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EU Development Ministers Informal Meeting, 21 and 22 September 2007

Volume 464: debated on Monday 8 October 2007

I represented the UK at the EU Development Ministers' Informal Meeting in Madeira on 21-22 September 2007.

The UK contributed to momentum in the right direction on the humanitarian, security and trade agendas, as well as securing support for the PM's MDG Call for Action

Friday 21 September

Improving the EU response to Fragile Situations

The Portuguese Minister for Development, Joao Cravinho and Development Commissioner Louis Michel introduced this item, stressing the need to work differently in fragile contexts and to focus on prevention of violent conflict. The Minister stressed the importance of stability in helping to improve progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Picking up this point, I asked for support for the Prime Minister's Call for Action on the MDGs. In this context and others, the initiative was favourably received. In relation to dealing with fragility, along with some other Ministers, I stressed the importance of basing plans on the OECD Development Assistance Committee guidelines. I advocated the importance of learning lessons from experience with new instruments developed to fit fragile contexts, such as multi-donor Trust Funds.

Security and Development

The Portuguese Defence Minister (a former Development Minister), Mr Nuno Severiano Teixeira, gave a presentation on improving coherence between development and security policies. While recognising the challenges of differing time-scales and priorities, he advocated closer working, including shared management of resources and cross-departmental teams. I was able to share the positive experience of the UK with the cross-departmental Conflict Pools and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit. A number of Member States mentioned concerns about potential diversion of official development assistance to cover “military” expenditure. Italy is in the process of passing a new development law which should provide better protection than at present. I spoke about the UK's International Development Act in this regard. I drew attention to the importance of building capacity in the UN and the African Union for effective peace-building as well as peace-keeping. I also reminded participants of the importance of the Arms Trade Treaty.

Humanitarian Aid

Minister Cravinho introduced this item on behalf of the Presidency, which aims to have an EU Humanitarian Consensus to match the 2005 Development Consensus as a commitment to best practice. While acknowledging the value of the Consensus and the good work of ECHO, I pressed for much stronger acknowledgement of the pre-eminence of the UN in co-ordination of responses to humanitarian crises and a clearer commitment to the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund. I drew attention to the importance of the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence where military or armed police personnel and equipment were deployed.

International Development Architecture

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Gutierres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal, gave a presentation encouraging Europe to take a leading role as a “rational centre” in the global development scene, pushing for co-ordination. He acknowledged the importance of UN reform and pointed to the limitations of the International Financial Institutions. In his view three of the main challenges facing the international community were security, migration and climate change.

Saturday 22 September

Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs):

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson opened the discussion of Economic Partnership Agreements amongst EU Development Ministers. He painted a mixed picture of progress. He highlighted the unprecedented generosity of the EU's offer to the African, Caribbean and Pacific partner countries, most recently with new Rules of Origin. He advised Ministers not to heed calls to extend the deadline for deals, arguing that it would be illegal under WTO rules. I acknowledged the generosity of the offer, while suggesting that even more liberal Rules of Origin could help the negotiations. A goods-only “framework” EPA offered the best prospects for breaking deadlock. Along with other Ministers, I stressed that the ACP must not be left worse off if it proved impossible to reach a deal.