Millennium Development Goals: No more broken promises

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The EU must be brave and work much harder to deliver on its global development goals, argues UK Labour MEP Michael Cashman, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the Millennium Development Goals, in an exclusive commentary for EURACTIV. 

The following commentary was sent exclusively to EURACTIV by UK Labour MEP Michael Cashman.  

"The clock is ticking, and millions of lives are in danger. With time fast running out on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the EU's actions in the coming days and weeks will likely be felt for years to come. We cannot afford to sit back and wait, and failure is not an option. The stakes are too high.

With European development ministers set to prepare the ground for the bloc's position on the MDGs, which will be adopted at the upcoming council this month, the signs are worrying. Now is not the time for half measures. The EU must have the guts to deliver on its development promises, and take the lead in proposing an ambitious rescue package when world leaders meet in September.

Back in 2000, we made a commitment to the world's poor that we would step up our efforts in the fight against poverty, signing up to specific time-bound and measurable targets to improve education and health, protect the environment and reduce hunger. But donors are failing to live up to their promises, and EU countries are no exception. The facts speak for themselves, but it's time for EU leaders to start listening. With five years remaining, we are off track on all eight MDGs, slipping ever further behind our targets amid the competing concerns of the global economic crisis.

Yes, some progress has been made. But we need more. The three health MDGs, in particular, are suffering from our failures, and child mortality levels remain unacceptably high. Next week, in the European Parliament, I will host an event dedicated to raising awareness of the facts surrounding child mortality, organised by the Action for Global Health network. While the number of under-five deaths has dropped slightly, we are still a long way from achieving our targets. In one day, more than 25,000 children under five die from largely preventable causes – diarrhoea, measles, malaria, malnutrition and HIV/Aids. As policymakers, we cannot allow this to continue unchecked.

The EU remains the world's largest donor of overseas development aid (ODA), but we are falling some €20bn short of our spending commitments. Despite emptying their pockets to the tune of trillions of dollars bailing out banks, the majority of governments are well behind the 0.7% GNI (Gross National Income) earmarked for ODA. These targets must be met, there is no alternative. We must invest in the future.

Of course, development policy does not mean simply throwing money at a problem and hoping it goes away. But we have committed to a global partnership for development, which means more and better aid. And the Lisbon Treaty ensures that our moral obligation to reduce and eradicate poverty is the EU's primary development policy objective.

My report, which will be voted on by the European Parliament next week ahead of the European Council, therefore calls on member states to set legally binding targets for more predictable aid. But it also calls for new, innovative sources of finance, including a financial transaction tax and an optional 'poverty charge' on luxury goods. The financial transaction tax, which appears to be slowly winning favour in a number of member states, could generate as much as €10bn a year, and a unilateral commitment by the EU could act as a global catalyst, paving the way for other nations to follow suit.

Above all, the EU must make sure it doesn't give with one hand and take with the other. All EU policies must take into account the effect on poverty reduction, and our stance on fisheries, farming and trade must not undermine our development work.

The European Council's position must be ambitious; member states must be brave. The EU must renew its efforts towards the Millennium Development Goals by reaching a united position and taking the lead in proposing new, results-orientated, additional, transparent and measurable commitments. Failing to meet our MDG promises will mean a death sentence for millions. The EU must not have that on its conscience."

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