he highlighted the probable difficulties in taking up such large sums in developing countries, given that it is already a problem for them to use up a figure of €80 billion.

Coherence of development policies

Another of Mr De Gucht’s priorities was the question of coherence between the development policies of individual Member States and of the European Union. “This is an issue that I want to discuss in depth with European development ministers in November”, he said.

“The GAERC [General Affairs and External Relations Council] in November will be crucial: it will be then or never for the EU to make a difference before 2010, the mid-term year for the MDG, on the effectiveness of aid and the Gleneagles commitments”, continued Mr De Gucht.

China’s presence in Africa and the fight against corruption

Turning to China’s growing presence in Africa and the fact that Beijing does not impose human rights and democracy conditions on its African partners – a point raised by Charles Goerens (ALDE, LU) – the Commissioner-designate argued that “we must not be totally negative” about the Chinese presence on the African continent.

He called for a strict international framework to be devised for the funding of development aid. “In the short term, the biggest problem is our reaction as Europeans, which in some ways may seem reminiscent of the Cold War”.

As to the fight against corruption in developing countries, Mr De Gucht insisted, in reply to a question by Alf Svensson (EPP, SE), that aid must be better targeted and that the way budgetary aid is used could be one way of tackling corruption.

Timetable for approving the Commissioner’s appointment

The Conference of Presidents (the EP political group leaders) will assess the findings of the hearing on Thursday 10 September and the full Parliament will endorse that body’s decision in a vote on 16 September during the Strasbourg plenary session.

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