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Will the European Union Save the UN Summit?

A fundamental challenge

The European Union has invested significantly in the preparations for the United Nations Millennium Review Summit to take place on 14-16 September in New York. With a small group of countries including the United States having recently thrown the negotiations on the outcome document into a tailspin (see >>> here), the EU is confronted with a significant roadblock and challenge for its leadership towards achieving a meaningful result from the Summit. By Denise Auclair.

For CIDSE, the international coalition of Catholic development agencies, its partners in the Caritas network, and many other civil society actors, the UN Summit is a crucial moment which will determine whether world leaders can prove they are serious about taking credible action in the pursuit of sustainable and equitable development, peace and security, human rights and strengthening the UN. CIDSE’s statement on the Summit underlines that the outcome must demonstrate a genuine commitment to fundamentally change their approach to development by the formation of a genuine partnership with people in developing countries. The stakes are thus considerable.

* Effective multilateralism?
For the EU, the UN Summit could be hoped to provide the evidence that the EU strategy for “effective multilateralism” is bearing fruit. The EU position for the Summit (see the new website of the European Commission >>> here) has been built through a process in 2005 that began in April with a synthesis report on the EU’s contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, accompanied by a series of forward-looking proposals particularly on financing for development, policy coherence, and Africa. Many of these proposals were confirmed by the Council of Ministers in May, and confirmed by EU Heads of State in June.

Civil society has been closely monitoring this process and keeping the pressure high for ambitious EU commitments. CIDSE, in collaboration with other civil society organizations, produced a shadow report on European progress towards Millennium Development Goal 8 (global partnership for development) in April, evaluating the EU’s efforts to date and setting out changes needed if the MDGs are to be achieved. In addition to sections on aid, debt, policy coherence and trade also covered in the official European reports, the report contains analysis and recommendations on a participatory and regular approach to reporting on the MDGs, and on the need for reform of the international finance and trade institutions whose structures maintain poverty and injustice and marginalize the rights of the poorest. The Global Call to Action against Poverty campaign also held high-profile press events before the key EU decision-making meetings to increase peer pressure within the EU and convince reluctant countries to meet citizens’ expectations.

In July, the European Commission published a communication on the EU strategy for the Summit, and at the end of July, a statement made by the EU Presidency on the negotiations on the Summit’s outcomes underlined that “[a] key concern of the EU is that the UN should be a vehicle, indeed the primary international vehicle, for effective multilateralism. That means action to implement the commitments we make in September is as important as the commitments themselves. Action to implement, not opportunities to delay or block.” A premonitory statement indeed.

The obstruction of negotiations by the United States and other states threatens first and foremost the very credibility of the UN to bring about progress in our collective well-being and security (also threatened by other events notably the just-released report of the Independent Inquiry Commission led by Paul Volcker on the UN’s management of the Iraq oil-for-food program). However, given that the EU prides itself on championing “effective multilateralism” with the UN as a central actor, the current situation also presents a fundamental challenge to the EU.

The EU is a major actor in development, human rights and security, which are the focus of the September Summit – it is responsible for over half of global aid and is the first trading partner of developing countries, and its founding values include the promotion of human rights and collective security. Yet serious questions remain as to its capacity to act as a single actor and weigh in on global debates, for all now 25 Member States of the EU to pull together in the same direction. Will the EU be able to resist the attempts at blockage and convince opposing countries to agree on a political compromise that was at an advanced stage before the recent developments?

* Call upon European leaders
CIDSE has called upon European leaders to ensure that the European Union takes a critical stand against attempts to seriously weaken the impact of the Summit’s outcomes document. At the very least, the EU must ensure that the negotiated draft version of the document remains unchanged, if not improved, in its ambition and scope.

On the major issues at stake, the EU has strong reasons to hold firm. The Millennium Development Goals have become a central part of the EU framework for development, so we should expect the EU to oppose efforts to delete any reference to the Goals. The issue of inclusion of the agreed UN target of 0,7% of Gross National Income for Overseas Development Assistance is particularly important to the EU, given that it was able to get a collective agreement from its Member States to reach this target in 2015 and had hoped to use this commitment to stimulate similar pledges from other major donors.

On innovative sources of financing for development, the picture is less clear with continuing divisions between Member States, but with the agreement in principle between EU Ministers on an air ticket tax announced in May, civil society is looking to the EU to announce progress in this area by the Summit. On debt relief, the EU has no real common position, but recognizes that the current debt burden is unsustainable and more must be done beyond the G-8 agreement if developing countries, particularly those in Africa where the EU has a special interest, are to make progress in eradicating poverty.

The question remains whether the EU can maintain a single position on these issues, or whether cracks will appear in the united front. The risk is that those EU Member States which only reluctantly agreed to the ambitious EU commitments earlier this year may use the current situation as a back-door opportunity to renege on those commitments.

* A matter of the EU’s own credibility
The EU’s ability to help bring the Summit to a successful outcome is also, critically, a matter of the EU’s own credibility towards its citizens. With both its Constitution and its future budget recently put on hold, European citizens are asking themselves where the EU is headed and whether it will be able to make a difference in the world, based on the values and desires of its citizens for a more just world.

As the actual Summit appears more and more as a decisive event, rather than as a confirmation of an agreed text, it is unfortunate that the EU has refused to include participants from civil society in its delegation to the UN Summit, unlike many EU Member States. The presence of civil society could have reinforced the EU’s determination and ability to act in favour of progressive outcome, and this exclusion is therefore a missed opportunity.

Throughout 2005 citizens from Europe as well as from all over the world have been mobilizing under the Global Call to Action against Poverty campaign to show their support and demands for leaders to make the significant changes in policy which are needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals as a minimum. CIDSE and its partners alone delivered more than 350.000 postcards from all over the globe to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as president of the G-8, demanding more and better aid, debt cancellation, and an end to dumping that hurts poor countries’ farmers. The next mass mobilization is scheduled for the 10 September “White Band Day,” giving the EU one more good reason to do all it can to save the Summit.

Denise Auclair is Policy Officer for EU development policy at CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity) and Caritas Europa, Brussels.

(Posted: 7.9.2005)

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