The Foreign Affairs Council (Development) took place in Brussels on 9 December. Due to priority parliamentary business that day, my ministerial colleagues and I were unable to attend. The UK was represented by the Permanent Representative to the EU (Kim Darroch) and the Director of International Relations for the Department for International Development (Anthony Smith). Both officials attended with clear direction from Ministers on relevant policy priorities. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, chaired the meeting.
Future of EU Development Policy
EU Development Commissioner (Andris Piebalgs) introduced his “Green Paper on EU Development Policy in Support of Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development”. He confirmed that once the public consultation had concluded in January 2011, the Commission would begin drafting a communication on the results. This will include toolkits about how different work-streams can be taken forward.
Ministers broadly welcomed the paper and the opportunities it brings to think afresh about the future of EU development policy. The wide-ranging discussion covered issues including growth, human rights, gender, agriculture and sustainable development. The UK intervention welcomed the focus on growth and called for the prioritisation of actions that can deliver impact and results and demonstrate value for money.
Ministers were invited to provide written comments on the issues raised by the Green Paper in early 2011.
Commissioner Piebalgs and the EU Special Representative in Afghanistan (Vygaudas Ušackas) briefed Ministers about the latest situation in Afghanistan. They stressed their long-term commitment to development and to the transition of responsibilities to the Afghan Government, based on the approach agreed at the 2010 Kabul conference. Ministers confirmed their strong support for this approach. It was also stressed that the EU action plan, agreed by EU Foreign Ministers in October 2009, offered the best way forward in terms of better co-ordinating European efforts in Afghanistan.
In a discussion led by the French Development Minister, the Council debated innovative financing mechanisms. The UK joined other member states in welcoming the exploration of a range of innovative financing opportunities, while emphasising that these should complement, and not deflect from, existing official development assistance targets. The Commission was invited to continue working on the technical feasibility of innovative financing mechanisms and exploring their potential impact.
Ministers discussed the severe situation in Haiti, and agreed on the continuing importance of co-ordinating relief efforts. Commissioner Piebalgs noted that €325 million of the €522 million pledged for reconstruction in Haiti was now programmed, and that, to date, €61 million had been disbursed. The Commission is preparing a communication on reconstruction efforts, with the aim of effectively communicating the results of EU support in advance of the 12 January anniversary of the earthquake.
Mutual Accountability and Transparency
The Swedish Development Minister led a brief exchange of views on the importance of mutual accountability and transparency between European donors and partner countries. This is crucial in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of development assistance, and to help partner countries make better informed investment decisions. The UK strongly supported this approach—a key priority of the coalition Government—and suggested an aid transparency guarantee, similar to the one launched in the UK, be adopted at pan-European level.
The Council also adopted conclusions on mutual accountability and transparency as an “A” point without discussion. These can be viewed here: http://register. consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/10/st17/st17477.en10.pdf.
International Development Conferences in 2011
Over dinner, there was an exchange of views about the least developed countries (LDC) summit that will take place in Istanbul in May 2011. The Council noted the importance of ensuring a focused EU position in advance of the summit. The Commission will prepare a draft EU position paper in January 2011. The UK’s suggestion of a focus on growth and vulnerability was welcomed.
The dinner concluded with a short discussion about the fourth high-level forum on aid effectiveness that will take place in Busan, Korea, in November 2011. The UK joined other member states in stressing the need for a high-level political debate at the forum, rather than purely technical discussions. The Council aims to agree a common position ahead of the forum in May 2011.