Brussels conference hears EU must tackle world poverty

European nations failing to meet 0.7% aid commitment due to ‘lack of political will’

The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, which Luxembourg’s MEP Charles Goerens says has brought shame on Europe, may finally create the impetus needed to end this rhetoric and initiate action. Photograph: Giovanni Isolino/AFP/Getty Images

The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, which Luxembourg’s MEP Charles Goerens says has brought shame on Europe, may finally create the impetus needed to end this rhetoric and initiate action. Photograph: Giovanni Isolino/AFP/Getty Images

 

“Our world. Our dignity. Our future.” Written in bright, eye-catching colours, the European Year for Development slogan drapes across the courtyard of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Inside the parliament, thousands gathered earlier this month to discuss Europe’s commitment to making this dignified world a reality.

Speaking at the opening address of the European Development Days (EDD) forum in Brussels, Luxembourg’s president Xavier Bettel broke the monotony of pre-prepared speeches by launching into an impassioned call for action in the face of injustice.

“I would ask political leaders to really focus on what dignity means,” said Mr Bettel. “Everyone can make a difference. We need to convince people that they too can contribute to development.”

The harsh reality of those fleeing their countries only to face the risk of drowning in the Mediterranean is unacceptable, Mr Bettel told attendees.

“Development co-operation is not a luxury. We may need help in the future, we need to help those countries now.”

With the upcoming international conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in July, the UN conference on the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals in New York in September and the Climate Change conference in Paris in December, “universality” was the word on everyone’s lips at the annual EDD event.

Development aid is no longer about rich nations donating to poor countries, but is a universal commitment, says MEP Linda McAvan.

“The problems we have are shared problems – all countries are facing tax avoidance, all countries are facing global inequality,” she said, adding that the seemingly never-ending cycle of poverty is intertwined with climate change.

‘Lead by example’

“We understand the budgetary constraints that a number of member countries are still facing but some of the major EU economies are still very far from the target. The only explanation is a lack of political will and... commitment”.

“We only have four member states meeting the target of 0.7 per cent. The largest economy in the EU, Germany, is not meeting the target and that is not because of budgetary constraints.”

In his report into financing for development, Mr Pereira says the EU must play a key role in establishing “well-balanced, fair and efficient tax systems” in developing countries that are “sensitive to the most vulnerable groups”.

He adds that domestic resources are one of the largest sources of finance for developing countries and that bringing an end to tax evasion will play a critical role in scaling back the growing levels of inequality in global society.

Luxembourg’s MEP Charles Goerens says developing nations must “take ownership” of their own development with the support of the developed world. “It’s not for us to develop them, they have to develop themselves.”

Last month, President Michael D Higgins said governments worldwide needed to move beyond “rhetorical gestures” to make decisions that will change all our futures.

Shame on Europe

“We don’t have the right to walk away from saving these people,” said Mr Goerens. “This is a European mission. The southern frontier of Italy is the southern frontier of the EU. It’s imposed on us by international maritime law and the Geneva Convention.”

Goal 8 of the proposed Post-2015 Development Agenda, released in draft form last week ahead of the September conference and co-signed by Irish ambassador to the UN David Donoghue, states the importance of the protection and safety of migrants. Dóchas director Hans Zomer says the EU must examine the causes of the migrant crisis, as well carrying out rescue operations.

“We’ve ignored the situation in Libya for a long time and now the destabilisation of that country is affecting us directly,” says Mr Zomer.

“We cannot afford to turn our heads away from the failure of many countries to look after their own citizens. We have to look at what is driving these emigrants and refugees from their homes.”