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EU Urged Not to Give Up Poverty Fight

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS - When European leaders gather in Belgium this week, they might not be so pleased to see thousands of those who protested during the G8 Summit in Germany chasing them too on the streets of Brussels and asking the same old question: Why don't you match your words with deeds to fight global poverty?

Aside from planning demonstrations and protest rallies, anti-poverty campaigners in Europe say over the past few months they have gathered more than 1 million signatures on a petition calling for the EU leadership to increase aid for poor nations and cancel their debts. 0620 03

The signature campaign organized by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), an umbrella organization comprising a wide array of social justice groups active in more than 100 countries, also seeks urgent actions on fair trade dealings with poor countries and concrete measures to tackle climate change.

GCAP and other social justice groups in Europe raised similar demands at demonstrations and meetings when the leaders of the Group of 8 (G8) economically powerful countries were attending their annual summit in Germany a little over a week ago. Despite intense public pressure, the G8 leaders failed to make any meaningful progress on issues related to poverty and development aid, campaigners said.

"Europe is so important in the worldwide battle against global poverty," said Alison Marshall of British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND), a UK-based network of over 300 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in international development and emergency relief.

In a statement, Marshall, whose organization is part of the international campaign to fight poverty, described the G8 leaders' response as "disgraceful" and said it indicated no sense of urgency for action.

"For millions of people around the world, giving up the fight against poverty is not an option," Marshall noted with dismay.

Four of the EU members -- Germany, Britain, France, and Italy - are also part of the G8. The other four who enjoy the membership in the exclusive club of the world's most industrialized countries are the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia.

The EU Summit, due to start Thursday, is likely to focus on the future of Europe and the EU constitution, but for their part, anti-poverty campaigners are trying hard to draw the attention of the continent's leaders to their obligations in the fight against global poverty.

In 2005 major European governments and the G8 pledged to increase aid dramatically, particularly to Africa, and 80 percent of this new aid was to come from the EU. Yet overall aid increases have been very slow, and development assistance to Africa has been static since 2004.

EU countries currently provide 52 percent of all development aid. Since Europe is the world's largest trade block, anti-poverty campaigners contend it must also play a pivotal role in global efforts to make trade fair for developing countries.

This year, Europe is expected to conclude trade negotiations with 76 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. The move is sometimes referred to by diplomats and economists as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).


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In recent months, a number of countries have made it clear that more time is needed for pro-development trade agreements to be negotiated, so campaigners are asking the European Commission to stop using aggressive negotiation tactics to push unfair trade deals.

Earlier this month, in London, more than 10,000 people attended a protest against the G8 leaders for failing to deliver on promises to tackle poverty made at their annual meeting held in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.

At that summit, the G8 leaders pledged about $50 billion more aid, debt cancellation for up to 42 countries, and access to affordable medications for people with HIV/AIDS by 2010. However, many of them have failed to act upon those promises.

Britain being an exception, the other European members of the G8 -- Germany, France, and Italy -- are still lagging on their commitments to fight poverty in Africa and other poorer parts of the world.

Currently, more than 2 billion people on the planet are living below the poverty line, a fact that many leaders of the developing world as well as UN officials have long cited to demand an end to unfairness in trade between the industrialized countries and those heavily relying on agricultural production.

During the G8 Summit, the UN-based largest coalition of developing nations, known as the Group of 77 and China (G77), said it was concerned about the industrial countries' role in perpetuating inequalities in global trade and commerce.

On the eve of the G8 Summit, Munir Akram, Pakistan's envoy to the UN and chairman of the G77, released a statement, in which he accused the G8 nations of not doing enough to help developing countries in their quest for development and the eradication of poverty.

"Developing countries have demonstrated a sincere commitment to fulfilling the pledges made in successive international conferences and summits during the past few years," he said. "But, unfortunately, our development partners have not reciprocated."

Akram lamented that Official Development Assistance, the international aid given by wealthier countries to support the development of poorer ones, has declined in recent years. He feared it was likely to continue to decline in the near future.

The G77 urged the G8 members to take "bolder and innovative measures" to meet the internationally agreed upon target of putting 0.7 percent of national budgets toward development assistance for poorer countries.

Of the G8 member countries, none have yet reached that target. The United Kingdom came closest last year, allocating just over one half of one percent of its national income to development assistance. At 0.17 percent, the United States gave a lower percentage of its income than any other industrialized country except Greece.

Anti-poverty campaigners are also calling on European nations as well as other members of the G8 to reduce the huge subsidies provided to their agricultural sectors, which they say are artificially driving down prices worldwide and threatening the food security of billions living below the poverty line in poorer countries.

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