Aid agencies welcome EU food deal for world’s poorest

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Development NGOs such as Oxfam have largely welcomed an agreement reached by EU budget ministers and MEPs on 21 November to provide €1 billion to the world’s poorest farmers, but urged the EU to address the “structural problems” that fuelled the food crisis.

Under the compromise deal, the EU will pay the €1 billion over three years rather than the two years initially suggested in Barroso’s proposal. The aid will be provided from three sources: 

  • €420 million will be made available through the Union’s flexibility instrument; 
  • €240 million will come from the emergency aid reserve, and; 
  • €240 million from redeployed funds. 

The international relief and development agency Oxfam complained that it had taken the EU five months to clinch the deal and urged governments to move quickly to make their pledges a reality. Oxfam hopes the fund will provide “a vital boost to help those hit hardest by the food crisis”. 

At the same time, the organisation stated that only two-thirds of the €1 billion pledge was “fresh money”, with the rest coming from the existing budget. Aid agencies voiced fears that EU states would simply divert this “new” money from their existing national development aid budgets due to pressure on their own national finances. 

“Such creative accounting would do little to help poor farmers in the developing world,” argued the Irish Times. 

Oxfam and others also warned that a new food crisis was “imminent” unless Europe and other rich countries addressed the structural problems fuelling the food crisis, identified as “rigged trade rules, negligence of agriculture investment and wrong biofuels and climate change policies”. 

The next free trade and global climate change talks will be the real litmus test, argued Oxfam’s Elise Ford. She urged the EU to “urgently compromise” by increasing agricultural aid at the next Doha talks. 

The inter-institutional agreement on the aid package still needs to be formally approved by the European Parliament at its plenary session on 16 December. 

"The fate of millions of poor people rests in Europe being a bold leader in international negotiations," said Oxfam's Elise Ford. "Once again, all eyes will be on European leaders to see if they can live up to the EU's reputation as the global leader on development," Ford said. 

Commission President José Manuel Barroso welcomed the inter-institutional agreement, stating that the money would help farmers in the world's poorest countries to feed themselves and others. "As we tackle the financial and economic crisis, we cannot forget the poorest people in the planet," he said. 

Socialist budget spokeswoman Catherine Guy-Quint  argued along the same lines: "How are we going to explain to these countries where people live with on less than one dollar a day that the EU has been able to save its banks with a plan worth several hundred billion euros but can't find one billion euros for them?," she asked. 

Jutta Haug, spokeswoman of the European Parliament on the 2009 EU budget,  reiteratied the EU's "key role" in fighting poverty, saying: "Failure to act now will seriously damage Europe's image in the world." 

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso proposed the extra financial aid package in July when food prices increased sharply, but member states and the European Parliament could not agree on the financial details. 

Barroso initially wanted to divert some of the €3.4 billion of unused EU agricultural funds to finance the package, but faced strong opposition by net contributors such as Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the European Parliament. 

People in poor countries spend up to 80% of their income on food, according to aid agencies. 

  • 16 Dec 2008: The European Parliament will vote on the deal in plenary

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