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Europe

'The EU needs more ambition to combat poverty'

In a DW interview, the European Union Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, has called on Europe to extend the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and do more to combat global poverty.

By 2015, the United Nations intends to halve poverty in the world, a goal agreed at the Millennium Summit in 2000. At the "European Development Days" in Brussels, the EU is now taking stock and considering new goals and methods together with the developing countries. The development goals, however, are unlikely to be met. With few exceptions, developed countries in Europe do not provide the promised 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) as development aid.

DW: Mr Piebalgs, you say that poverty in the world could be abolished during our lifetime. Why are you so optimistic?

EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs

EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs

Andris Piebalgs: Around the world, we have six billion people who live in prosperity, and one billion people who are poor. Just by redistributing income, we could reach those at the lowest end. The affected countries themselves must make a political contribution, but we must deliver on our promises; namely, to provide 0.7 percent of gross domestic product as development aid.

This year, Great Britain, for example, reached this threshold. This shows it is possible. We have the resources and the technology to bring people out of extreme poverty.

Despite all efforts, the Millennium Development Goals that were set in 2000 for 2015, will not be fully achieved in two years' time. Do you need new goals, reduced goals, or can you just go about business as usual?

When I started thinking about 2015 and beyond, I first thought we should carry on as before. That's because the Millennium Development Goals are formulated in such a way that they pretend to halve poverty. They do not require poverty to be completely eradicated in our lifetime. These goals are essentially modest and not very ambitious.

The partner countries we are talking to are demanding that we also include access to jobs and justice. Because when you live on handouts and cannot work, it's still not a decent life. Environmental protection and poverty also go together. The environment must have a place in this larger framework.

The objectives after 2015 should be broader. Scientific opinions and indicators show us that we can do it. Even if all this is very complex and wide-ranging, you can influence the most important elements that bring about prosperity in every nation.

Extreme poverty is still a big problem, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. What do you tell your African partners when it comes to good governance?

There is the special "Ibrahim Indicator" für Govermment Leadership in Africa, which I find very good. Using this as a yardstick one can see that in most African countries there have been real improvements since 2006 in government leadership, but the indicator sets off the alarm bells in areas like security and the rule of law.

These are areas that are very difficult to influence. We can provide money, expertise and technology, but we cannot ensure the rule of law. That is an inherent task of every government itself. That is why we should expect from our partners that they create a state ruled by law because that offers the security that investors and other donors need.

Furthermore, we need a credible plan for development and growth. There is a dynamic in this direction, but it is not moving fast enough. This is where funding from donor countries can help. Last year, for example, we initiated our largest cooperation program in Mozambique, Ethiopia and Niger, and in these three countries there was a clear connection between the financial aid and economic growth. That is why we had above average growth there.

If you now look at Europe and the EU member states: Is it primarily a matter of money, or is it about political will and making commitments? Where do you see shortfalls?

I think it is mostly about political obligations. Nobody has forced us to promise 0.7 percent of our gross domestic product for development aid. We have repeatedly promised to do so and now we must keep that promise. People are watching us very closely.

If we do not fulfill our obligations we cannot expect that people will listen when we start demanding human rights and democracy. People will say: 'Wait a minute, you promised something. Where is it? Why can't you increase your aid?' I think we're talking here about political courage. Some 83 percent of Europeans are for more development aid, according to surveys.

During the financial crisis, Britain even increased its aid to 0.7 percent. That was not very popular and the mass dailies was up in arms over it. But, despite the press campaign, the government had enough public support and went ahead with it. So, what we are talkling about is political will.

Andris Piebalgs (56) has been an EU commissioner in Brussels since 2004. The Latvian politician and physicist was initially responsible for energy policy. In 2010, he took over the development portfolio.

This interview was conducted by Bernd Riegert.

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