|The European Union and its Member States are currently the world's biggest donors of development and humanitarian aid. The main objective of EU development policy is to reduce poverty. To achieve this, MEPs have placed the emphasis on improving education and health systems. A key feature of development policy in this parliamentary term has been decentralisation, the aim being to tailor EU-backed measures more closely to local circumstances and people's needs. With its legislative and budgetary powers, the European Parliament plays a major role in this policy area.
Some 800 million people, including 200 million children, suffer from chronic malnutrition and 20% of the world's population lives on less than one US dollar a day. Almost all of these people live in developing countries, as do 90% of Aids sufferers. Over the past 40 years, the EU has pursued a proactive approach to reduce North-South inequality. From the 1960s onward, the EEC concluded agreements with a number of developing countries before development cooperation policy became a separate policy in 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty. The Community is required to take account of development policy goals in its other policies and coordinate its measures with those of the Member States, third countries and international organisations.
Greater decentralisation and diversification
The approach of development policy is changing to align it more closely to local circumstances and recipients' needs. Every effort is now made to involve civil society in development work, both in the countries concerned and in the EU. Thus, public authorities, professional bodies, trade unions, schools, cultural establishments, churches and indigenous peoples' organisations can all receive direct financial aid from the Community.
The European Parliament insisted that the organisations that benefit from decentralisation should include social movements fighting for democratisation and human rights and in particular for social rights. Parliament believes non-state entities should also be consulted by the Commission in drawing up development strategies. Support for NGOs and respect for human rights are among the budgetary priorities put forward to the Council of Ministers by Parliament year after year. The idea is that development must not remain a policy area governed purely by inter-state relations.
Moreover, the generosity of donor countries is not always wholly selfless. Most government-funded development aid serves to finance the purchase of goods and services from donor countries - and is hence known as 'tied aid'. 'Untying' aid means putting an end to this more or less direct link between the granting of aid and the signing of contracts. Parliament has demanded the complete untying of all development aid within five years.
Giving priority to health and education
Of the many issues dealt with by Parliament during this parliamentary term, health and education were particularly emphasised. The fight against illnesses linked to poverty, Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, is an urgent matter worldwide. The devastating effects of Aids are undermining the gains achieved by development policy over the years. Parliament therefore backed the creation of a global fund to fight these diseases and significantly increased the Community's contribution to it. And MEPs have repeatedly stressed that better access to information and care would help in the fight both against Aids and poverty.
MEPs think poverty will only be reduced if more people have access to adequate health care and education. It has regularly underlined the importance of basic education and called for maximum efforts to achieve the Millennium Development target of universal primary education by 2015. Currently, some 113 million children do not go to school, with girls accounting for the great majority of them, while 860 million people in developing countries are illiterate. Parliament would like 8% of the Commission's development budget to be earmarked for education, as opposed to the 4% allocated in 2001. This would include adult literacy campaigns, in particular those targeted at women.
Humanitarian aid: a showcase for EU external action?
ECHO, the Community Humanitarian Aid Office founded in 1992, has become the principal provider of humanitarian aid in the world with an expenditure of over EUR 600 million in 2003. This Commission body was created at the European Parliament's prompting. ECHO assesses humanitarian aid needs and it finances partner organisations working in this area. In its role as an arm of the EU Budgetary Authority, the European Parliament highlights every year the need to increase funding levels. And through its resolutions on ECHO's work, it exerts influence over the office's choice of priorities and emphasises the principle of neutrality of humanitarian aid.
One source of concern for Parliament is that ECHO's activities do not enjoy a high profile. The food aid distributed to children in Africa and elsewhere by well-known NGOs or by UN agencies is to a large extent paid for with Community funds and therefore financed by European taxpayers, who more often than not are unaware of the fact.
EUROMED: Euro-Mediterranean partnership
The Barcelona process was launched at the end of 1995 by the European Union and twelve Mediterranean states: Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Two of them, Malta and Cyprus, joined the EU on 1 May 2004 and Turkey is a candidate for EU membership. In addition, Libya announced at the end of February 2004 that it was ready to join the Barcelona process. The aim of the partnership is to enhance political dialogue and economic development so as to ensure peace and prosperity in the region. Just like the Cotonou Agreement with the ACP countries (see our note "EU-ACP"), the Euro-Mediterranean partnership emphasises the role to be played by civil society. Eventually, a free trade area is to be established between all the partners. Currently, the partnership takes concrete form in a series of agreements between the EU and the various Mediterranean states. The MEDA programme is the financial instrument designed to assist the economic development of the partner states. Its budget for 2000-2006 totals EUR 5.35 billion, a figure which does not include any additional loans granted by the European Investment Bank.
The Euromed partnership also affects Parliament on the institutional front. MPs from all the EU Member States, the Mediterranean countries and the European Parliament used to meet in a Parliamentary Forum. At the Ministerial Conference in Naples in December 2003, it was decided that the Forum should be transformed into a more substantial Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA), the first session of which was held in Athens on 22 and 23 March 2004. This change should result in greater input from the 240 MPs (45 of whom are MEPs), who will have the opportunity to express their views regularly on all issues relating to the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.