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Michael Cashman: Strong EU leadership needed to achieve MDGs

Ten years ago, world leaders agreed to act to eradicate world poverty by 2015, setting targets in eight priority MDG fields, such as reducing poverty and hunger by 50%, full primary education and eliminating gender disparity and health-related issues. With only 5 years to go before the targets have to be met, MEPs fear that the EU will not be able to keep its development commitments. During the plenary session of the European Parliament this week, Michael Cashman, rapporteur for the Development committee, urged the EU show greater leadership on this issue by reaching its target of 0.7%.

TLE : As rapporteur on progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, what is your assessment of this achievement ? Which objectives can be reached ? What are the key domains that the EU should focus on until 2015 ?

Michael Cashman : First of all, we have made some progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). But, overall, we have not made sufficient progress on the whole. What is deeply worrying is that member states of the European Union are not keeping their commitment to the percentage of aid to which committed in 2000. We calling on them to maintain their obligations. We’re also saying that there need to be additional ways of financing. The extra monies that we need to deal with the economic crisis which is affecting us in developed countries, and is affecting those in developing countries, in an unimaginably negative way. It’s having appalling consequences.

Of course, the additional funding that is needed to do with the consequences of the climate change crisis because it effects food security, it effects access to water, to sanitation, and brings additional burdens on the Millennium Goals that we wish to achieve.

Also, the EU member states are currently 20 billion euros short of their MDG spending commitments. They have to address this. There have been some encouraging signs on the Millennium development goals on maternal and child mortality rates. But on issues around preventable diseases and causes of death, there has been less progress. There been improvements on access to education.

We have to realize that all the EU policies must be coherent which each another. They must not be in conflict so that what we try to do in one area is not undermined by our policy decisions in other areas such as export subsidies, common fisheries policy, common agricultural policies, etc.

TLE : How can the EU contribute to the achievement of those goals ? Yesterday the Parliament voted on your report, what is its opinion ?

MC : The Parliament is squarely behind my recommendations. What can the EU do is make sure that those countries which said that they would contribute to 0.7% of their gross national income commit their monies, and we get the funding and the programs we need to deal with the problems of the Millennium Development Goals.

There is also look the prospect of introducing an international financial transaction tax. This could be used as an the additional funding that is needed, to reach our goals.

It’s also about making sure that we deal with tax havens, tax evasion and governance in developing countries, so that where they have economies and are collecting taxes, that they use these taxes for the benefit of their citizens.

On the European side, there has to be transparency among the member states about how much they have said they have committed, and how much they have actually committed each year. We need to have an EU peer review group on this matter. Interestingly this is resisted by some member states, yet France and Germany have sought exactly this kind of mechanism in relation to member states’ national budgets which will be sent to the European Commission for oversight. So it seems to me that if it’s good on the one hand for the EU, let’s make sure that it’s good for developing world also. So that kind of monitoring and peer review, which we can promote at the UN summit in September, will mean that Europe leading on this, and we won’t want to have another Copenhagen, where everything ends in acrimony, disappointment and disillusionment.

TLE : What does the Parliament expect from the European Council on Thursday ? Are you backed by the European heads of state ?

MC : Whether this is backed or not backed by the European heads of states, they will have to deal with this issue. They have to maintain their commitments to additional funding to deal with climate change, and the fact is that we need to meet these development goals. It is in our long-term interest. Less developed countries that have trade with us are a benefit to us. They use our services and our goods.

However, if the European Council fails to deal this issues by not setting up a peer monitoring group to monitor of how much is committed and how much is spent, and if they don’t bring forward messages to encourage additional funding, then EU will actually lose its moral and it’s legal authority. The EU heads of state and governments will have to answer to themselves to that, because it’s no use signing up when the good times are rolling, and then back away in times of difficulty. It’s like changing your principles to suit the circumstances, and that’s not the EU I know, which is based on legal certainty, treaties and legally binding obligations.

TLE : With the economic crisis, are European leaders and populations more reluctant to pay for development ? How will you persuade them ?

MC : The economic crisis is a wonderful excuse for inaction. Although, what is fantastic is that at Gleneagles Member States did not commit to give a specific amount of money. So they can’t crawl out of it this way to say that we can no longer afford it.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
are eight international development goals that all 192 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. They include reducing extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development. Read more about the MDGs here.
It was cleverly developed into a mechanism whereby they would donate 0.7%, not even 1%, of their gross national product ! So of you earn less, you still contribute the same percentage but you contribute less, it’s all directly relative, and when we talk about paying for the millennium development goals, we have to look at how historically we have used the developing countries to fuel our wealth. For centuries, we robbed and pillaged in places like Africa and in parts of Asia, and now we have a moral obligation to set that right. If a child is starving in another country, or a mother is dying because she cannot access a medicine, as human beings it is as important to us as if it was happening to us. And so the payment that people talk about is our investment in a world which is more equal.

The MDG are a set of minimum standards that we should achieve. We are living in a world which is more equal, and actually shows that currency flows and migratory flows begin to diminish because people live in sustainable communities and with sustainable lives.

TLE : Do you think the development budget of the EU could be better distributed ? Is this budget enough ?

MC : Firstly, the budget is enough. What we need is predictable aid so that people can plan projects. We need transparency on how the money is used, we need aid effectiveness so that we make sure that the aid brings about change. However, we also need to look at additional funding to deal with issues like mitigating the effects of climate change, which have appalling negative consequences in rural communities. At the moment if we use the development budget wisely it is fine as it is. We’ve got to make sure that the 20 billion euro shortfall of our commitments is addressed; it can’t be ignored. If we work for a good, strong, predictable budget, we can bring about real positive changes.

Related articles :

Development policy - Touteleurope.fr
Michael Cashman - European Parliament website
Strong EU commitment needed to get MDGs back on track - European Parliament news

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