European Affairs

The recent report by Jeffrey Sachs, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, contains bald and distressing figures.More than one billion people live on less than $1.00 a day; eleven million children, most of them under five, die each year; more than six million of these deaths are due to preventable diseases, such as malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia; more than one billion people do not have access to safe water; more than 100 million children do not attend primary school; and nearly 600 million women are illiterate.

In 2000, the world’s leaders agreed to the so-called Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, fight disease and hunger, get girls into school and give more people access to safe water by 2015. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region farthest from meeting these goals, and unless the international community acts now in a big way, Africa will not meet this challenge.

But this is no time to despair. For Sub-Saharan Africa, as for everywhere else, the world already has the weapons needed to win this fight. And many of them are entirely affordable: insect nets to combat malaria, vaccinations to prevent infectious disease, anti-retroviral therapies to fight AIDS, fertilizers and agro-forestry to raise crop yields, bore wells for safe drinking water and diesel generators for village electricity. No international leader can today hide behind the excuse of ignorance.

While the challenge is immense, we have a great opportunity to meet it. In July, the G-8 will meet in the UK with Africa at the top of the agenda. In September, there will be an important highlevel UN meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in New York. In December, the debate will continue at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, where the international community will strive to make progress in the Doha Development Agenda of international trade talks.

The European Union and the United States are the key actors in this process. In 2003, the European Union and its member states provided 55 percent of total Official Development Assistance, and the United States is the largest single bilateral donor in the world, with nearly 25 percent. That means that the European Union and the United States together provide almost 80 percent of global development aid.

On both sides of the Atlantic, there are always vocal critics of development aid. People ask what they can gain from it, and why they should help people in countries of which they have never heard.We need to work together to combat this ignorance, and to show that in today’s world we face global problems that require global solutions. Many of these problems, which are intimately linked to development, also affect people in the richer countries. These are three prime examples:

Security and development. The link between security and development was brought home by the terrorist attacks of September11 2001, which affected not only America, but also the whole world. There is an ongoing debate on both sides of the Atlantic about how best to respond to the threat of terrorism: by focusing on reinforcing security measure or by addressing the underlying causes of instability, which are heightened by poverty and despair.

It is clear that security and development go hand in hand.We cannot have development without security, but, equally, we cannot guarantee our own security without investing in the development of others. Conflict prevention and conflict resolution can bring huge long-term benefits in terms of economic and social development. By creating more stable societies in other countries around the world, we help to reduce the future security threats to our own countries.

Trade and development. Trade liberalization is essential to promote growth and development worldwide, so as to improve standards of living and reduce poverty, provided that a framework of rules allows the benefits of open trade to be fairly distributed. As trade is global, so must be the rules.

As its name suggests, the current round of international trade negotiations, the Doha Development Agenda, is intended to ensure that freer trade contributes more to development. On our side, I work very closely with my colleague, Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who is committed to making trade policy a positive contribution to the development process of poor countries. Our top trade priority on both sides of the Atlantic must be to conclude the Doha Round in a way that lives up to its ambition. The Hong Kong meeting will test our determination to do so.

Health and development. In an era afflicted by the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, we plainly need to make urgent progress on health and development. We fully support the huge American investment in the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The European Union is putting priority on tackling the big three killer diseases in developing countries: HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. As the biggest donors, the European Union and the United States both back the Global Fund that has been set up to address these scourges.

In a global world, disease travels as fast as human beings.We must work urgently with partners across the world to combat disease and to avoid the millions of deaths in the poorer countries from diseases for which simple cures often exist in the richer nations. For many of these illnesses, the solution is to make vaccinations and drugs affordable in the developing world.

In the European Union, we must elaborate a new vision for development policy, based on an honest assessment of which past policies have worked and which have not. We need not only new ideas, but also new money. If we are serious about the Millennium Development Goals, now is the time to deliver on them.

A number of ideas are circulating as to how we can finance these goals. All contributions to the debate are welcome, but we must not let ourselves be distracted from the challenge of meeting the monetary commitments.We cannot wait until tomorrow if we are to fulfill the promises we have made for 2015.

Much has been said, in both Europe and America, about “aid fatigue.” But the response of the international community to the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean in December 2004 has proved the exact opposite. The overwhelming destruction left all of us shocked and determined to assist. The American and European peoples have shown tremendous compassion and global responsibility.

We must build on this positive attitude to mobilize adequate levels of resources for the “silent tsunamis” that are causing even greater levels of suffering and poverty.We should look hard at the whole development agenda and identify policies and programs on which the European Union and the United States can work together.We must work especially hard on Africa, in line with the new focus that the European Union is placing on that continent.

In terms of security and development, we must unite in strengthening Africa’s governance and in helping Africa to help itself. Africa now has structures in place to deal with conflict prevention, management and resolution. The African Union and regional organizations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have shown that they are willing and able to assume responsibility for African peace and security, for instance, in Burundi, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sudan.

We must support countries that take courageous steps toward establishing peace as the precursor for development. In Liberia, for example, ECOWAS peacekeeping forces were decisive in restoring peace and security. There is now a platform on which to build economic growth and prosperity. The European Union and the United States should work together to help these efforts.

There is a particular need to support the structure of the African Union and the new Economic Partnership for African Development. In Europe, we have made great strides toward speaking with one voice.We should help Africa to do so, too.

In terms of trade and development, Africa is also lagging behind - Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of world trade has been declining for the past 30 years. For every dollar received in aid, half has been lost as a result of deteriorating terms of trade. If Sub-Saharan Africa could regain just a one percent share of global trade, it would earn $70 billion more in exports - nearly five times the amount that the region receives in foreign aid and debt relief.

The European Union is committed to doing more bilaterally to build capacities in these countries, so that they can actually benefit from opportunities created by trade liberalization in the WTO.We already provide duty-free and quota-free access to our markets for the least developed countries.

Through economic partnership agreements with countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, we support regional integration that helps to overcome the problems of markets that are too small and the capacity constraints that hamper integration into the world economy. The U.S.-Africa Growth and Opportunity Act also aims to address the problems of marginalization. Together we can do even better.

In terms of health and development, Africa is certainly the place hardest hit by disease and avoidable deaths. In particular, we must reinforce our efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by improving access to prevention, vaccines and medicines.

There are hopeful signs.We are seeing the emergence of a new generation of African leaders who are committed to democratic and economic reforms. The African Union is starting to shape a vision of development for Africa as a whole, underpinned by a series of regional organizations. A system of peer review is in place, under which countries monitor the progress of other governments. In short, Africa is taking its future into its own hands, and we must support this process.We must make the next ten years count. Let us build a new Transatlantic Agenda for Development. Let us put our common interests of security, trade, health and development at the heart of the EU-U.S. relationship. If we try hard enough, we can achieve the changes necessary to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. It is a challenge that we must meet together.

Louis Michel is European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid. He was previously Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Institutional Reform of Belgium (1999-2004). He has served as European Commissioner for Research, and has been a member of both the lower and upper houses of the Belgian Parliament, where he led the Parti Réformateur Libéral.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 1-2 in the Winter/Spring of 2005.