EU aid ministers vow unity in global anti-poverty talks


European development ministers have agreed that the EU will speak with one voice in future international negotiations on new targets for sustainable growth and eradicating extreme poverty.

At meetings held in Dublin, the ministers agreed that the EU should take a central role in shaping a new framework for the United Nations’ poverty-fighting targets when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.

Joe Costello, the Irish trade and development minister, said on Tuesday (12 February) that “ensuring a unified EU position to the negotiations to agree a new global development framework” was a priority of his country’s presidency of the EU Council.

“This issue will be at the top of the international agenda for the next two years and I am delighted that European development ministers today agreed to seek to achieve agreement on one set of development targets after 2015, which incorporate environmental sustainability,” he said.

“Our aim is to eliminate extreme poverty within one generation. We believe we now have a historic opportunity to achieve this goal,” Costello said in a statement from Dublin.

The eight MDGs, agreed in 2000, include ending extreme poverty and hunger, expanding education, improving healthcare, and promoting sustainable growth.

While progress across many fronts has been made, the challenges remain daunting. More than one billion people are still living in extreme poverty, especially in Africa, UN figures show. At least one billion people lack safe drinking water, and another two billion live without access to sanitary toilets.

Aid for Mali unblocked

Besides commitments for a unified stand on the post-MDG framework, the ministers also agreed to unblock €250 million in development aid to Mali that was put on hold after a March 2012 coup and an ensuing advance by Islamist rebels across the northern part of the country.

Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said the EU was satisfied that the government was taking steps to restore democracy following a French-led intervention began in January.

"The swift adoption by the Malian authorities of a transition roadmap to restore democracy and stability has opened the door for lifting the precautionary measures taken after the coup d’état of March 2012," Piebalgs said in a statement.

Ireland’s Costello said the EU had already provided €116 million for food and other humanitarian assistance in the past year.

The commitments to the MDGs and to assistance for Mali came four days after EU leaders agreed to cut overall EU spending for 2014-2020 but reversed earlier plans for deep cuts in overseas development and humanitarian aid.

The leaders agreed to spend €58.7 billion over the next seven years to help poorer nations, nearly the same as the previous budget. The figure must still be approved by the European Parliament.

France launched a surprise military operation in Mali on 11 January to dislodge al-Qaeda-linked insurgents from the country's north.

The EU voiced support for France and said it intended to speed up a training mission for Malian forces which had been planned initially for end February 2013.

On development aid policies, the European Commission has planned to allocate €583 million to Mali for the period 2008-2013, focusing on economic development, poverty reduction, food security and drinking water.

But aid was frozen in March 2012 when Islamist insurgents took control of the country's north. Development ministers on 12 February 2013 agreed to gradually resume aid.

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