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Development Ministers discuss Millennium Goals and situation in Burma/ Myanmar

In the context of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC), the EU ministers responsible for international development cooperation, headed by Slovenian State Secretary Andrej Šter, convened on Monday and Tuesday in Brussels. Although the main focus was on the European Union’s contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the ministers discussed also the humanitarian situation in Myanmar. “As the major donor of development aid, the EU is aware of its responsibility in achieving the MDGs, so the conclusions we have confirmed are an important step in this direction,” commented Mr Šter at the end of the meeting.

He also reported that the ministers had agreed that, in their efforts for the progress in this field, the Member States would prepare multi-annual national timetables on funding development until 2010 and 2015, with the European Commission monitoring and reporting on these efforts annually. The conclusions will serve as a basis for the participation of both the Member States and the Commission at this year’s international forums on the subject of the MDGs; they will, moreover, provide input on the subject to inform the conclusions of the June meeting of the European Council.

The ministers also reviewed the status of negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). “EPAs are a key component of our external relations with the ACP countries, in which the EU places great emphasis on partnership and cooperation,” said Mr Šter. The conclusions adopted confirm the EU’s commitment to further negotiations and implementation of the EPAs. Implementation of the development dimension of the agreements plays a very important part in the process. By adopting these conclusions, the ministers intended to send a positive message prior to the meeting of the ACP-EC Council to be held in Addis Ababa in June.

In addition, the ministers confirmed conclusions on humanitarian aid following the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in Burma/Myanmar. The conclusions state the EU's support for the efforts of the UN and the ASEAN countries and advocate the coordination of efforts with international and local agencies and NGOs. The ministers were acquainted with the latest estimates of the impact of the disaster and undertook to work to further eliminate obstacles and to ensure the more accessible and efficient delivery of supplies to the affected population. “The EU welcomes the Myanmar authorities’ decision to facilitate the access of supplies to the affected areas; there are still, however, concerns about remaining obstacles in terms of estimating the impact of the disaster and of expert monitoring of the aid provided,” reported Mr Šter.

Given that the focus was on the massive humanitarian disaster, the ministers did not discuss the constitutional referendum carried out on 10 and 24 May in Burma/Myanmar; however, GAERC will return to this issue on a future occasion.

The ministers devoted some attention to the promotion and protection of the rights of children in external activities, stressing development and humanitarian dimensions. This topic is one of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency, and the conclusions adopted contribute guidelines to boost the effective inclusion of children's rights in the EU’s external cooperation instruments and they also take account of the needs of children in exceptional circumstances, especially children separated from their families and unaccompanied children, as well as the education of children in exceptional circumstances.  The Presidency’s efforts in the field of children’s rights extend beyond development cooperation. “We advocate an integrated approach that embraces human rights and ESDP operations,” declared Mr Šter.

At their working dinner on Monday, the ministers discussed the topic of women in armed conflicts as a reminder of the importance of gender equality in development cooperation and of the need for the EU to make a special commitment in this field. The Presidency took the opportunity to call for a comprehensive EU approach to resolving the issue as well as to more specific EU action in this area, both cross-sectoral and within individual sectors. The Presidency made a special public statement on the subject.

The meeting concluded with a working lunch and an informal discussion on the scale of the rapid rise in food prices, the associated threat to the food supply of millions of people throughout the world, especially in the poorest countries, and international and EU measures to limit the crisis. Guests in this discussion were the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Dr Jacques Diouf, and the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), John M. Powell. The ministers were unanimous that food aid to the poorest and the most vulnerable population groups needed to be increased, as did long-term investments in agriculture and rural development in developing countries.


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Date: 30.05.2008