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Achieving The UN’s Millennium Declaration Vision

Achieving the vision of the UN’s Millennium Declaration

Op-Ed By Louis Michel – European Union Commissioner for Aid and Development

Next week, leaders from around the world will gather in New York at the UN General Assembly for a review of progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Agreed by the international community in 2000, the MDGs are to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

The European Union has geared its development policy firmly towards poverty reduction. We share the vision of the UN`s Millennium Declaration: a world free from want.

The good news is that the world is on track to achieve some of these objectives, such as on universal primary education and the education of girls. But this is not enough. Despite all efforts by donors and developing countries, extreme poverty remains a daily reality for more than 1 billion people today. 1 in 4 do not have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. 114 million children do not have access to primary school. Especially in sub Saharan Africa, many countries are lagging well behind in areas like hunger, infant mortality, maternal mortality, communicable diseases and environmental sustainability.

We must do more, and better. Not as an act of charity, but out of enlightened self-interest: all of us are vulnerable to what we think of as dangers only threatening other people. Millions more of Africa’s inhabitants would plunge below the poverty line if a major terrorist attack against a financial centre in the developed world were to cause a global economic downturn. At the same time millions of Europeans (or Australians) could quickly become infected by a disease breaking out in a country with poor health care and carried across frontiers by travellers.

In a globalised world, no nation can thrive on its own: our safety, our prosperity, our freedom are indivisible. The main challenge the international community must face today is to ensure that globalisation becomes a positive force for all mankind. Despite the considerable opportunities it offers, globalisation’s benefits and costs are currently unequally distributed.

There is no sustainable development without peace and security. We believe that sustainable development is the best structural response to the root causes of violence and conflict and the best way to harness globalisation. This is the joint message we will carry to the UN Summit in New York on 14 September.

To achieve progress, all countries must work together. The European Union is conscious of its particular responsibility as the largest donor and the most important trading partner of the developing world. Its combined financial commitment represents about 55% of all public development aid spent worldwide. It allows the least developed countries free access to its markets. In 2004, developing countries had a more than 60% share in all EU agricultural imports and an almost 70% share in all EU textile imports.

But we are ready to do more and better. This spring, the European Union decided to almost double its yearly budget for public development aid over the next 10 years. Altogether, the EU’s development budget will increase by more than one third in only four years: from approximately €46 billion in 2006 to about €66 billion in 2010. With these additional funds, the EU will, for example, be able to bring safe drinking water to 730,000 villages, support 130,000 AIDS orphans in Malawi or train 35,000 teachers in Kenya.

The cost for the European taxpayer? The equivalent of three movie tickets, or two DVDs per year.

We are not only committed to more aid, but also to more effective aid. The EU is determined to improve both our capacity to deliver and recipient countries’ absorption capacities. We have set up an ambitious agenda that goes beyond international efforts to reduce the transaction cost of aid and its burden on partner countries. But we will not just provide new resources, we will also work towards improving trading opportunities for developing countries. We are committed to ensuring that the outcome of the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda lives up to its name.

With these decisions, the European Union has taken the lead in the quest to halve poverty within the next ten years. To make this happen, other donor countries also have to deliver on the aid and trade for development.

Developing countries themselves, however, also have to deliver on their part of the bargain. A key lesson from 40 years of development co-operation and economic history is that development is something largely determined by the approach of the poor countries themselves. The effectiveness of aid as well as the capacity to exploit market access largely depends on the institutions and policies of each developing country. The international community can support developing countries’ efforts in this respect, but the policy choices are for them to make.

The EU, with its wide array of common and coordinated policies, its web of partnership and co-operation agreements and its network of approximately 130 representations around the world is uniquely placed to help developing countries address the challenges they face in economic development, employment and social development, environment, climate change, security, agriculture and fisheries, research and development.

We want to put these at the service of development, to realise the vision that inspired the Millennium Declaration: "Only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity, can globalisation be made fully inclusive and equitable"

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