Inter Press ServiceDaan Bauwens – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 17 Nov 2018 01:08:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Experts Urge Lawmakers to Focus on Food-Migration Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/experts-urge-lawmakers-focus-food-migration-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=experts-urge-lawmakers-focus-food-migration-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/experts-urge-lawmakers-focus-food-migration-nexus/#respond Fri, 08 Jun 2018 12:31:36 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156114 Lawmakers at the highest levels urgently need a “revolution in thinking” to tackle the twin problem of sustainable food production and migration. Starting with an inaugural event in Brussels, then travelling on to New York and Milan, an international team of experts led by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) is urging far-reaching […]

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Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

Lawmakers at the highest levels urgently need a “revolution in thinking” to tackle the twin problem of sustainable food production and migration. Starting with an inaugural event in Brussels, then travelling on to New York and Milan, an international team of experts led by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) is urging far-reaching reforms in agricultural and migration policy on an international scale.

“We should be scared about the situation that is in front of us, but we should also be fascinated by the solution,” Paolo Barilla, BCFN Vice Chairman, said at the start of the first International Forum on Food and Nutrition which took place June 6 in Brussels."As we see it right now, there is no strategy at all at governmental levels in the EU to deal with migration, let alone how food policy might help.” --Lucio Caracciolo

Barilla and several experts speaking at the event pointed out the many problems lying ahead involving world-wide sustainable food production.

“One third of all food worldwide is thrown away, nearly one billion people go to sleep hungry every night and in the meantime, 650 million are obese. We urgently need new comprehensive, multi-stakeholder food systems to fix this situation,” said Andrea Renda, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, organizer of the event together with BCFN and the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network (UN SDSN).

“In thirty years we will need to feed nine billion people. But at the same time, because of climate change the arable land is diminishing. The Sahara desert has increased ten percent in size the last decade and the South of Italy and Spain are drying up. How will we feed everyone?” asked Lucio Caracciolo, geostrategist and President of research company MacroGeo.

The experts called on all states that are signatory to the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to urgently establish an Intergovernmental Panel on Food and Nutrition, modeled after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who succesfully achieved international consensus on how to tackle climate change.

Moreover, they called upon the EU to change the focus of its agricultural policies from simply increasing production to focusing on new systems that assure healthy, nutritious, affordable diets for everyone. Instead of a “Common Agricultural Policy,” the EU should shift to a “Agri-Food Policy.”

“In the current EU Common Agricultural Policy, two-thirds of the subsidies have nothing to do with sustainable development,” Andrea Renda tells IPS, “and one third is spent on innovation in agriculture, in a broader, more holistic approach. This must at least be reversed.”

Throughout the event, hunger and food insecurity were repeatedly cited as the long-term drivers of migration across the Mediterranean. For the occasion of the event, MacroGeo launched a 109-page report on the nexus between migration across the Mediterranean and food security in Africa.

The authors state that there is a particularly strong link between migration, food and conflicts. “Refugee outflows per 1000 population increase by 0.4 percent for each additional year of conflict and by 1.9 percent for each percentage increase of food insecurity,” the MacroGeo authors write, referring to recent research by the World Food Program.

“That might not seem a lot but in a country of fifty million that amounts to one million refugees per year,” said Valerie Guarnieri, assistant executive director of the World Food Program who repeated the statistics in front of the audience of 600 attendees on Wednesday.

“The connection between migration and food is heavily neglected in policy, this is a way to push it into the agenda,” Lucio Caracciolo told IPS, “because as we see it right now, there is no strategy at all at governmental levels in the EU to deal with migration, let alone how food policy might help.”

The contentious matter of dumping of European surplus produce – often named as one of the causes of hunger, food insecurity and migration – in Africa was accordingly dealt with in a talk with EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan, not coincidentally just ahead of long-awaited negotiations on the reform of the EU’s agricultural policy. The Commissioner pledged that the new Common Agriculture Policy 2021-2027 program will reduce spending on production of commodities often dumped in the developing world. At the same time, he said Europe was ending trade barriers on imports of food from the developing world.

As part of its ambitious list of policy recommendations, BCFN also calls for more awareness of the illegal exploitation of migrants in EU agriculture. According to the experts, specific EU programmes should provide funding for the fight against unethical practices. And spreading a message which does not go well with the current Italian government, MacroGeo’s Lucio Caraciolo called for a “normalisation of the presence of migrant labour. European agriculture in the South cannot survive without their help. So it is up to us to assure that their rights are respected,” he told IPS.

In its report, MacroGeo proposes a circular and seasonal migration model, in which temporary workers are contacted directly from their country of origin on a yearly basis and for determined periods. The workers are granted permits and ensured that they can return to their home country. “Intended results include disincentivizing unregulated economic migration, ensuring employees are granted work conditions as per the law, and the possibility to return to the same farms, enhancing human resources effectiveness,” the report says.

Bob Geldof, musician, activist and organizer of 1984’s Live Aid. closed the event with an at times bitter speech broadening the discussion. “We had a 1200 percent increase in consumption in the last eighty years and we’re talking about sustainability?” he asked. “Sustainability is simply impossible with this irrational economic logic, which boils down to ‘more for ourselves all the time.’”

In September, the International Forum will travel to New York to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly. In November, it will hold a third and final event in Milan.

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Migrants in Italy: “Shame Is Keeping Us Here”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/migrants-italy-shame-keeping-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-italy-shame-keeping-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/migrants-italy-shame-keeping-us/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:40:04 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153510 Despite deplorable living conditions, loneliness and unemployment, many African migrants in Italy choose to stay – even when they have the means to return. “Shame is keeping us here,” says one young man named Bamba Drissa. “We cannot go home empty-handed.” Drissa, who hails from the Ivory Coast, arrived in Europe at the height of […]

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Bamba Drissa from Ivory Coast was one of the 61,532 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in January 2016. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS

Bamba Drissa from Ivory Coast was one of the 61,532 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in January 2016. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS

By Daan Bauwens
RIGNANO GARGANICO, Italy, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Despite deplorable living conditions, loneliness and unemployment, many African migrants in Italy choose to stay – even when they have the means to return.

“Shame is keeping us here,” says one young man named Bamba Drissa. “We cannot go home empty-handed.”“I had no idea or no preconception of what Europe would be like. Work and sending money home, that was all.” --Bismark Asoma

Drissa, who hails from the Ivory Coast, arrived in Europe at the height of the so-called European migrant crisis. He was one of the 61,532 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean in January 2016. That same month, 370 died during an attempt to reach Europe. With a total of 4,713 fatalities, the Libyan corridor would become the deadliest crossing in the world and 2016 the deadliest year at sea.

Trailer on the east side

After a year and a half of traveling around Italy, Bamba Drissa ended up in the ‘Granghetto’ of Rignano Garganico, an illegal settlement of several hundred mostly West Africans without documents. The camp consists of tents and barracks and is located in the middle of the Southern Italian Capitanata plane, only accessible after eight kilometers on dilapidated, potholed streets.

The barracks now only cover a fraction of the original surface of the illegal settlement. On March 1 of this year, police and army started a mass evacuation of the site. It led to a fire that left the bulk of the camp in ashes and killed two Malians in their thirties. The evacuation had been ordered by the anti-Mafia Brigade in Bari due to reported criminal infiltration in the camp. Despite the police action, the brothel, operated by victims of Nigerian smuggling, today is still there.

Residents whose campers or barracks were burnt in the fire bought tents. The tents are still there, on the western side of the camp, protected from the strong wind on the Capitanata plane by the remaining barracks.

When he arrived here six months ago, Bamba Drissa still had enough money to purchase a moldy caravan on the east side of the camp. A month ago he was making money working on Italian farms. Now the harvest is over, the temperature on the plain drops day by day, and the fields where the barracks are built have turned into a sea of mud.

Returning empty-handed

“Life here is much harder than where I come from,” he says. “I have a lot of regrets of coming here.” But returning, the young Ivorian adds, is impossible. “I made my choice to come here. Others chose to stay and build their lives there. I cannot return home empty-handed, this was my choice and now I have to make it happen.”

“It is shame that is keeping me here,” he concludes. “I cannot disappoint my family. They are the reason why we are here. We are here to help them confront their problems. Before we succeed in doing that, we can’t go back.”

Bismark Asoma, 20, from Ghana has been on European soil for three years. He is constantly looking for work and lives in an abandoned farm with a dozen other West Africans in the area around the village of Cerignola, about an hour’s drive south from Rignano Garganico.

The Ghanaian tells a similar story: his father died when he was five. Because his mother struggled to take care of him, his five-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister, he chose to travel to Europe to help her.

“Working and sending money home was the only thing I thought about before leaving,” he says. “I had no idea or no preconception of what Europe would be like. Work and sending money home, that was all.”

Bismark Asoma, 20, migrated from Ghana to Italy. He lives in an abandoned farm with a dozen other West Africans. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS

Bismark Asoma, 20, migrated from Ghana to Italy. He lives in an abandoned farm with a dozen other West Africans. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS

Remittances

The scale and importance of remittances for the African continent can’t be underestimated. The 2017 Economic Outlook Report of the African Development Bank states that remittances are a ‘major and stable source of external finance for Africa.’ In Western African countries like Liberia and Gambia, money transfers even account for twenty percent of GDP. From 2000 to 2016, remittances grew from 11 billion dollars to 64.6 billion.

While being less volatile than development aid and foreign direct investment the report states, migrant remittance flows also have the advantage of ‘increasing inversely with the economic situation of recipients.’ In other words: migrants are likely to send more money when difficult situations arise in their country of origin.

A son in Europe

Not only in Brong-Ahafo, the region where Bismark Asoma comes from, but in many other West African countries and regions, the prospect of remittances has made the fact of having a son in Europe a matter of prestige.

“The money sent from Europe to Africa improves the economic situation of the family and substantially increases their status in the community,” says Senegalese migration researcher Linguere Mbaye, economic consultant for the African Development Bank Group and research affiliate at IZA, the Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn*.

The Ghanaian Ministry of Migration confirms the logic mentioned by Mbaye and even points out that in some cases, families who do not have children in Europe are looked down upon.

From rural to urban

Though a matter of prestige in African communities, the majority of migrants still leave home out of poverty. A study conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Libya last year showed that 80 percent of migrants left home because of economic hardship. Seven percent left because of a lack of basic services such as education or health care in their home country, and only five percent fled violent conflicts.

An analysis of interviews with migrants who had just arrived at Lampedusa that was published earlier this year by the World Food Program (WFP) confirmed these findings. When speaking to West Africans, the WFP noted that they mainly left home because of a lack of job opportunities. Young men interviewed by the WFP told similar stories to those of Bamba Drissa or Bismark Asoma: they were sent out, “leaving their family with the promise of remittances and hopes of a future reunion.”

The path most migrants follow from the moment of departure is summarized as follows: they “firstly moved within their own countries, mostly from rural areas to bigger urban areas or the capital city. In general, they moved one or two times before migrating across the border.”

According to the report, the search for stable employment leads them increasingly further from home. “On the way, they would locally collect information about transiting routes and following steps. The journey continued in this incremental way, following a general path that eventually brought them towards Europe.”

Three factors

Of course there is a subgroup that wants to make the trip to Europe immediately. According to migration researcher Linguere Mbaye, this migration is triggered by three separate factors: “First, the perception that you cannot achieve anything in your own country. You see with your own eyes how much money is sent home by cousins ​​or friends who do make it, while you keep struggling to get a job.

“Secondly, there is a biased perception of salaries in Europe,” says the researcher. “My research shows that the expectations are much higher than the actual wages in for instance France or Spain.”

Thirdly, there is the effect of networks and family members abroad, “who can give all information about where to go and how to fund migration.”

Poverty reduction is not the solution

Contrary to what intuition suggests, relieving poverty will not necessarily lead to a decline in migration. “On the contrary,” says Mbaye. “Research shows that people who are richer have more aspirations and more resources at their disposal to start the journey.”

“Reducing poverty is of course an aim in itself,” she adds, “but there are other factors to consider if we want to decrease illegal migration. Moving away is sometimes seen as the only way to be successful in life. So the only way to help reduce migration pressure is by making it one of the many options in life. We must create a situation in which a person can choose either to migrate safely or invest in a productive activity at home.’

Linguere Mbaye underlines that in this discussion, migration should not be considered “a bad thing it itself. And for many people it is a way to deal with adverse shocks. It is thus important to find ways to make migration safe and regular.”

*All opinions expressed here are hers and do not represent those of the African Development Bank.

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Uncertain Future for “Diabolic” Free Trade Pacts Between EU and Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/uncertain-future-diabolic-free-trade-pacts-eu-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uncertain-future-diabolic-free-trade-pacts-eu-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/uncertain-future-diabolic-free-trade-pacts-eu-africa/#respond Mon, 27 Nov 2017 00:00:55 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153207 In the run-up to the fifth EU-Africa summit in Côte d’Ivoire, the future of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between Europe and its former colonies looks bleaker than ever. While most of Europe’s trade partners around the world keep refusing to sign the deals, the African Union’s Commissioner for Trade will most likely announce a […]

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Adolf Ozor, a tomato farmer in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, is struggling to make ends meet after import surges. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS

Adolf Ozor, a tomato farmer in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana, is struggling to make ends meet after import surges. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS

By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Nov 27 2017 (IPS)

In the run-up to the fifth EU-Africa summit in Côte d’Ivoire, the future of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between Europe and its former colonies looks bleaker than ever. While most of Europe’s trade partners around the world keep refusing to sign the deals, the African Union’s Commissioner for Trade will most likely announce a moratorium on all EPAs.

Ever since independence, Europe’s former colonies have enjoyed preferential (duty-free) access to the European market. In turn they didn’t need to open their own markets. When in 2000 the World Trade Organization deemed this one-sided market opening unlawful, Europe and 79 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) started negotiating reciprocal trade deals."Trade between neighbors is now more difficult than trade with the EU. We are creating borders within Africa." --Gunther Nooke

The resulting deals, coined Economic Partnership Agreements or EPAs, are not pure free trade deals. Under the agreements, ACP countries are allowed to keep protecting 20 percent of their products – mostly agricultural products – with import tariffs. The other 80 percent will be liberalized gradually over the course of 20 years after the signing and ratification of the deal. The deals were negotiated between the European Commission and seven regions of several countries engaged in economic integration processes.

Stalling the implementation

Seventeen years later only two of the seven negotiated deals have been signed, ratified and implemented, one with the South African Development Community (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland) and one with the Caribbean. The EPA with West Africa is currently blocked by Nigeria, Gambia and Mauritania who refuse to sign, while in the East African region, last year Tanzania sued Kenya for signing while Uganda wants to address more concerns – President Museveni travelled to Brussels on a three-day work visit at the end of September for talks.

Almost all ACP countries fear the possible negative impact of the EPAs on their economies and therefore stall its implementation. “They already had the right to export to Europe duty-free,” said Joyce Naar, a lawyer and activist with the ACP Civil Society Forum. “Now they are expected to open up their markets to Europe without getting anything back.”

Especially in Africa, governments and analysts fear an encore of the tomato and chicken scenario. In Ghana, for instance, after IMF and World Bank-enforced tariff reductions, import surges caused the market share for domestic chicken to fall from 100 percent to a mere three percent today in less than three decades. The chicken industry, once the second largest employer in the country, has now been taken over by competing imports from Canada, Brazil, Europe and China.

As for tomatoes, after lowering tariffs Ghana became the second largest importer of tomatoes in the world and according to FAO data, market share for domestic produce dwindled from 92 to 57 percent in only five years.

Industrialization at risk

Aside from agricultural produce, NGOs also fear that entire industrialization of the continent is at risk. At a recent international trade union conference on the issue of EPAs in Togo, this point was repeatedly made. “To industrialize, we need to protect and develop the internal market until we’re ready for international competition, as has been demonstrated by China,” says Georgios Altintzis of he International Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

At the conference, Mariama Williams, senior program officer at the South Center in Geneva, also stressed that increased competition would lead to increasing feminization of work.

“Women do the worst jobs in the worst conditions,” she stated at the conference. According to Williams, EPAs will have the greatest impact on labour-intensive industries where women are disproportionately employed. An increase of competition would raise the pressure on these sectors while the internal standards and labour conditions remain unchanged.

“Diabolic” agreements or success story?

“There has always been a diabolic whiff about EPAs,” former EPA chief negotiator Sandra Gallina said a few weeks ago at a meeting of trade ministers from all ACP countries in Brussels. “There is nothing diabolic about them, they were just extremely badly communicated. For the last five years I have been fighting a misinformation campaign.”

On the first day of the Brussels meeting, the European Commission published numbers on its website meant to illustrate the benefits of EPAs. In 2012 an agreement entered into force between Madagascar and the EU. By 2016, exports to the EU had risen by 65 percent. The same for South Africa, which signed an agreement one year ago. The last year, exports of processed fish increased by 16 percent and flowers by 20 percent.

According to Marc Maes, trade policy officer at the Flemish North South Movement 11.11.11, the figures should be taken with a grain of salt. “Madagascar is recovering from a period of total chaos,” he said. “Do these numbers show the influence of the EPA or mere economic recovery? In the case of South Africa, the mentioned period consists of just one year. It’s a bit premature to talk about a steady, reliable impact.”

Migration crisis

The criticism isn’t limited to the content of the agreements. The way in which the European Commission concludes them is also widely condemned. As agreements with entire regions are stalled, the Commission now makes agreements with individual states. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire signed and ratified such interim EPAs a year ago, fearing they would lose preferential access to the European market.

“That’s crazy,” says Gunther Nooke, personal representative in Africa of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and one of the staunchest critics of the EPAs. “Trade between neighbors is now more difficult than trade with the EU. We are creating borders within Africa. ”

According to Nooke, in the midst of a migration crisis the only things that benefits Europe and Africa is more employment in Africa. “This can only be done by protecting the entire African market with the creation of an African Customs Union led by the African Union. African products can be made here and be freely traded across the continent without having to compete with European goods. But now, because of differences in opinion about EPAs, African countries aren’t making any progress in forming a customs union.”

Moratorium

According to Merkel’s envoy, the African Union Commissioner for Trade has already announced that he will call for a moratorium on all EPAs. “And we must respect that,” says the advisor.

Germany is in the perfect position to make its opinion be heard. The country delivers the greatest contribution to the European Development Budget: just over 6.2 billion euros in the period 2014-2020, accounting for 20.6 percent of the total. It is doubtful whether Berlin and Brussels will be able to voice their opinions in unison at the Nov. 28-29 EU-Africa Summit in Abidjan.

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“Refugees Are Nothing but Commodities”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/refugees-nothing-commodities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-nothing-commodities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/refugees-nothing-commodities/#comments Thu, 09 Nov 2017 12:14:22 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152952 As countless refugees arriving on Italy’s shores report torture, extortion and forced labour in Libyan detention centers, many say they never intended to make the journey to Europe until the chaos in Libya left them no other choice. “We were still working on the construction site when I was taken apart from the others. The […]

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Refugees from the Choucha camp in Tunisia are demanding recognition of their legal status. Credit: Alberto Pradilla/IPS

Refugees from the Choucha camp in Tunisia. Credit: Alberto Pradilla/IPS

By Daan Bauwens
FOLLONICA, Italy, Nov 9 2017 (IPS)

As countless refugees arriving on Italy’s shores report torture, extortion and forced labour in Libyan detention centers, many say they never intended to make the journey to Europe until the chaos in Libya left them no other choice.

“We were still working on the construction site when I was taken apart from the others. The guard pulled his gun, aimed it at me and told me he’d shoot if I tried to walk away. After ten minutes of trembling with fear, a truck arrived and I was ordered to get in. We drove to a beach where a crowd was being kept at gunpoint by other guards in uniforms. They forced us to board a Zodiac and pushed us into the open sea. The second day we were saved by a European ship.”

Amidou Kone (23) now lives in Follonica, in a refugee center that used to be a tourist campsite in Tuscany. He is one of the 113,722 refugees who made the passage from Libya to Italy, the deadliest crossing in the world with a total of 2,714 fatalities from the start of the year up until now.

Amidou left his home country of the Ivory Coast after his entire family was killed during a raid in the 2011 war. After passing through Burkina Faso and working as a shepherd for a farmer in Niger, he is certain he was sold to Libyan militias after a business trip with his boss to Libya.

“They wanted me to call my family for ransom,” he says, “but didn’t want to believe that everyone had died so they started torturing me.” Amidou shows the scars on his head, caused by blows with Kalashnikov stocks. He points at the blank spots around his right index and right ankle. “They tried to cut off my finger with a knife and then they wanted to beat my foot with a flashlight. Why so much cruelty? I don’t have the faintest idea.”

Kidnapping industry

For over two years, the cruelty of detention in Libyan detention camps has been widely reported and denounced but with no immediate end in sight. Two months ago, the head of MSF Joanne Liu wrote an open letter calling the Libyan detention system “rotten to the bone”, “a thriving enterprise of kidnapping, torture and extortion.” She accused Europe of being complicit in the situation as the Union, “blinded by the single-minded goal of keeping people outside of Europe”, funds Libya to help stop the boats from departing.

Bai, 19 years old from Mali, arrived on the Sicilian coast in early September. He remembers several mass kidnappings. “There was forty of us living in a house in the city,” he says. “One eventing two men with Kalashnikovs came in, started shouting. They told us to get aboard vehicles waiting in the street. We were locked up, they beat us with sticks and chains. We had to call home. Anyone who could convince their family to send money was allowed to go. My family agreed, but I was caught by another group the following week. There wasn’t any more money left so they put me to work to pay my trip to Europe.”

Under laws passed with Europe’s encouragement during the reign of Muammar Ghadaffi, immigration is illegal in Libya and the country does not offer asylum. Every undocumented migrant is therefore liable for detention.

Various rival governments and militias run networks of detention centers. UNHCR can only enter 29 of them, run by the department to counter illegal migration (DCIM), headed by the Serraj government, the government Europe chose to recognize. The total number of camps is unknown and international funding for “official” camps has ignited a battle for control over these camps by armed groups looking for money or international legitimacy.

Forced to cross

In the meantime, both DCIM officials and militias rent out detainees to local employers for personal profit. Amidou and Boi also fell victim to forced labour while detained. “Two years as a mason,” Amidou tells, “without payment. In those two years, I’ve seen nothing but water and bread.” When he was eventually found to be too weak for work, he was taken to the boat.

“Refugees are nothing but commodities,” says Anaspasia Papadopoulou, senior policy advisor at the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) in Brussels. “Militias use them to make a profit. When they are no longer useful, they need to get rid of them.”

Amidou’s forced crossing is echoed in the stories told by countless other migrants. In fact, many of them them didn’t come to Libya to cross to Europe but turn out to have lived and worked in the country for years.

Balde Tcherno (37) from Guinea-Bissau was a shoe salesman for five years, making the trip home once every year to be with his family. On his last trip back in 2011, he was arrested and forced, at gunpoint, to board a boat to Italy. Rockson Adams (27) from Ghana arrived in Libya after the removal of Ghadaffi and got a lucrative job in construction, but after two years he was kidnapped and forced to pay ransom. After killings in his circle of friends and explosions in his area, he decided to pay a smuggler to cross over.

“The refugee flow from Libya is clearly a mix,” says Anaspasia Papadopoulo. “There’s people who already lived in the country and who went there because until a few years back, it was still a rich country. Then there’s the internally displaced Libyans. And of course there’s the Sub-Saharan Africans, Bangladeshis and Syrians who’ve come to Libya with the intention of crossing. Many fall victim to exploitation and into the hands of traffickers instead of smugglers.”

According to some analysts, the situation is making it hard to separate “economic migrants” from “refugees” as many who travelled to Libya for work become victims of exploitation and violence.

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Biofuels Get a Dubious Boosthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/biofuels-get-a-dubious-boost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofuels-get-a-dubious-boost http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/biofuels-get-a-dubious-boost/#respond Fri, 12 Jul 2013 07:29:57 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=125662 In an unexpected move, European parliamentarians have approved a new biofuel regulation that will take emissions from indirect land use change into account. The new text allows the biofuel sector to expand, sending a clear signal to world food markets and jeopardising food security for the world’s poorest. The European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) voted […]

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency designated sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel because it lowers GHG emissions by more than 50 percent as compared to gasoline. Pictured here is a sugarcane harvester in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava /IPS

By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jul 12 2013 (IPS)

In an unexpected move, European parliamentarians have approved a new biofuel regulation that will take emissions from indirect land use change into account. The new text allows the biofuel sector to expand, sending a clear signal to world food markets and jeopardising food security for the world’s poorest.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) voted Thursday in favour of a proposal that limits the use of biofuels to 5.5 percent. This percentage is a compromise between the European Greens who asked for a cap of three percent and the centre-right European People’s Party that wanted a cap of 6.5 percent.

The cap was introduced by the European Commission a year ago after criticism that the policy boosted food prices, causing hunger in developing nations.

The approved proposal also requires companies to measure the amount of indirect land use change (ILUC) caused by their fuels. ILUC refers to the clearing of rainforest, peatlands and wetlands rich in sequestered carbon to fulfill the demand for more land, and causing extra emissions. When the indirect land use change factor is accounted for, many biofuels turn out to cause more emissions than fossil fuels.

“The introduction of indirect land use change is the most important element in this vote,” Bas Eickhout, member of parliament for the European Green Party told IPS. “Furthermore, the cap of 5.5 percent includes all land-based biofuel crops that compete with food production in the use of land and water. This is a setback for the industry that just wanted to continue business as usual.

“But it is not over yet. This text still has to be approved at the plenary meeting. We know the industry is now getting ready for a heavy fight.”

Environmental campaigners have mixed feelings about the approved regulation. “From the point of view of the climate, this result is unexpectedly positive: from now on only truly sustainable biofuels will be subsidized,” Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam International’s biofuel expert, told IPS.

“But as far as food security is concerned, the result is outright negative. Last year the Commission proposed 5 percent to protect the existing industry while blocking its expansion. Everything higher than this percentage is unjustifiable. It signifies a subsidised growth of the sector, resulting in more speculation on land and food, causing more food insecurity and hunger.”

The move to increase the percentage comes despite calls from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. De Schutter wrote to parliamentarians on Apr. 23 and visited the European parliament on Jun. 19 to make clear what detrimental effects the European Union’s policy has on food security in developing nations.

“The EU’s agriculture and energy policies have huge impacts on developing countries whose markets are interlinked with those of the EU,” De Schutter told IPS ahead of the meeting. “Biofuel mandates send a strong signal to investors, and therefore trigger commercial pressures on land in developing countries and increase price volatility.”

De Schutter cites research by the EU Joint Research Centre showing that by 2020 EU biofuel targets could push up the agricultural price of vegetable oils by 36 percent, maize by 22 percent, wheat by 13 percent and oilseeds by 20 percent.

Furthermore, according to De Schutter, smallholders in developing countries fall victim in two different ways.

“EU biofuels demand has increased the existing pressures on land in developing countries,” he said. “It has stacked the odds in favour of large-scale export-oriented projects and against the interests of small-scale farmers who need secure access to land and resources.

“Indeed, the smallholders whose access to land and resources is threatened by large-scale investments are often among those most affected by rising food prices. The poorest farmers, though they depend on subsistence agriculture for part of their consumption, are often net food buyers, contrary to common perception.

“My mandate is to offer a rights-based assessment of major policies which have impacts across the world and to remind policymakers of the requirements of the right to food,” De Schutter told IPS.

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With Billions of Euros Pledged, Mali Risks Aid Overflowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/with-billions-of-euros-pledged-mali-risks-aid-overflow/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-billions-of-euros-pledged-mali-risks-aid-overflow http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/with-billions-of-euros-pledged-mali-risks-aid-overflow/#respond Thu, 16 May 2013 16:32:57 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=118900 International donors pledged yesterday to mobilise 3.25 billion Euros to rebuild Mali, a figure that surpassed all expectations. But experts warn that the country does not have the absorption capacity for so much aid, while others say donors should pressure the Malian government to stop ongoing human rights abuses. In January of this year, a […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, May 16 2013 (IPS)

International donors pledged yesterday to mobilise 3.25 billion Euros to rebuild Mali, a figure that surpassed all expectations. But experts warn that the country does not have the absorption capacity for so much aid, while others say donors should pressure the Malian government to stop ongoing human rights abuses.

In January of this year, a French-led intervention ended more than a year of sectarian violence in the north of Mali. The intervention managed to stall the conflict, but the situation in the region remains tense.

More than 467,000 people, around one third of the population in the north, are currently displaced, and the United Nations announced on Tuesday that it needs at least 222 million Euros to address immediate food and other humanitarian needs.

Northern Mali is also facing its second food crisis in two years, the country’s economy is in decline, and over the last year it fell to one of the five poorest countries in the world, according to the United Nations (U.N.) Human Development Index.

The 3.25 billion Euros were pledged by the international community at a donor conference in Brussels yesterday for the reconstruction of this West African country. The high level meeting, organised by the European Union and France, together with Mali, welcomed 100 delegates from countries, regional organisations, U.N. agencies, EU member states and other development partners.

Pledges were made on the basis of the “Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali, 2013-2014”, presented by the Malian government, which says that an amount of 4.343 billion Euros is needed to fully implement the plan.

Aid agencies and non-governmental organisations were careful in welcoming the influx of aid, however. “These pledges need to be seen as a down payment and not a one-off cheque,” Marietou Diaby, Malian country director for the NGO Oxfam, said in a press release following the meeting."These pledges need to be seen as a down payment and not a one-off cheque."
-- Marietou Diaby,

“Donors must now support a new development contract between the people of Mali and their government which tackles poverty, corruption and inequality – issues that lie at the heart of the crisis,” Diaby noted, adding that crises such as Afghanistan and Somalia show that winning a military conflict is never enough to achieve sustainable peace and security.

EU officials in the field have also expressed concern about the enormous amount of money about to flow into a country that is not yet ready for it. According to one official, who requested anonymity, “The country does not have the absorption capacity yet. Other issues have to be dealt with first.”

“Donors want to move quickly, get the country back on its feet and show results as quickly as possible,” Tidhar Wald, EU conflict and humanitarian policy advisor at Oxfam Brussels, explained.

“But if we inject this amount of money, without proper guarantees in terms of sources management and transparency, into a country that is poorly governed, services are not functioning and some parts of society are benefiting more than others, the situation will hardly get any better,” Wald cautioned.

Just ahead of yesterday’s high-level meeting, Oxfam published a report stressing the need for smart development aid. “The Brussels meeting was intended to bring Mali back to normal,” Wald told IPS, “but even before the rebellion in the north started, Mali was in a crisis.”

“Its society has been eroding for decades because of previous ethnic conflicts, corruption, lack of transparency and other governance issues,” he described. “There needs to be a new contract between the Malian government and its people. The reconstruction plan needs to be inclusive; all Malians should benefit from it.”

“We have to make sure that the government is made accountable to its people, that people can influence decision making, that civil society is part of the decision-making process,” Wald concluded.

According to Oxfam’s report, donors should commit to providing aid at least for the next 15 years, the amount of time needed to successfully undertake necessary government reforms and tackle the root causes of poverty. This time frame, however, stands in stark contrast with the two years mentioned in the Malian government’s reconstruction plan.

Other experts also point to the fact the conflict in Mali is not over yet and human rights violations persist. On Tuesday, Amnesty International accused government forces of carrying out extrajudicial executions in the north. Islamic militants have been reported recruiting child soldiers and killing civilians and wounding government soldiers.

U.N. officials, meanwhile, have expressed grave concern about retaliatory attacks against Tuared and Arab communities in the north after government troops retook towns held by Islamic rebels. As a result, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urge donors to pressure the Malian government to end to human rights abuses in the country.

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Japanese Learn to Mind Their Business for Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/japanese-learn-to-mind-their-business-for-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japanese-learn-to-mind-their-business-for-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/japanese-learn-to-mind-their-business-for-others/#respond Sat, 02 Mar 2013 10:19:00 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=116834 After two decades of economic stagnation and serial natural disasters, a growing number of young Japanese believe social entrepreneurship is the best way to rebuild their society. Masami Komatsu (37) is one of them. He founded his investment company Music Securities in 2001, a few years after the Japanese banking crisis of 1998. ‘There was […]

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After two decades of crisis more and more Japanese want to do business for society, not just for money. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS.

By Daan Bauwens
TOKYO, Mar 2 2013 (IPS)

After two decades of economic stagnation and serial natural disasters, a growing number of young Japanese believe social entrepreneurship is the best way to rebuild their society.

Masami Komatsu (37) is one of them. He founded his investment company Music Securities in 2001, a few years after the Japanese banking crisis of 1998. ‘There was no more investment in vulnerable sectors as music, traditional crafts or sake brewing,” he tells IPS. “We made it possible for people to start investing in what they personally think is important and should be kept alive.”

However, Music Securities does not work by way of donors and donations. It is an investment fund with returns that currently ranks among the best performing in Japan, managing over 33 billion yen (27 million euro) worth of investments held by over 50,000 shareholders including some of the nation’s most wealthy companies. In 2009 Komatsu set up the first retail microfinance fund in Japan, allowing individuals to invest in microfinance projects in Cambodia.

At this moment Music Securities is the largest private financier in the reconstruction of companies that suffered losses from the tsunami. “A month after the catastrophe had happened we visited the area and suggested our plan to the local business leaders,” Komatsu tells IPS. “We had the feeling we had to do something. Not volunteer, but use our existing business to resolve the problems of the stricken areas.”

At this moment more than 25,000 individuals have invested a total of more than 100 billion yen (810 million euro) in the tsunami fund.

In 2001 Music Securities was ahead of its time. It took until 2005 before the concept of social entrepreneurship – a revenue-generating business whose objective is not personal gain but the pursuit of a social goal – was thought of at Japan’s oldest university Keio in Tokyo.

But in recent years, the phenomenon seems to be gaining momentum rapidly. In 2011, Fukuoka on the Japanese Island of Kyushu was the second city in the world to be named a ‘social business city’ for spreading the concept of social business across the Asian continent. Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who developed the idea of social business, opened the world’s first social business research centre on the grounds of Kyushu University.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, the number of social businesses went up from virtually none in 2,000 to a total of more than 8,000 in 2008, employing over 320,000 people. There is no data on the current number, but everything points to the fact that the phenomenon has been even more on the rise since then. For instance, at the NEC-ETIC Social Entrepreneurship School in Tokyo, numbers of applicants have risen five-fold since 2010.

Since the start, Nana Watanabe has been one of the driving forces behind social entrepreneurship in Japan. Through her work as freelance journalist and photographer, she introduced more than 100 social entrepreneurs to the Japanese public between 2000 and 2005 through several publications.

“Japan was left without role models after the bursting of the bubble economy,” she tells IPS. “It led to a general state of depression, the country didn’t know what to do. In 1999 I discovered the new wave of social entrepreneurship, coming up among elite students in the states. I immediately thought: this is what we need.”

In 2011 Watanabe founded the Japanese branch of Ashoka, an international NGO supporting the work of over 2,000 social entrepreneurs in 60 countries around the globe.

“Social business is definitely an emerging phenomenon,” she tells IPS, “and the reason behind it is simple: people are getting increasingly disappointed in Japan’s large companies. Today’s young have seen their parents sacrifice their lives in exchange for the promise of lifetime employment, only to be have been laid off in recent years. More and more young people prefer to start on their own.”

“The myth of Japanese government efficiency has collapsed,” says Toshi Nakamura, leader of Kopernik, an on-line market place offering technological solutions to problems in rural communities in developing nations.

“Up until the middle of the nineties people had faith in the government’s technocrats to drive the economy and provide social services,” he tells IPS. “This is no longer the case and people realised that a number of social issues had to, and can be tackled by ordinary citizens.”

It is not just disappointment in Japan’s companies or government that inspires the Japanese to get involved in social business. “After the financial crisis we have seen a return to traditional values,” says Japan’s leading business analyst Kumi Fujisawa. “People aren’t looking for short term gain but concentrating on long-term perspectives. There’s a return to idealism, people want to contribute to society again.”

According to polls organised by the Japanese government, the value of work is being reconsidered in Japan since the start of the financial crisis. The number of people that answered that they wanted to work ‘to contribute to society’ rose sharply after the burst of the asset bubble, from 46 to 64 percent in 1991. That number is above 65 percent at present.

“It is the result of a new inward-looking attitude,” says Hirofumi Yokoi, president of the Akira Foundation, one of Japan’s most influential organisations fostering social entrepreneurship that was founded in 2009.

“Growing uncertainty and anxiety about the future have lead to a change in behaviour. For lots of young Japanese, social business is not just a way to solve economic, social and environmental issues. It is also a way to tackle personal challenges. They will have to work as a part of a community and develop self-confidence, friendship, mindfulness, self-actualisation and social inclusion.”

“It is true that people start to reconsider the value of work,” Nana Watanabe tells IPS, “but most still lack the courage to act upon it. Social business is definitely taking off but we need to be cautious not to overestimate its success.

“First of all, it requires people to be very creative and imaginative. Next, at the moment it is very fashionable to say you will start a social business. But in the end, the majority are still looking for security and money.”

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Starting Tsunami Reconstruction Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/starting-tsunami-reconstruction-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=starting-tsunami-reconstruction-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/02/starting-tsunami-reconstruction-now/#respond Mon, 04 Feb 2013 09:39:31 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=116242 Funding for reconstruction is beginning to decline after the tsunami almost two years ago – but in large parts of Japan’s north-eastern region reconstruction has yet to begin. More and more young Japanese are now moving into this area for reconstruction in a new way. It is six in the morning. A bus arrives on […]

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Japanese university students survey the tsunami devastation in Minamisanriku before getting to work. Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS.

By Daan Bauwens
TOKYO, Feb 4 2013 (IPS)

Funding for reconstruction is beginning to decline after the tsunami almost two years ago – but in large parts of Japan’s north-eastern region reconstruction has yet to begin. More and more young Japanese are now moving into this area for reconstruction in a new way.

It is six in the morning. A bus arrives on the barren plane that used to be the coastal town of Minamisanriku. Except for two metal frames of what once were large buildings, there is no sign of human presence.

Twenty students from Tokyo step out of the bus and visit the grounds. An hour later they join another group of volunteers and start digging the frozen ground to clear away debris the giant mud wave washed up two years ago.

Among them is Akinori Fujisawa, vice-president of the project University of Tokyo  Aid (UT Aid) that gathers students from all over Japan to volunteer in the stricken areas on weekends.

“Just after the tsunami,” he tells IPS, “all Japanese wanted to come here and volunteer. But many couldn’t. Students had the time but not the money to get here while employed people had the money but no time. That’s how we started: we got funding from individuals and companies and started organising these weekend trips.”

It’s not just students. “We come here every weekend with friends,” says Machiko Ogata, a young Japanese woman in her thirties. “We meet up in Tokyo and drive here together. We all met on one of these sites. It is a social happening.”

But initiatives like this are likely to die out soon. “There will be no more need for people shoveling and digging,” Akinori Fujisawa tells IPS. “We would like to start new projects, like trying to improve studying conditions for children in the area. At the moment most of them are doing homework on the streets. But we can’t do anything about it with the current budget.

“What’s more, it’s getting more and more difficult to gather funds,” Akinori adds. “People mistakenly think the reconstruction is over. You can clearly see that’s not the case. But there’s not a lot we can do about it, in two months our organisation will be put to a permanent stop.”

While grassroots projects as UT Aid are moving out of the area, an increasingly professionalised group of young NGO and social business leaders is moving in.

Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities (ETIC) in Tokyo is a training centre for young entrepreneurs who want to start a social business. Since the tsunami, the organisation has started a fellowship programme that trains and sends young entrepreneurs into the region to help in rebuilding.

“We already sent more than 135 people into the region,” says Yoshi Koumei Ishikawa, ETIC’s research division manager. “Most of them are in their twenties and thirties and almost all quit their jobs at Japan’s biggest firms to start their own social project.”

At the same time, leaders of successful Japanese NGOs choose to relocate to Tohoku, a devastated region. Katariba, an NGO led by Kumi Imamura (33) has already set up three schools for more than 300 children to compensate for the lack of study space at the temporary homes of tsunami victims.

“But most importantly, local residents are employed as teachers and will soon take over the organisation of the programme,” says Retz Fujisawa (37), coordinator of almost all NGOs working in the area. “The first phase of relief is over,” he tells IPS. “Now our intention is to stimulate self-reconstruction, the Tohoku residents must assume leadership now.”

With the Tokyo-based Tohoku Earthquake Consulting Team, Fujisawa is guiding reconstruction efforts by NGOs. He is also member of the government’s Reconstruction Agency and Educational Reconstruction Council, where he defends a brand new reconstruction policy.

“The Tohoku region is devastated, the damage was enormous,” he tells IPS. “But even without a tsunami the region was heading towards a catastrophe. It was suffering from a very bad economic situation, especially caused by an aging society and the emigration of all young people to Tokyo. If we now are to rebuild the region, we must grab this chance to rebuild it in a way that it won’t happen again, and do everything we can to create a new style of living.”

Retz Fujisawa describes Tohoku as a test case for the rest of Asia. “We are suffering from the fact that all resources, capital and education are concentrated in large cities. In the meantime the rest of the country is being forgotten. We now have the chance to reorganise a whole region and to distribute resources.”

According to Fujisawa, Tohoku is not just a test case but also the perfect example that his country is rapidly changing. “This is the first time an NGO leader is invited to work for the government,” he tells IPS. “It is the first time that policy ideas originate from young people down below the decision chain.

“There are as many female as male project leaders in Tohoku. Most are in their twenties and thirties and quit their jobs to come here. There’s one main reason for this: we are all connected by social media, information is being shared and no longer withheld. Young people can start acting on their own. This never happened before in Japan.”

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Japan Values Women Less – As It Needs Them Morehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/japan-values-women-less-as-it-needs-them-more/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-values-women-less-as-it-needs-them-more http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/01/japan-values-women-less-as-it-needs-them-more/#comments Thu, 31 Jan 2013 08:12:29 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=116161 Despite anti-discrimination laws and a steadily growing number of employed women, Japan is falling behind the rest of the world on gender equality. Widespread discrimination persists, and has only grown more subtle over the past years. Japan is one of the world’s most industrialised countries but has always kept true to its old traditions. In […]

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Japanese men heading to work - they continue to dominate work space, Credit: Daan Bauwens/IPS.

By Daan Bauwens
TOKYO, Jan 31 2013 (IPS)

Despite anti-discrimination laws and a steadily growing number of employed women, Japan is falling behind the rest of the world on gender equality. Widespread discrimination persists, and has only grown more subtle over the past years.

Japan is one of the world’s most industrialised countries but has always kept true to its old traditions. In the same way, traditional gender roles have always been a source of inequality in the world’s third largest economy. According to the United Nations Development Programme, Japan has consistently ranked as the most unequal of the world’s richest countries.

And the gap seems to be widening: last October the World Economic Forum’s annual report on gender gaps downgraded Japan’s rank from 99 to 101, alongside Tajikistan and Gambia in terms of political and social equality.

To Yuko Ogasawara, professor of sociology at Tokyo’s Nihon University, Japan’s downgrading doesn’t come as a surprise. “In this country it is still impossible to combine work and family.” she tells IPS. “That is the main reason behind the inequality. People, whether men or women, are expected to work until ten every day. If you want to raise a family that’s an obvious obstacle.”

Fifteen years ago Ogasawara published ‘Office Ladies and Salaried Men’, a book describing the typical Japanese office space where women were supposed to handle clerical work and serve tea while men could climb up the executive ladder. “Much has changed since then,” Ogasawara tells IPS. “There are more female executives now, women are given more chances. But one problem remains: 70 percent of women drop out of the work force after having their first baby.”

“After raising their children, it is very difficult for many women to come back,” says Kathy Matsui, a macro economist at one of Japan’s largest banks who has been studying employment of Japanese women since 1999.

“Oftentimes the problem is situated within organisations and their evaluation systems,” she tells IPS. “Most human resources departments reject women when they have a ten-year blank in their curriculum. For them, that suggests that you must have forgotten everything you ever learned and therefore are not suitable for hiring. That is subtle discrimination.”

“Women who do want to relaunch their careers can only get part-time jobs with a low wage,” Yuko Ogasawara adds. “They are very cheap compared to full-time workers, so lots of companies want to keep the system as it is. It provides cheap labour force.’

Discrimination is deeply engrained into the country’s institutions. “Japan has got numerous anti-discrimination laws,” says Yoshiyuki Takeuchi, professor of economy at the University of Osaka, “but still tax, pension, social security and health insurance are based on the model of a four-person family with a working father and a stay-at-home mother.

“In Japan, companies pay men a higher salary if their wives stay home. Women who restart as part-timers can only earn a limited amount of money. These are rules and regulations that were developed during the seventies based on the economic reality of that time. They have barely changed since then. Nowadays they keep women from trying to restart a career.”

At the same time, Japan’s economic reality is changing very rapidly. The country is deeply troubled by economic stagnation that started 20 years ago. The population is aging very rapidly, the birth rate is declining, and the country’s population is projected to shrink by around 30 percent by 2055.

“The work force is shrinking and Japan is not very open to immigration,” Kathy Matsui tells IPS. “There’s no other solution than to use your existing population more. Women comprise 50 percent of the Japanese population, they are highly educated but stop working at a certain age. There are no other options than to take measures to try keeping women on the working track. This is not a feminist point of view but the objective analysis of an economist.”

However, Japanese society doesn’t seem very willing to accept the idea. A poll conducted by the Japanese government in December showed that 51 percent of the population thinks women should stay at home and care for the family while their husbands work.

That was 10.3 percent more than the view in a similar survey in 2009. The increase was particularly noticeable in the age category 20 to 30.

“Today’s young generation knows what it means to grow up with a working mother,” says Suzanne Akieda, a Belgian archaeologist who has been living and teaching in Japan for more than 40 years. “In the past lots of Japanese women have tried to push aside their personal lives to pursue a career. Now many start to reconsider if that was the right thing to do. This is the backlash.” (END)

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Europe’s Support Crucial for Ongoing Arab Springhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/10/europes-support-crucial-for-ongoing-arab-spring/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-support-crucial-for-ongoing-arab-spring http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/10/europes-support-crucial-for-ongoing-arab-spring/#respond Thu, 04 Oct 2012 07:22:10 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=113093 The Arab Spring is far from over. The protracted conflict in Syria continues to swallow lives while the international community, hamstrung by geopolitics, looks on; riots across the Muslim world following the release of a low-budget American movie that is disrespctful of the Prophet Muhammad resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya; Tunisia […]

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The hard-won freedoms of the Arab Spring need support from the international community to survive. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Oct 4 2012 (IPS)

The Arab Spring is far from over. The protracted conflict in Syria continues to swallow lives while the international community, hamstrung by geopolitics, looks on; riots across the Muslim world following the release of a low-budget American movie that is disrespctful of the Prophet Muhammad resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya; Tunisia and Egypt continue to struggle with post-revolutionary economies; and a string of democratically elected Islamist governments has taken root in newly-liberated countries throughout the region.

Activists and analysts are on the edge, fearing that the freedoms fought for and won during the Arab Spring are now diminishing again. The only hope, they say, is the continued support of the international community for the long road ahead.

“Even though we are experiencing setbacks, we do need your continuous support for this momentum,” Tunisian activist Nabila Hamza, president of the international non-profit, Foundation for the Future (FFF), said at the European Union headquarters last Thursday, in a plea to European governments for long-term engagement in the Arab transition to democracy.

According to a recent report by the U.S.-based Freedom House, only Tunisia has shown an improvement in its overall governance score. Bahrain slipped backward while Egypt only showed a minor improvement. The score was based on five criteria: accountability and public voice, civil liberties, rule of law, anti-corruption and transparency.

At the United Nations General Debate last week, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged the U.N. not to be put off by setbacks, and called for increased support for people seeking to build democracy. “Achieving lasting change takes time,” Van Rompuy said to the General Assembly.

Last Thursday, during a panel discussion entitled ‘Arab Spring, revolutions and the domino effect’, organised at the Brussels office of the representation of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia to the European Union, several experts shed light on the most recent developments in the region and debated the EU’s specific role in democracy promotion in the Arab region.

Professor Todd Landman, director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex, pleaded for continuous foreign support for democracy, even if the donors themselves are not satisfied with the results of the elections.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, European Parliament Member and head of the EU Election Monitoring Mission in Libya, lamneted the many bureaucratic hurdles involved in the EU’s aid allocation process.

Hamza echoed these sentiments, adding, “The EU expects us to hire experts to decipher official aid documents while we’re fighting a revolution.”

Hamza, who, through the FFF, oversees the disbursement of more than 10 million dollars of support to over 166 civil society-led projects spread across 15 countries in the Arab region, is optimistic about the changes sweeping the Arab world.

“The Arab Spring has created space for civil society to grow at an enormous pace,” she told IPS. “Egypt, Libya and Yemen (are witnessing) a multiplication of new organisations, where men and women equally engage in civic matters.

“We have been fighting for human rights, anti-corruption and media freedom since the early fifties, but now we can do it without being prosecuted. New laws about free association have been installed in Tunisia (and) are being drafted in Libya and Egypt. The legal environment is changing.”

According to Hamza, the Arab spring also brought about a new phenomenon: “We see young activists from the diaspora coming back to Tunisia. People who had been exiled and banished are now coming back to help rebuild and reform the country. This cultural meeting between local people and Tunisians from the diaspora is creating a wonderful dynamic, especially in terms of civic engagement.”

In Hamza’s view, the election of Islamist governments should not be regarded as a setback for the revolution. “The Islamists are perceived by the population as martyrs of the oppression, this is what gave them legitimacy as a counter-power. That is why they got elected so easily.

“But in Tunisia and Egypt, the two countries where an Islamic movement tried to include Sharia law in the new consitution, they failed. After weeks of discussion, and under huge pressure from civil society, the Islamist party in Tunisia drafted a constitution in which men and women are equal.”

“We are witnessing a change within political Islam,” Hamza added. “Now that Islamists are running the countries they have to become more pragmatic. There is pressure from within the country: they have to solve issues like unemployment and the distribution of wealth. Then there is external pressure: now they are part of a world (in which) they need the support of Western countries to survive and tell their own people that faith isn’t the answer to their every need.”

Hamza urged the European Union to increase its support for democratisation in the Arab region. “Many pledges have been made and many programmes have been created to support us,” she said, referring to the European Support for Partnership, Reform and Inclusive Growth (SPRING) programme, under which the European Commission promised to provide support for democratic transformation, institution building and economic growth in the wake of the Arab Spring.

“But we still have the feeling more can be done, especially (for) civil society organisations, the only watchdogs of democracy, the only ones who can hold the government accountable. We need the support because we have to remain vigilant: the danger of new dictatorships still exists. We are still in a transition period.

“And after all, it is also in Europe’s own interest that the Arab Spring succeeds,” she added.

Most importantly, she said, the EU must redefine its aid paradigm. “Transition is a process,” she said. “The international community should support the process, not the short-term project. We need strategic patience in order to look at the real achievement of the revolution. Donors want immediate results, but a revolution has ups and downs.”

(END)

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EU Cap ‘Only Boosts Biofuels’http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/09/eu-cap-only-boosts-biofuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-cap-only-boosts-biofuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/09/eu-cap-only-boosts-biofuels/#comments Wed, 19 Sep 2012 08:32:49 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=112661 The European Commission has announced it will limit the amount of crop-based biofuels used in transport, but its newly proposed measures are not nearly enough to curb the disastrous impact of the EU’s biofuel policy around the world. Its effects will only worsen, activists say. According to the existing European rules at least 10 percent […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Sep 19 2012 (IPS)

The European Commission has announced it will limit the amount of crop-based biofuels used in transport, but its newly proposed measures are not nearly enough to curb the disastrous impact of the EU’s biofuel policy around the world. Its effects will only worsen, activists say.

According to the existing European rules at least 10 percent of the EU’s transport energy must come from renewable sources by 2020, primarily through biofuels derived from wheat, soy or rapeseed. But in an unprecedented move, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger and Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced Monday that the European Commission (EC) is planning to limit the use of crop-based biofuel to five percent in the total share of renewables in transport fuel.

Just ahead of the meeting, international NGO Oxfam released a new report which demonstrates that Europe’s hunger for biofuels is pushing up global food prices and driving people off their land, resulting in deeper hunger and malnutrition in poor countries.

According to the NGO, despite soy and maize prices being at all-time highs in July and prices of cereals and oil remaining at peak levels in August, the Commission and most governments seemed to turn a blind eye to the devastating impacts that EU biofuels mandates have on food prices and land rights.

At a press briefing after the morning plenary of the informal meeting, European Energy Commissioner Oettinger recognised the fact that the current EU policy had lead to “unfavourable developments such as the tearing down of rainforest to produce biofuel.”

He added that all ministers “agree that every percentage of biofuel higher than five percent should only be achieved by using second generation products like agricultural waste and leftovers instead of food crops.”

“I’m happy the EC is finally recognising the fact that the use of food-crops for fuel is problematic,” says Ruth Kelly, Oxfam’s economic policy advisor and writer of Oxfam’s new report, “but putting a cap of 5 percent on biofuel consumption is ridiculous. At this moment the biofuel use in the EU is only at 4.5 percent. So the new cap of 5 percent is actually an increase of what we’re using at the moment.

“In 2008 biofuels accounted for 3.5 percent of all transport fuels in the EU,” Kelly tells IPS. “That same year, the land that was required to grow crops for those biofuels could have fed 127 million people. The new target of 5 percent is not double, but it is significantly more. Increasing the percentage is obviously not what has to happen right now, given the negative effects we are seeing around the world right now.”

Recent data gathered by Oxfam shows land acquired for biofuels production in the Philippines in 2010 could be used to produce up to 2.4 million metric tonnes of rice, enough to make the country self-sufficient in rice production. According to a recent survey by the International Land Coalition, two-thirds of big land deals in the past ten years are to grow crops that can be used for biofuels such as soy, sugarcane, palm oil and jatropha.

Paraguay has also been hit hard by the EU’s demand for biofuel. According to research by Oxfam, each year 9,000 rural families are evicted and nearly half a million hectares of land are turned into soy fields. For families living beside massive soy plantations in eastern Paraguay, farming has become almost impossible. Water has become increasingly scarce as local resources are used up irrigating the plantations.

As the water table falls, the community has to sink wells twice as deep into the ground to reach drinking water. More than half of the soy grown in Paraguay is exported to Argentina, and much of this is turned into diesel either in Argentina or in Europe to fuel Europe’s cars.

“The key problem is that the EU’s biofuel mandates generate an important demand in the South,” says Constantino Casasbuenas Morales, policy adviser on economic justice at Oxfam UK, and Paraguay expert. “Relatively small countries like Honduras or Paraguay modify their national strategies in order to open up for foreign investment.

“As a consequence, smallholders are evicted from their land and have to move to the capital. Biofuel demand is clearly linked to land concentration, growing city populations and increasing poverty.”

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Carbon Trading Scheme Close to Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/09/carbon-trading-scheme-close-to-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-trading-scheme-close-to-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/09/carbon-trading-scheme-close-to-collapse/#comments Fri, 14 Sep 2012 21:14:24 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=112518 By 2020, countries that are signatory to the Kyoto protocol will have accumulated more than 17 billion tonnes of surplus emission reduction permits, a new study shows. This enormous surplus not only drives the carbon price close to zero, but also jeapordises the chances of reaching a new global climate deal. All eyes are now […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Sep 14 2012 (IPS)

By 2020, countries that are signatory to the Kyoto protocol will have accumulated more than 17 billion tonnes of surplus emission reduction permits, a new study shows. This enormous surplus not only drives the carbon price close to zero, but also jeapordises the chances of reaching a new global climate deal.

All eyes are now on the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP18) in Doha which will start Nov. 26. World leaders are expected to come up with ways to save the coal market and to uphold the Kyoto protocol’s environmental integrity.

Under the Kyoto protocol, signatory countries are allowed to emit a certain amount of greenhouse gases. If a country does not reach its emission limit, it is permitted to sell its surplus capacity under the form of Assigned Amount Units (AAUs). The AAU is an allowance to emit greenhouse gases comprising one metric tonne of carbon dioxide equivalents and can be bought and sold on the carbon market.

A new study by Thomson Reuters Point Carbon published Thursday showed that signatory countries will have accumulated more than 17 billion tonnes of surplus reduction permits by 2020. According to the report, the total surplus from the first Kyoto commitment period (2008-2012) already consists of 13.1 billion tonnes.

Russia, Ukraine and Poland are the largest surplus holders, followed by Romania, the UK and Germany.

The study also estimates that under the current rules, signatory countries will accumulate a surplus of 3.6 billion tonnes by 2020. If Australia and New Zealand then decide not to join the second Kyoto commitment period (2012-2016), the combined surplus would be as high as 17.2 billion tonnes.

“That is more than Europe would emit over the course of five years and more than double what China annually emits. The number is astronomically high,” says Tomas Wyns, director of the Centre for Clean Air Policy Europe (CCAP Europe).

“This is partly because Kyoto uses 1990 as the reference year to which the level of emissions must be reduced. But just after 1990, economies in Central and Eastern Europe collapsed, which led to a downfall in industrial activity and emissions. This allowed these countries to stay under their emission limits and build up a surplus.

“At this moment the same thing is happening: we are in the midst of an economic crisis which again leads to lower emissions all around the world.”

According to the report by the European Environmental Agency that was published a week ago, EU emissions in 2011 fell to 17.5 percent below the 1990 level. “That is only 2.5 percent away from our final 2020 Kyoto goal,” Tomas Wyns tells IPS. “And given the economic projections we will probably reach the same percentage this year.”

Although emissions are dropping worldwide, the build-up of surpluses is an enormous threat to the environmental integrity of the Kyoto protocol. “Of course dropping emissions is good news, but not in this case,” says Wyns.

“The current development shows the Kyoto objectives for 2020 have not been ambitious enough. We need a structural reduction of emissions, based on climate policy. An economic crisis is not a policy measure.”

According to the study by Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, the 3.6 billion surplus projection by 2020 would be realised under business-as-usual conditions without the government taking any measures to reduce emissions. But most importantly, the enormous amount of surpluses causes the price of allowances to drop close to zero. At this moment, the price has already dropped to less than one euro per tonne.

“The supply is three magnitudes bigger than the demand,” Anja Kollmuss, carbon market expert at the Brussels-based CDM Watch tells IPS. “When prices go that close to zero it could lead to a collapse of the market. The allowances are useless to the countries that own them because there is no one willing to buy them. The trade will come to a halt. It’s hard to see how there could possibly be a market under these conditions.”

During the preparatory climate negotiations in Bangkok last week, it became clear that the surplus owned by developed countries is one of the key issues to be resolved before countries can agree on a second commitment period for the Kyoto protocol.

At the meeting, the coalition of developing nations, the G-77 and China presented a proposal on how to restrict the gigantic surplus and save the market. They aligned themselves with the African Group, stating that this proposal reflected the view of 100 countries and over a billion people most vulnerable to climate change.

“The G-77 proposal states all countries can hold on to their emission allowances in the second period, but under the condition that they only be used to fulfill their own commitments,” Anja Kollmuss tells IPS. “Countries with a surplus would not be able to sell them on the market any more, that would effectively stabilise the market.”

The G-77 proposal goes further. “The developing nations asked all developing nations whose total emissions in 2012 will be lower than their 2020 goal to commit to stricter emission objectives in the second period,” Tomas Wyns says. “They also proposed to delete all surplus allowances after 2020. That’s the only way to safeguard the Kyoto protocol and the market.”

At the final plenary in Bangkok on Sep. 5, only Russia remained in opposition to the proposal. The EU reacted with no position due to internal disagreement.

“Poland is disagreeing because they hold the largest surplus in the EU,” Anja Kollmuss tells IPS. “The country thinks all allowances should be carried over, they are still hoping to sell them on the market. But most countries are realising that something needs to be done not just to save the market, but also to maintain a meaningful climate commitment.”

The EU is expected to work out a common position next month. Negotiations between countries are now ongoing.

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Norway Counts the Usefulness of Lendinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/norway-counts-the-usefulness-of-lending/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=norway-counts-the-usefulness-of-lending http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/08/norway-counts-the-usefulness-of-lending/#respond Mon, 27 Aug 2012 09:50:23 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=112001 The Norwegian government has announced it would assess the legitimacy of developing countries’ debt to Norway. In effect it will investigate whether its loans have been useful enough to warrant repayment. That makes Norway the first nation ever to carry out a creditor’s debt audit. The United Kingdom appears to be following Norway’s example but […]

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By Daan Bauwens
Aug 27 2012 (IPS)

The Norwegian government has announced it would assess the legitimacy of developing countries’ debt to Norway. In effect it will investigate whether its loans have been useful enough to warrant repayment.

That makes Norway the first nation ever to carry out a creditor’s debt audit. The United Kingdom appears to be following Norway’s example but campaigners are still facing some big hurdles.

Last Wednesday Norwegian Minister of Development Heikki Holmås announced an independent public audit of developing countries’ debt to Norway. The Norwegian government had promised to do so since being elected in 2009, and to work to establish binding guidelines for responsible lending.

“The Norwegian government is bold,” Gina Ekholt, director of SLUG, the Norwegian Coalition for Debt Cancellation, tells IPS. “Something like this has never been done before. It has the potential to change the global creditor society: other countries will start doing the same once everyone agrees this is an acceptable process and a moral obligation. We are proud of the Norwegian government to have made this historical political announcement.”

This is not the first time the Norwegian government has openly questioned its responsibility as a creditor. In 2006, Norway decided to cancel debt worth more than 70 million euros to Myanmar, Sudan, Egypt, Ecuador, Sierra Leone, Jamaica and Peru related to the Norwegian Ship Export Campaign.

During that campaign between 1976 and 1980, the Norwegian government tried to solve a crisis in the ship building industry by offering cheap loans to developing countries to buy Norwegian vessels. Ten years after the campaign the Norwegian Parliament concluded that the campaign had had very little developmental effect for the countries involved and therefore, the loans were illegitimate.

While announcing the debt audit, Holmås added that he does not expect to find any more cases of illegitimate debt. But there is reason to believe otherwise. In 2009, SLUG published a report focussing on Indonesia’s debt to Norway. According to the report, Indonesia is still repaying loans worth 160 million euros for a wave power plant that was never built, and failed technology for sea monitoring systems.

“These loans are clearly illegitimate,” Gina Ekholt tells IPS. “The projects for which the loans were given did not have the wanted effects. The technology did not work when tested in Norway, but it was still exported to Indonesia.”

The audit will apply the newly developed United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Principles to promote responsible borrowing and lending to evaluate the loans. “This is solid framework for the audit, but the challenge arises when they shall consider the legitimacy of the loans. Will they cancel debts from loans that breech with today’s guidelines, or just consider the criteria that were in place when the loans were given?” Ekholt says.

“We believe that we have to use today’s criteria and those are: a population should not owe debt for loans that have not benefitted the population. If the creditor knew that the loan would not benefit the population, there is a clear case of illegitimate debt.”

Ekholt does not believe the Norwegian government is willing to use today’s criteria. “That is where we will disagree. But we look forward to continuing this debate once the audit is finished. The Norwegian government has already taken several bold steps. We believe that they will deal with the consequences of this audit.”

Holmås has said the results of the audit will be available in a year.

Several months before the Norwegian initiative was launched, a group of British Members of Parliament started an investigation into the UK Export Credit Agency, the British institution which backs loans to foreign companies and countries to buy British exports. Unlike the Norwegian initiative, the British audit does not have an official or binding status.

“The government can ignore the results of this inquiry, or respond to its recommendations,” Tim Jones, policy officer at Jubilee Debt Campaign in the UK tells IPS. “Obviously we are pushing them to conduct their own official investigation. We hope the Norwegian example and this parliamentary investigation will help to make them act.”

Jubilee Debt Campaign is increasing its pressure on the UK government, especially since one of the parties in power took up the issue of illegitimacy of development loans before the 2010 general election. “The Liberal Democrats promised they would declare loans given to dictators and not used for development to be illegitimate,” Tim Jones tells IPS.

“There is evidence for development loans given to Indonesia during the time of General Suharto to buy tanks and airplanes. There is evidence for loans to buy arms given to Saddam Hussain, including a loan to build a chemical weapons factory.

“There is evidence for loans given to Egypt to buy equipment for the Egyptian army. The population clearly did not benefit but now has to repay these loans. We counted on the Liberal Democratic Party to denounce these loans, but it seems to be one of the policies they have forgotten about after assuming power.

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Poland Clings On to Coalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/poland-clings-on-to-coal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poland-clings-on-to-coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/poland-clings-on-to-coal/#comments Mon, 02 Jul 2012 03:22:41 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=110539 Coal has brought its own compulsions for Poland, as it has for many other countries in the call to move to more renewable and cleaner sources of energy. According to analysts, Poland’s staunch refusal of European emission targets is caused by its domestic reliance on coal. Data gathered by the European Commission shows that Poland […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jul 2 2012 (IPS)

Coal has brought its own compulsions for Poland, as it has for many other countries in the call to move to more renewable and cleaner sources of energy.

According to analysts, Poland’s staunch refusal of European emission targets is caused by its domestic reliance on coal. Data gathered by the European Commission shows that Poland is the largest hard coal producer in the EU. Currently the country has hard coal reserves totalling more than 16 billion tonnes. As a result, Poland’s import dependency is lowest in the EU, and its electricity generation is based more than 90 percent on coal.

“The country simply doesn’t want to lose sovereignty over its own energy strategy,” Daniel Fraile, senior energy policy officer of Climate Action Network-Europe, told IPS. “And they don’t see how they could move to a higher level of renewable energy. The country is economically too dependent on its coal industry. Even out of principle, they would never support moving to renewables.”

“The Polish economy is indeed largely based on coal, but doesn’t mean there’s no space to consider renewables,” Esther Bollendorff, policy officer at Friends of the Earth Europe, told IPS. “There’s tremendously strong resistance in the country to consider an energy transition. Partly because the Polish government is very much infiltrated by the coal industry. But also because of the personality of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. He wants to get his opinion through in the EU, only to show his country is a strong player.”

But recent data shows that resistance to renewables might soon become disadvantageous to the Polish economy. According to Poland’s own energy road map, this is essentially because coal is expected to remain the main fuel for electricity generation until 2030.

Although the government road map foresees a general reduction of energy consumption in the Polish economy and a 19 percent share of renewables by 2020, electricity consumption is expected to increase by 30 percent by 2030.

As a result, although Poland has always been an exporter of coal, according to data by the European Association for Coal and Lignite (EUROCOAL), in recent years it has become a net importer of coal. Two years ago, imports of coal already amounted to 13.4 million tonnes.

“Energy consumption is increasing at such a rate that domestic sources cannot fulfil the demand anymore. The costs will get higher. So the country might want to reconsider what it is going to do in the future,” Bollendorff said.

Poland has isolated itself by refusing to decarbonise its energy system by 2050. During the latest talks between EU energy ministers, the heavily coal-reliant nation argued it would not accept carbon reduction targets without an international agreement. But this could be to their own disadvantage, analysts point out.

EU energy ministers gathered in Luxembourg on Jun. 15 to discuss the energy road map, an ambitious set of measures which would lead to close-to-zero carbon energy production by the middle of the century. The ministers from 26 EU member states backed the plan; only Poland opposed it.

In an official statement, the country’s economy minister said that “Poland cannot accept regulations concerning reduction targets after 2020 without reaching a global agreement on climate issues, and technologies reducing emissions at industrial scale are not implemented.”

In March, the country also refused to support a low carbon road map which sets targets for greenhouse gas emissions. According to the plan, these targets would be a 25 percent reduction by 2020, a 40 percent reduction by 2030, a 60 percent reduction by 2040 and an 80-95 percent reduction by 2050. Poland agreed with the 2050 targets but deemed the intermediate targets unnecessary.

The Danish EU presidency tried to prevent a Polish veto and cancelled out all reference to the 25 percent emission reduction by 2020, but Poland still refused.

At last week’s meeting, Poland requested that the word ‘decarbonisation’ in the document be redefined so it would also account for coal-fired power plants that use carbon capture and storage technology.

It also asked if a section on financial support for renewables could be changed to “financial support for low-carbon technologies”, so that nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage would also be eligible for support. When several states refused to accept this last change, Poland decided to veto the road map.

Because of Poland’s refusal to support both plans, no formal conclusion came out of the discussions, as all EU proposals need to be backed by a unanimous vote. Nevertheless, with the other 26 member states strongly supporting the bloc’s zero-carbon plans, the EU is determined to push its ambitious plans ahead.

Speaking at a press conference after the meeting, European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger suggested that legislation for emission targets in the future should only require a majority vote. The spokesperson for the Danish EU presidency said: “The resolution was supported by 26 EU countries, and that is a clear signal to the Commission that it can start working on legislative proposals for 2030.”

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Biofuels and Hunger, Two Sides of the Same Coinhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/biofuels-and-hunger-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofuels-and-hunger-two-sides-of-the-same-coin http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/biofuels-and-hunger-two-sides-of-the-same-coin/#comments Mon, 25 Jun 2012 10:24:28 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=110319 Despite growing evidence that biofuel production is causing food insecurity around the world, the new European Union policy blueprint on renewable energy ignores the social effects of biofuels. Last week, Guatemalan victims of the food crisis came to Brussels to make European policy makers aware of the problem. In a bid to reduce the of […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jun 25 2012 (IPS)

Despite growing evidence that biofuel production is causing food insecurity around the world, the new European Union policy blueprint on renewable energy ignores the social effects of biofuels. Last week, Guatemalan victims of the food crisis came to Brussels to make European policy makers aware of the problem.

In a bid to reduce the of amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the European Union decided three years ago to increase biofuel use in transport. With the 2009 directive on renewable energy, the Union set a mandatory target of a ten percent share of agrofuels in transport petrol and diesel consumption by 2020.

But even before the directive had been approved, NGOs around the world had already pointed out a series of problems with agrofuels.

The British NGO ActionAid calculated that reaching Europe’s target would require converting up to 69,000 square kilometres of natural ecosystems into cropland, an area larger than Belgium and the Netherlands combined. Furthermore, because of the conversion of forests, grasslands and peat lands into crop fields for biofuel, total net greenhouse gas emissions would amount to 56 million tonnes of extra CO2 per year, the equivalent of an extra 12 to 26 million cars on Europe’s roads by 2020.

ActionAid estimated that the extra biofuels entering the EU market would be, on average, 81 to 167 percent worse for the climate than fossil fuels.

NGOs also found that the EU’s planned increase in biofuel use would push oilseed, maize and sugar prices up. According to a study by the Austrian International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the 10 percent target would put an extra 140 million people at risk of hunger, with the poor urban populations, subsistence farmers and the landless in developing countries particularly vulnerable. Finally, the Rome-based International Land Coalition recently stated that the demand for biofuels is driving more than 50 percent of large-scale land acquisitions globally.

Earlier this month the European Commission published its post-2020 communication on renewable energy. Despite the relentless campaigning of several international NGOs to cancel out the 2020 target, the new communication remains completely silent on the effects of biofuels on food security in developing nations, leaving a similar target for 2030 open.

“The European Commission wants to decide on the 2030 policy without having considered the impacts of the 2020 policy first,” Marc-Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU biofuels expert, told IPS. “The new communication specifies hard criteria to measure environmental impact, but stays mute on the social impact of biofuels. The word ‘food’ is not even mentioned in the document, let alone food security.”

According to Herman, the Commission is moving too fast because of industry demands. “Investors in biofuel want security,” he added.

“Ever since the first target was set in 2009, the biofuel industry has been growing rapidly. This industry now wants to know what will happen after 2020. And it is an industry with lots of lobby power here in Brussels.”

In the meantime, the social effects of the growing demand for biofuels are aggravating. For instance, a large percentage of Guatemala’s indigenous population is facing a new hunger crisis because of land grabbing, forced evictions and water diversion to create large-scale monoculture plantations of palm oil trees and sugar cane for biofuel.

In one such case in March last year, Guatemalan police and soldiers evicted more than 3000 indigenous people from their homes in Guatemala’s Polochic valley to make room for a large-scale plantation. Banned from their land, these 700 families are now facing severe malnutrition and high child mortality as a consequence of diarrhoea or fever.

Three months after meeting president Otto Perez Molina to discuss the problem, Guatemalan small farmer Daniel Pascual from the Comité de Unidad Campesina (Committee for Campesino Unity) came to Brussels on Jun. 18 to make European policy makers aware of the social impacts of biofuels.

“With a growing demand for biofuel, this hunger crisis will only get worse,” Pascual told IPS. “We need external players like the EU to make sure that they don’t cause more damage with their policies. And we need them to put pressure on our government to respect the rights of the population.”

But it is unlikely that the EU will lower its demand for biofuel. “Who is gaining from this policy? Not the environment but European farmers, because of the positive effect of the demand on the price of products and the biofuel industry that was directly or indirecty built with EU funding and grants,” Herman said.

Herman believes the problem will get even worse as in the years to come, as traditional players have become increasingly interested in biofuels as well. “Shell and BP invested heavily in Brazilian sugar cane last year,” he stressed. “They want to remain leaders in the fuel sector and they are lobbying in Brussels as well.”

“Everyone looks at it from their own rational point of view but the final result is pure madness,” Herman concluded.

(END)

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Resolution on Arms Trade ‘Bold but Not Bulletproof’http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/resolution-on-arms-trade-bold-but-not-bulletproof/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resolution-on-arms-trade-bold-but-not-bulletproof http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/resolution-on-arms-trade-bold-but-not-bulletproof/#comments Sun, 17 Jun 2012 02:15:45 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=110046 The European Parliament sent a bold message to the world last week with its comprehensive and ambitious resolution to put an end to the illicit global arms trade. But analysts regret the new resolution ignores several key factors, such as the impact of the arms trade on the socio-economic development of recipient countries, and the […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jun 17 2012 (IPS)

The European Parliament sent a bold message to the world last week with its comprehensive and ambitious resolution to put an end to the illicit global arms trade. But analysts regret the new resolution ignores several key factors, such as the impact of the arms trade on the socio-economic development of recipient countries, and the involvement of civil society in future negotiations.

Next month member states will gather at the United Nations headquarters in New York to negotiate the first binding Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a potentially ground-breaking humanitarian treaty regulating international trade in conventional weapons. Currently, there is no universal set of rules controlling the global arms trade.

According to several analysts the poorly-regulated market fuels armed conflicts and causes unnecessary human suffering. In order to address the problem, Nobel Peace laureates like the Dalai Lama, Betty Williams, Elie Wiesel and José Ramos- Horta – supported by international NGOs – have been actively advocating a binding global agreement since 1997.

According to data gathered by Control Arms, a global civil society alliance, one million of the eight million firearms produced every year are lost or stolen. As many as 747,000 people are killed in armed violence annually, while ten times that number are injured.

In March of this year the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute published a report showing that deliveries of conventional weapons to states in Africa had increased by an average of 110 percent during the last ten years. Deliveries to sub-Saharan Africa increased by 20 percent, while deliveries to North Africa increased by 273 percent.

The European Parliament voted Wednesday on the resolution the EU will propose at the upcoming U.N. conference. The text underlined Europe’s tremendous responsibility in the global arms trade, since EU member states account for about 30 percent of all arms exports and are among the world’s leading arms manufacturers.

The resolution also stressed that the new U.N. treaty should cover “the widest possible spectrum of conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons and all aspects and activities of trade.”

The Parliament called for the establishment of a U.N. support unit to monitor and report on global arms exchanges while tracing possible breaches of the treaty.

Furthermore, the European Parliament wants the ATT to include strong provisions requiring states to report on all arms transfer decisions and keep records for up to 20 years. Stringent anti-corruption and transparency mechanisms would also be necessary since, according to recent estimates, the arms trade accounts for almost 40 percent of corruption in all world trade.

Political hurdles

But according to experts, some key provisions have slipped through cracks in the ambitious text.

“Although this resolution is a strong (first step), we feel disappointed that it failed to highlight the need not to undermine the socio-economic development of recipient countries,” Nicolas Vercken, Oxfam’s advocacy officer on arms transfer control in Paris, told IPS.

Wim Zwijnenburg, advocacy officer on disarmament at IKV-Pax Christi in Amsterdam, added that the EU currently forbids “export (of arms) to states where socio-economic development is low but government spending is high. This criterion has disappeared from the new resolution”, likely because the European Parliament fears several non-EU countries will not accept such a provision at the upcoming U.N. meet.

Countries against the clause, usually major arms exporters or repressive regimes, claim the policy of forbidding export to economically underdeveloped countries is ‘neocolonial’, Zwijnenburg said – an argument that masks a desire to continue selling or acquiring weapons at virtually any cost.

“Exporting countries like Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Russia, China and India are against (this clause) because they want to protect their arms trade. Recipient countries like Zimbabwe, Syria and Egypt are against the clause because of their constant need for new weaponry. But most sub-Saharan states are in favour of the criterion,” he added.

Another troubling aspect of the resolution is that it fails to mention the involvement of civil society during future arms trade negotiations. “When an arms trade deal is discussed between two nations, countries like the United States or the United Kingdom have the capacity to bring a team of ten people to the talks, including economic and legal advisors,” Zwijnenburg said.

“Most African states don’t have this capacity. That’s why we need to involve civil society in these negotioations: to be able to support the poorest states, states that are in fact mostly developing nations suffering from conflict. The new resolution makes no mention of this. Considering the fact that NGOs started the process for a treaty in the first place, it would be a pity if we (are) to be excluded from now on,” he stressed.

Despite these flaws, experts are cautiously optimistic about the European resolution and the upcoming U.N. talks. “We’re going for gold,” Vercken told IPS. “Ten years ago nobody would have dared to dream we would have gotten this far, that we would have all states on board and heading for an international agreement.”

“But we know some states only want a weak or dysfunctional treaty. It is going to be tough. And if it turns out we are heading towards a weak treaty, we will remind the negotiating states we would rather have no treaty than a weak treaty. Because a weak treaty would do nothing else but legitimise current (efforts to regulate the arms market),” he added.

(END)

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Billions of Development Dollars in Private Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/billions-of-development-dollars-in-private-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=billions-of-development-dollars-in-private-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/06/billions-of-development-dollars-in-private-hands/#comments Fri, 01 Jun 2012 09:32:06 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://ipsnews.wpengine.com/?p=109269 With governments and international institutions focusing increasingly on a stronger role for the private sector in development aid, a new report by the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) released yesterday suggests there is good reason to doubt this approach. The report examined whether “external (non-domestic) public finance for private investments in the South […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jun 1 2012 (IPS)

With governments and international institutions focusing increasingly on a stronger role for the private sector in development aid, a new report by the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) released yesterday suggests there is good reason to doubt this approach.

The report examined whether “external (non-domestic) public finance for private investments in the South lives up to promises to provide finance to credit-constrained companies in developing countries and to deliver positive development outcomes.”

To the contrary, the study found that most of the recent development investments went to tax havens and private companies from rich countries, while half of total private investments went directly into the financial sector.

In 2010 external investments to the private sector by international financial institutions (IFIs) exceeded 40 billion dollars. By 2015, the amount of public money flowing to the private sector is expected to surpass 100 billion dollars, almost one third of the total amount of aid to developing countries.

For decades, multilateral institutions and governments have invested in private companies operating in the developing world to provide aid and reduce poverty. However, since the 1990s the scale of support to private companies has increased dramatically.

The global financial crisis accelerated this process even further. The Netherlands, Spain, France, Italy and other donors have reduced their budgets for development aid because of the economic crisis. Development assistance from other European countries has come to a complete standstill despite pledges to allocate 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) to aid by 2015.

“In a time when aid budgets are being reduced, governments are looking at the private sector to fill the gaps,” Jeroen Kwakkenbos, policy and advocacy officer at Eurodad and author of report, told IPS. “At the same time the development finance institutions (DFIs), the bodies responsible for investments in the private sector, have always been around. So we asked ourselves: how do they work? What is really going on out there?”

Eurodad’s study took a closer look at the investments made by eight DFIs: the World Bank International Finance Corporation (IFC), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and national development finance institutions in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden between 2006 and 2010. In total, the report analysed over 30 billion dollars worth of private sector investments in the world’s poorest countries.

According to the findings, only one fourth of all companies supported by the IFC and the EIB were based in low-income countries. Furthermore, around forty percent of the companies on the list of beneficiaries were big companies listed in some of the world’s largest stock exchanges. Almost half, 49 percent, of the total amount of development finance went to companies based in one of the 34 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

The study also showed that fifty percent of investments were made directly to the finance sector. “That is, commercial banks, hedge funds and private equity funds,” Kwakkenbos told IPS.

In that same time period, 2006-2010, the “DFIs assessed by Eurodad increased their portfolios by 190 percent”, the report stated.

“Development finance institutions say they are obliged to use these kinds of financial mechanisms because they don’t have branches in every country and can’t reach small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing nations directly,” Kwakkenbos said, adding that this method makes it impossible to assess whether SMEs in poor nations receive the aid that was meant to reach them.

“Even in Europe it’s hard to get banks to lend to (SMEs). Plus the banks do not have to disclose any information on which company they have invested in nor (are they expected) to deliver any kind of development impact assessment. There is a lot of money (floating around) but we don’t know where it is going or whether it is being used effectively.”

The report also discovered that DFIs were investing heavily in companies based in tax havens or secrecy jurisdictions. No less than 36 projects between 2006 and 2010 were commissioned to companies based in tax havens. One fourth of all investments by the EIB went to companies in a secrecy jurisdiction.

“DFIs (claim) they do this because it is the best way to attract capital,” said Kwakkenbos. “Most people working for these institutions come from the banking sector, not from the development sector. They have a very finance-oriented perspective on things.”

But this method raises very thorny questions for the future of development finance and its ability to pull the poorest countries out of debt and poverty.

“What kind of development priorities are these companies looking at? How do they align themselves with country priorities in developing nations if they keep on bypassing the government and investing directly in the private sector? And, most importantly, how do you marry profits and development objectives? What is most important in the project? Is it development outcomes or the long term return on investments?” Kwakkenbos asked.

(END)

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EU Feels Force of Israeli Demolitionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/05/eu-feels-force-of-israeli-demolitions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-feels-force-of-israeli-demolitions http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/05/eu-feels-force-of-israeli-demolitions/#comments Wed, 16 May 2012 03:22:09 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://ipsnews.wpengine.com/?p=109224 All 27 foreign ministers of the European Union have strongly spoken out against Israeli demolitions in Area C of the West Bank. Since the beginning of 2011 not less than 60 EU-funded projects have been demolished while 110 others are currently at risk. Several analysts claim the Israeli authorities are specifically targeting EU-funded projects. Area […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, May 16 2012 (IPS)

All 27 foreign ministers of the European Union have strongly spoken out against Israeli demolitions in Area C of the West Bank. Since the beginning of 2011 not less than 60 EU-funded projects have been demolished while 110 others are currently at risk. Several analysts claim the Israeli authorities are specifically targeting EU-funded projects.

Area C comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military and civilian control under the Oslo Accords. The EU’s focus on this area is a consequence of alarming reports that show an increase in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, including projects paid for with European taxpayer money.

The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council called on Israel Tuesday to remove restrictions on Palestinian construction and economic development projects in Area C. It also denounced settler violence against Palestinians and asked the Israeli government to prosecute such actions. Against the background of the EU meeting, development and humanitarian agencies in the West Bank compiled new data on demolitions of EU projects. According to data gathered by the Displacement Working Group, a coordinating body of international humanitarian and development NGOs in the occupied Palestinian territory, since the beginning of 2011 at least 62 structures funded by France, Netherlands, the UK, Poland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and the European Commission have been demolished by Israel. Water cisterns, animal shelters and people’s homes, among others, are on the list of demolished structures.

The Displacement Working Group also reports at least 110 structures funded by Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, UK, Ireland, Sweden and the Commission currently under risk as they have received demolition or stop-work orders from Israeli authorities. The projects at risk include renewable energy projects, water cisterns, animal shelters and water and sanitation structures.

According to another recent report compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory, over a quarter of all Palestinian structures demolished in 2011 were funded by international donors including European governments and the European Union.

In response to a recent inquiry by British Member of European Parliament Chris Davies, the European Commission estimated that the cost of EU and member state funded projects damaged or demolished by the Israeli army from the beginning of 2001 until October 2011 adds up to more than 49 million euros, of which more than 29 million euros came directly from the EU. Although most of this damage took place during the Second Intifadah and the 2008 Gaza War, the Commission’s list is far from complete and leaves out the most recent data.

On Feb. 13 of this year the Israeli army demolished an ancient water cistern which had been restored by the Polish NGO Humanitarian Action with funding from the Polish Foreign Ministry. As is mostly the case, the Israeli army argued there was no permit to build the structure. The Israeli Civil Administration and army maintain the right to demolish any structure that was built without such a permit.

But human rights organisations on the ground say it is almost impossible to obtain a permit. According to recent UN data, less than one percent of Area C has been planned for Palestinian development by the Israeli Civil Administration and 94 percent of Palestinian permit applications to construct infrastructure have been rejected in recent years.

As a consequence of this policy, 10,000 Palestinian children in Area C and East Jerusalem were obliged to attend classes in tents, caravans or tin shacks at the start of the 2011 school year because of a lack of permits to build or renovate classrooms.

“The lack of permits is only one of different pretences to demolish,” Ayman Rabi from the Palestinian Hydrology Group, the largest Palestinian NGO working on water and sanitation, tells IPS. “The Israeli authorities also tell us regularly the area we are building in is a security area. In the end the demolishing does not have any legal basis.”

In the end of 2011, five solar and wind energy projects financed by the German Foreign Ministry received stop-work orders in the Massafer Yatta area in the South Hebron Hills. These villages are prevented from being connected to the Israeli electricity grid. Israeli authorities promised not to destroy the project but instead, on Jan. 11, 2012, destroyed the home and animal shelters of one of the Palestinian families the panels were being built for, crushing several of their goats.

On Apr. 23 this year, Israeli authorities demolished two water cisterns near Hebron built with funding from the French government. The aim of the French project was to improve water management and develop farmland.

“Most of the people in these areas are shepherds, whose animals need to graze,” Ayman Rabi tells IPS. “If there is no water they are forced to leave the areas they’re living in. This is exactly the aim: forcing people to leave to be able to confiscate the land and expand the settlements.”

According to last December’s EU heads of missions report on Area C, prior to 1967 between 200,000 and 320,000 Palestinians used to live in the area. Currently the number of Palestinians has dropped to 56,000 due to Israeli demolitions and restrictions. At the same time the Israeli settler population has grown from 1,200 in 1972 to 310,000 in 2010.

At the same time, several analysts presume the Israeli authorities in the occupied areas are specifically targeting European projects. After the incident with the German-funded solar and wind energy projects, the German press described Israel’s behaviour as a riposte to the EU which published a report critical of Israel’s discriminatory policy toward the Palestinians in Area C in January 2012.

“Projects in the exact same area funded by the Americans are not touched,” Ayman Rabi tells IPS, “while generally speaking, all EU projects are demolished.” (END)

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EU Backs Aid Through Budget Supporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/05/eu-backs-aid-through-budget-support/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-backs-aid-through-budget-support http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/05/eu-backs-aid-through-budget-support/#respond Mon, 14 May 2012 23:47:57 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://ipsnews.wpengine.com/?p=109176 In an unprecedented move, all 27 EU development ministers championed budget support Monday as an effective way of reducing poverty in developing countries. At the same time they gave the green light to a new ground-breaking initiative to prevent new humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa. Ahead of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development […]

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By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, May 14 2012 (IPS)

In an unprecedented move, all 27 EU development ministers championed budget support Monday as an effective way of reducing poverty in developing countries. At the same time they gave the green light to a new ground-breaking initiative to prevent new humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa.

Ahead of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development in June and this year’s new EU budget negotiations, the council of EU Development Ministers backed budget support, the aid modality in which money is given directly to the recipient country government, as an effective way to provide aid to developing countries.

All member states agreed on the official Council conclusion that they were committed to “use budget support effectively to support poverty reduction, make aid more predictable and strengthen the partner country’s ownership of development policies and reforms.”

Oxfam, together with several other NGOs who advocate budget support, applauded the Council’s decision. “This is the first time all member states are recognising the benefits of budget support,” Catherine Olier, development expert at Oxfam, told IPS.

The Council’s decision follows recent studies that have shown the effectiveness of budget support in reducing poverty. For example, last December the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report demonstrating the positive effects of budget support in Zambia, Tunisia and Mali.

In all three countries the OECD reported important achievements in education in terms of total enrolment, increased participation of girls, and access for students from poor areas. In Zambia the improved health service led to a decrease of tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhoea incidence. It also brought about a reduction of child and maternal mortality.

“With budget support you give ownership to the country to manage the funding according to their own needs. This way it helps countries to finance vital and recurrent costs,” Catherine Olier told IPS. “It allows them to pay teachers and doctors over the course of several years. It can cover the costs of the drugs to treat illnesses. Project-based aid is shorter in time and therefore less predictable, it cannot cover the costs of doctors and teachers in the long term. This is exactly what a developing country needs.”

The EU Ministers’ move to commit to budget support comes as a surprise since the aid modality has always been heavily criticised. According to many it leads to increased corruption in the recipient country.

“No method of aid is without risk,” said Olier, “but in this case there’s a lot of fear without any justification. In fact it’s the contrary: according to several studies, budget support is a good means to effectively fight corruption. Budget support is not just a blank cheque. It comes with policy dialogue. Donors start engaging with the recipient governments. It makes governments accountable towards their citizens, their parliament and civil society.”

Olier’s statements are confirmed by research. According to the conclusions of OECD’s 2011 assessment of Tunisia, Zambia and Mali, “budget support contributes to improved accountability and transparency of budgeting processes and is a valid support for the implementation of reforms, when governments and citizens are actively committed thereto.”

At the same meeting Monday afternoon, the EU’s development ministers approved a new plan to boost the prevention of hunger and famine in the Horn of Africa. Since July 2011, more than 13 million people have been facing the consequences of extreme drought. To prevent the outbreak of a new crisis, the EU is initiating the ‘Supporting Horn of Africa Resilience’ (SHARE) project. With SHARE, the EU wants to improve the transition from emergency assistance to long-term development aid.

“More than 400,000 members signed our petition urging leaders to break the cycle of famine and take action in the Horn of Africa – today shows Commissioners have listened. We now hope the EU will be able to provide additional funding for this important initiative, and member states should also step up”, Eloise Todd, director of international NGO ONE said in a press release.

“This new project is ground-breaking,” Natalia Alonso, head of Oxfam’s International EU office in Brussels, told IPS. “Until now, emergency response to humanitarian crises only went to the most urgent needs. With this new plan, the efforts will not only be spent on supplementary nutrition for malnutrioned children, but also on supplementary nutrition for a community’s lifestock. So when the crisis is over, the community will still have the means to continue its livelihood. That’s what building resilience means: adapting to the situation but looking at the future as well.”

(END)

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Financial Transaction Tax Likely This Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2012/03/financial-transaction-tax-likely-this-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=financial-transaction-tax-likely-this-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/03/financial-transaction-tax-likely-this-year/#respond Sun, 18 Mar 2012 02:45:00 +0000 Daan Bauwens http://ipsnews.net/?p=107560 Analysis by Daan Bauwens

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Analysis by Daan Bauwens

By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Mar 18 2012 (IPS)

A recent proposal to introduce a European financial transaction tax was blocked by Britain. But with Germany and France committed to push ahead, many are confident a tax will be implemented before the end of this year.

All of the European Union’s finance ministers gathered last Tuesday to debate the introduction of a financial transaction tax. The meeting was organised by the Danish presidency after nine member states – Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Finland, Austria, Italy, Spain, Germany and France – wrote a letter to Denmark on Feb. 7 insisting on a debate.

Under the current proposal, a tax of 0.1 percent would be levied on bond and equity transactions and a tax of 0.01 percent on derivatives. Other countries such as Brazil, South Korea and India have already introduced a tax on financial transactions.

Last year, approximately 29 billion euros was raised in the 40 countries that have the tax in place. In 1989 the UK government unilaterally imposed a stamp duty on transactions in UK equities of 0.5 percent. The British government annually earns between two to three billion pounds in tax revenue through the tax. The European Commission’s broader proposal would raise up to 57 billion euros per year.

Governments are facing public pressure in Europe to levy the tax after banks and private financial institutions benefited from bail-outs paid with taxpayer money during the global financial crisis. But Britain, although levies taxes on financial transactions itself, is the fiercest opponent of the European proposal. With 80 percent of Europe’s transactions taking place in the City of London, it has argued a tax would drive business away and weaken its economy.

The Czech Republic joined Britain’s opposition before Tuesday’s meeting. At the meeting, the Netherlands did not take any position but declared that Dutch research on the current proposal had produced alarming results. Swedish minister of finance Anders Borg declared that a tax would “increase the lending cost, the cost of capital for companies and the cost for governments. So it is a proposal that is not good for European growth.”

Although no noticeable progress was made, experts and the civil society are positive about what emerged from the meeting. “We’ve never been as close to an introduction as now,” Prof. Stephany Griffith-Jones, financial markets programme director at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University in New York tells IPS. “Several ministers showed a pragmatic search for solutions. It is very probable that the nine member states who advocate the tax will now form a coalition of the willing.”

Max Lawson, senior policy advisor at Oxfam’s London office, agrees. “It is clear that a group of European countries will move ahead and ignore the UK’s pointless opposition,” he tells IPS.

Taxation proposals cannot be taken up in the EU without the approval of all 27 member states. However, the Lisbon Treaty specifies that one-third of the EU states can form “enhanced cooperation” to move ahead with a limited version of a proposal that affects only themselves. Many analysts are confident that Germany will take the lead in forming a coalition and that a first version of the financial transaction tax will be put in place before the end of 2012.

The question arises what the tax revenue will be used for once the tax is introduced. “At a time where most European governments are constrained it should be used for fiscal consolidation,” Prof. Griffith-Jones tells IPS. “After that you can increase government spending. The other possibilty would be to raise other taxes less so that aggregate demand is lifted.”

Civil society is demanding the money is not exclusively spent on domestic purposes. “Last year, (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel declared she was open to potentially using some of the revenues to finance climate change and development,” Max Lawson tells IPS.

“Francois Hollande, the socialist opponent of Nicolas Sarkozy in the upcoming French presidential elections, has stated up to three times he would spend the revenue on climate change and development. The big fight for civil society is to hold Germany and France up to their promise.”

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Excerpt:

Analysis by Daan Bauwens

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