Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The EU must focus on poverty eradication in South Asia as a policy area in its own right, says a leading development campaigner.

BRUSSELS, Oct 13 (IPS) - The EU must focus on poverty eradication in South Asia as a policy area in its own right, says a leading development campaigner.

Dr Rukmini Rao of the Centre of World Solidarity (CWS), an Indian development non-governmental organisation, says European Union (EU) development policy must work particularly to achieve the eradication of poverty in the South Asian region.

”South Asia is not just asking for more money, but we want the funds that are available to be used for poverty eradication alone,” she told IPS in an interview Wednesday (Oct 13). ”The development perspective of the EU's external aid must be maintained.”

Rao insists the poverty situation in countries such as India will not change ”unless development remains a focus.”

South Asia, which includes Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Pakistan, remains home to almost 40 percent of the world's poor living on less than one dollar a day. That translates to some 1.2 billion people living in absolute poverty.

Rao, who is in Brussels to promote the South Asian cause, is particularly concerned about new proposals adopted by the European Commission, the EU executive arm. The proposals involve slimming down the commission's wide range of geographical and thematic instruments for development aid.

The new framework includes an instrument for pre-accession assistance to candidate countries and a European neighbourhood and partnership instrument to cover third countries participating in the European neighbourhood policy, namely countries of the south and eastern Mediterranean and the countries of the southern Caucasus.

A new instrument for stability aims will tackle crises and instability in third countries and will also address ”trans-border challenges” including nuclear safety and non-proliferation, and the fight against trafficking, organised crime and terrorism.

Existing instruments governing humanitarian aid and macro-economic assistance remain in place.

Rao is particularly concerned about the new development cooperation and economic cooperation instrument which will cover countries, territories and regions not eligible for assistance under either the pre-accession instrument or the European neighbourhood and partnership instrument.

Rao says that the Union must not treat developed and developing countries the same with regards to its external assistance and other relationships.

”The danger is that the EU is putting countries like India and Japan in the same basket when they are talking about development policy and external aid. You cannot do this as there are too many differences between the two countries,” she said.

Rao adds that such a ”mixing of instruments” will also put increased pressure on development resources and could take the focus off poverty eradication in South Asian countries.

”It's a tricky situation,” she said. ”Business policies should focus on business, economic policies should focus on economics and development cooperation should focus on poverty eradication. The EU must name things correctly and ensure each instrument does what it says, otherwise it will only be the businessmen who will gain from the relationships.”

Similar concerns have been expressed by Brussels-based NGOs who say that the combined instrument will compromise development aid for the neediest countries.

Rao adds that the commission's proposals may also jeopardise efforts to build a coherent approach to development aimed at poverty eradication and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by heads of state in September 2000.

”The goals of the MDGs are very clear but the EU has to ensure that they will be achieved. This could be easily achieved as EU member states have a long history with many of the developing countries, but they need to remain focused on them,” she said.

Whilst in Brussels, Rao will also meet members of the European Parliament to discuss ways the bloc's newest member states can forge a shared development perspective for countries such as India.

Drawing parallels between India and some of the EU's newest member states which joined the bloc in May, Rao says that the countries should share their experiences.

”Many of the EU's newest member states are in the same situation as India -- while they are not absolutely poor, there are extremely poor areas within the countries. We want to work with them so that they can reach out and embrace their new roles as international donors,” she said.

In spite of concerns over the EU's changing development cooperation, Rao says she is optimistic that her development message will be heard.

”I know things won't happen overnight but I am sure they will gradually change. European citizens are very generous and believe that poverty eradication is extremely important. Europe is still a democracy so I hope that the policy makers will listen to what they want,” she said. (END/2004)

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