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Q&A: Can Save the MDGs Yet

Interview with Glenys Kinnock, Member of the European Parliament

BRUSSELS, May 14 2008 (IPS) - White banners were draped across public buildings in much of Europe during 2005 as an unlikely coalition of celebrities, church groups and trade unionists took part in the Make Poverty History campaign. The Group of Eight (G8) top industrialised countries and the European Union responded by promising to double their aid to Africa by 2010 at a summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Glenys Kinnock Credit:

Glenys Kinnock Credit:

Three years later, EU governments are not only failing to keep their promises, the amount of development aid many of them give to the poor has shrunk, according to statistics collated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, a grouping of 30 rich nations). This decline comes at a sensitive mid-way point in efforts to attain the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. These eight objectives, agreed in 2000, contain a series of targets for addressing by 2015 the most extreme forms of hardship known to humanity.

Glenys Kinnock has been one of the most outspoken members of the European Parliament on development issues since she was first elected to the assembly in 1994. She spoke to IPS Brussels correspondent David Cronin.

IPS: Recently published data indicates that development aid is declining. Unless things dramatically improve, do you think the Millennium Development Goals are a lost cause? GK: No, I don't believe the MDGs are a lost cause. What we need to see now is that the member states of the European Union fulfil the promises they made at Gleneagles. What we have seen last year, of course, is that they inflated their aid levels by including debt relief to Iraq and Nigeria. This year they don't have the opportunity to do that so you've seen that there are some countries that are a major concern: Portugal, especially since they hosted the EU-Africa summit (in December); France had made a very strong commitment when (President Jacques) Chirac was there.

I think we need to name and shame those countries who are not fulfilling what was a strong commitment because we are talking about life and death here. The maternal mortality rates are in some countries getting worse.

These objectives are for 2015. What we would need to see is that by 2010 we would have 75 million more people out of extreme poverty and that would put us on track to meet the halving of poverty objective. What we need to have is a really concrete plan in place before the United Nations meets in September: on education, 25 million more children in school by 2010; four million more children's lives saved between now and 2010; on environment, 75 million more people to have access to water. Those are important benchmarks and timescales. And that's what we need.


I'm not pessimistic. The trends are not so bad that you would say you should despair.

IPS: How much does the current food crisis complicate matters? GK: Massively. (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown has said that it is going to set back the MDGs agenda by as many as seven years. When you think about education and health, the needs are going to be much greater because people are not having enough food and there will be no money for education. So it will have huge implications, and governments will be put under enormous pressure to try and ensure there is food in their countries.

I was in the Seychelles recently doing some work on tuna fishing. And they are really very anxious about how they are going to manage. In the markets, they were saying that the fish, which is what everybody eats there, has doubled in price.

IPS: How much do you think the Western policy on biofuels is responsible for the food crisis? And do you think the EU should drop its target for increasing the proportion of biofuels used in transport? GK: I think it (the Western policy) is clearly a flawed policy. When you consider how many acres of land in the U.S. and across Europe will be going to producing crops for biofuels, it is just simply unacceptable. It is grotesque.

I think it was (World Bank President) Robert Zoellick who said: 'as we are thinking about what we are going to put in the tanks of our cars, other people are thinking about what they are going to put in their stomachs'.

IPS: You have been very critical of the Economic Partnership Agreements that the European Commission is negotiating with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) governments. Is there a fundamental incoherence between the EU's development policy with its stated commitment to reducing poverty, and the Union's trade policy? GK: The whole understanding of the ACP was that they would be negotiating tools for development. The sense has clearly been that that was not the outcome envisaged by the Commission.

When I was the rapporteur (drafter of the European Parliament's position) many years ago on the (EU's) trade and development agreement with South Africa, it was negotiated by officials in DG Development (the Commission's department for development). They grasped what the South Africans were talking about when they were discussing the relationship between trade and development.

With the EPAs, I think there has been a very technocratic approach which has not taken into account those things. I have been singled out (by the Commission) as someone who has misled and misinterpreted. But I would point to the fact that ministers, heads of state, parliaments and civil society across the ACP have voiced serious concerns.

IPS: You referred to the fact that negotiations with ACP countries on trade used to be led by development specialists, whereas now trade officials take the lead in them. Do you think that the Commission has moved backwards and that it is less eager to ensure that trade is compatible with development than it used to be? GK: I think that people who work in development are seen as impediments to a technocratic process of making trade deals. There are a number of bilateral deals that the Commission is negotiating all over the world.

With regards to the 78 ACP countries, they have the vast majority of the world's least developed countries, small island states, vulnerable states, landlocked countries. What we have seen is a contradiction between understanding the problems that they have and the need for economic development. I'm not against EPAs. I think we have no choice but to negotiate a new way of working.

But the pace of the negotiations has been extremely fast and pressured, which has led to the most acrimonious exchanges I have known in my whole relationship with the ACP.

IPS: The key objectives of EU trade policy such as reducing any barriers that European firms face in doing business abroad have been copied and pasted into the Lisbon treaty. Could this make the incoherence between trade and development worse? GK: That is clearly a possibility. But while that may be the trade set of objectives, in development we have to have our own set of objectives. Post-Lisbon it should be possible for us to strengthen the powers of a development commissioner.

There is far too much splintering of development work currently. For example, when we talk about election observation, the main responsibility is with Commissioner (Benita) Ferrero-Waldner (who holds the external relations portfolio) but most of the elections are taking place in (Development Commissioner) Louis Michel's ACP countries. I would be very much in favour of pulling together all the development work under one umbrella.

IPS: Speaking of elections, there is a photograph on your wall of you beside Morgan Tsvangirai (the Movement for Democratic Change leader in Zimbabwe). You have been calling for a very robust EU stance towards Robert Mugabe's regime. Is it Africa's responsibility to deal with the current situation in Zimbabwe or should Europe have any role in this? GK: There are discussions that we can have but it's absolutely right to say that this is the responsibility of Africa. There is still a case for mediation by a prominent African leader. It should not be (South African President) Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki should graciously step aside. Progress would be more likely to be made with (former Zambian President) Kenneth Kaunda or somebody like that.

 
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