COMMITTEE ON WORLD FOOD SECURITY
Rome, 23-26 May 2005
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY
Mr President of Burkina Faso,
Mr Director-General of FAO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should like to thank you, Mr Director-General, for having invited me to address this 31st Session of the Committee on World Food Security.
This meeting takes place at an important time when we stand virtually midway towards the World Food Summit's objective of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 and when preparations are in full swing for next September’s Millennium+5 Summit.
I should like today, in the run-up to this important appointment, to share with you Belgium's views on the current challenges that face development, which is the priority issue of our time.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I see the adoption of the eight Millennium Development Goals as one of the finest and most intelligent of contemporary decisions. It represented a genuine qualitative revolution in the approach to human cohabitation. And, as was recently stated by Bronislaw Geremek in Brussels, it also created the "culpability of indifference" to world poverty.
It is magnificent that the turn of the Millennium should have brought together the 189 Heads of State and Government of the countries belonging to the United Nations to set the common objective of collectively halving the world’s high poverty level by 2015, in other words, of enhancing by half the quality of life in the poor countries of our planet by 2015.
The Millennium Development Goals have changed the very nature of assistance to development. Their universal nature, which commits the leaders of rich and poor countries alike, has transformed development aid, which had hitherto been largely benevolent and often highly paternalistic, into a genuine global strategy of North-South solidarity, into a strategy that also aims to strengthen world stability and security.
But, then, how could we imagine the populations of the rich countries continuing to live in high comfort when one-fifth of humanity (almost half in sub-Saharan Africa) has to live off less than one dollar a day; unable to hold out prospects to younger generations and losing one child every five seconds, half of these children dying for reasons directly linked to malnutrition.
Globalization or the international interdependence of life on earth has quite simply rendered such inequality unacceptable. It is also potentially explosive in terms of migration and security. We can now all see that development is not just a question of charity, justice or morality; it has become a political necessity. At this time of rapid globalization, a threat to one has become a threat to all. That is why development has become the greatest challenge of our time.
As the Secretary-General of the United Nations recalled: "we will not enjoy development without security, we will not enjoy security without development, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights."
This observation should bring the populations and authorities of both the developing countries and the developed countries to fully assume their role in the partnership that binds them.
Of course, each developing country holds primary responsibility for its development. This means ensuring and promoting democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It means strengthening good governance and combating corruption. It means building an enabling legal framework for the private investment that can alone ensure long-term sustainable development.
But, for their part, the developed countries have pledged development assistance to countries that adopt a credible strategy against poverty.
The "Sachs report" estimates that the Millennium Development Goals are feasible if the world’s donor countries raise their development aid to 0.7% of Gross National Product by 2015. Five countries have already reached or exceeded this target: Norway and four countries of the EU - Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Six other countries have pledged to reach the 0.7% target by 2015: Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom. If current trends persist, the European Union could collectively reach 0.42% in 2006.
To return to my country, it was at the Conference of Monterrey in 2002 that Belgium undertook to allocate 0.7% of its GDP to development aid each year until 2010. Belgium will allocate 0.46% of its GDP to development aid this year, ranking it six or seventh in the world. If we in Belgium are to achieve the objective we set, we will have to increase our official development assistance by 0.05% of GDP each year until 2010.
This evening I shall be participating in the meeting of the Council of EU Cooperation Ministers in Brussels. We will be discussing the funding of the Millennium Development Goals and, on behalf of the Belgian Government, I shall be supporting the European Commission's proposal that the 15 older Members allocate 0.51% of their GDP to development by 2010, while the 10 newer Members of the European Union will be asked to allocate 0.17% of their Gross Domestic Product by the same date.
These binding targets should enable the European Union to achieve an average of 0.56% in 2010, if we take into account the Member States that are doing much more for development and that I cited earlier: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden. This collective effort on the part of the countries of the European Union will release an additional 20 billion Euros for development assistance in 2010. It will give the European Union and its Member States a 56% share of official development assistance in the world, confirming its position as number-one player in this domain that is so important for the future of our planet.
As you can see, Belgium is a strong believer in the effectiveness of official development assistance through dedicated national budgets. We are however open to all other proposals for additional assistance, provided this does not replace official assistance. In this regard, my colleague from the Treasury, Didier Reynders, and I view the idea of a modest air ticket surcharge with interest.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allocating such a large volume of public funds to development assistance requires strong grassroots support. Unfortunately that support is still too often missing. While the Millennium Development Goals have now become the universal frame of reference for development activity, 88 percent of Europeans are still unaware of their existence.
If we are to muster broader support, we will first have to convince people of the usefulness of development assistance, then of its effectiveness, and finally of the transparency of its management.
Having expounded at length on the basic reasons for the usefulness of aid, I should now like to turn briefly to the equally important matter of its effectiveness. When I was placed in charge of development cooperation some ten months ago, I was struck by the fact that discussion of the effectiveness of aid was relatively recent and that progress in this area was still extremely slow.
The effectiveness of aid will, of course, depend first on the progress made by developing countries in terms of governance and eliminating corruption. Effectiveness will then also depend on coherence in the development and trade policies of the donor countries. In this regard, I hope that the WTO will pursue its work of facilitation, under the leadership of Mr Lamy. The effectiveness of aid will also depend on the harmonization of procedures put in place by donor countries and by beneficiary countries. The OECD is carrying out highly relevant work in this regard which I hope will soon enable us to make significant progress. Finally, the effectiveness of aid will depend on the quality and closeness of cooperation among the donor states.
It is striking to note that governments still too often prefer bilateral action, at the expense of the broader effectiveness available from the pooling of resources and the sharing of policies.
Belgium is and remains open to collective action and is also intensifying its direct cooperation with the European Commission.
The Europeans need to further "Europeanize" their policies of development assistance. This will make it all the more relevant and thus all the more effective. The effectiveness of aid will also depend on the recipient countries having control and ownership of their development policy.
I am totally convinced that there can be no true development without collective awareness of the challenges involved, without the common will to break out of poverty. The Sachs report quite rightly recommends that each developing country should rapidly draw up a poverty reduction strategy based on the Millennium Development Goals.
Belgium is encouraging this approach through the World Bank, financing development economists called in to help countries elaborate such strategies. One way of supporting the process of ownership is to encourage civil society in our partner countries to participate in the debate on development.
In this connection, I am pleased to highlight the important role played in Africa’s rural development by local and municipal authorities and farmers' organizations. As was admirably explained by Ousmane Sy, the winner of the King Baudouin International Development Prize and the father of Mali's decentralization: a population that is aware of the potential rewards and that is involved in its own development is an essential pillar of good governance, without which sustainable economic take-off cannot be seriously envisaged.
Finally, equally important is the targeting of assistance. We have to wage the correct war. Our battle is against poverty, against destitution. That is why we need to focus first on the poorest and most vulnerable of countries.
I began my address by citing those terrible figures on poverty in Africa. It is this reality, as well as the historical ties and geographical proximity that link Africa with Europe, that have convinced us of the absolute need to give priority to the development of this continent. Thirteen of Belgium's eighteen partner countries in the field of development are situated in Africa.
That is where we are active, from North to South, from East to West, but we do naturally pay special attention to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region. These countries have known wars, conflicts and genocide. They have experienced the darkest tragedies of the last quarter century. Each day Belgium helps to draw the international community's attention to the situation in this region which, we are convinced, will determine the future of the entire African continent.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
These principles that I have just mentioned, and which I consider to be essential for effective aid, are principles that we try to implement in our cooperation with FAO.
The three major programmes that are financed by Belgium – urban and periurban agriculture, the participatory approach and land-use management, and technical support to the DRC – place great emphasis on the strengthening of structures and institutions, on investment in human capital, on the active participation of the populations concerned and on dialogue with the local authorities.
The links between my country and FAO have a long and intense history. Many Belgian graduates from our excellent centres of tropical agriculture work and have worked in FAO. Many have also cooperated in the field with their colleagues from FAO.
All this has undoubtedly created a genuine feeling of kinship between FAO and the Belgian community active in development. If we are today FAO's fifth largest bilateral contributor, it is because we share with your Organization the same outlook, the same ethical perception of development.
It is because we are proud of our shared history and anxious to pursue our collaboration, that my country attaches high importance to the external and independent evaluation of FAO that is about to begin. We see this exercise as an opportunity to better integrate FAO and its programmes into the United Nations system and thus to reinforce the authority and influence of this Organization on the international scene and in the countries in which it operates.
We know, Mr Director-General, that we can count on your unstinting support in this important exercise.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are all convinced that FAO has a major role to play in the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. That is not only because 70% of the poor live in rural areas, but also because there can be no lasting success, for example in education or against AIDS, without first winning the battle against hunger. Rural development therefore needs to be given higher priority in terms of resources and policies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I shall be scrutinizing the document on FAO and the challenge of the Millennium Development Goals that has just been published.
I shall also be closely examining the report of this Thirty-first Session of the CFS and of your discussions at the special events organized in parallel to this meeting, especially on the MDGs.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Whether donor countries, partner countries or international organizations, we all have a common responsibility towards humanity as a whole. As Dostoevsky wrote in his novel The Brothers Karamazov: "everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything".