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Eurostep Weekly 506

Eurostep Weekly

Regular News Update from Eurostep, N° 506

6 May 2008

Calls for greater investment in agriculture at Asian Development Bank meeting

The 41st annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (AsDB) this week was overshadowed by concerns over escalating food prices. Participants voiced concerns that the AsDB’s ‘Strategy 2020’ –  the long-term strategic framework (LTSF) for the 2008-2020 period – is inadequate to tackle the food crisis, which it is feared could undo much of the progress made in the region in the past decades.

“The rising food prices are a threat to food security and a threat to poverty reduction, and we stress that food security must be adopted as a challenge of the LTSF,” said D. Subba Rao of the Indian finance ministry.

Agriculture is not included in the five core areas of the LTSF, a fact which has been strongly criticised by development NGOs. Isangani Serrano, Vice President of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, commented: “Poverty from the birth of the ADB till now is a rural phenomenon. How the hell are they going to achieve a poverty-free Asia without dedicating a huge part of their portfolio to agriculture?”

In 2007, the total loans and grants for development in agriculture and natural resources amounted to 510 million dollars, compared to 930 million dollars in 2006. In contrast, the transport and communications sectors were allocated 4.2 billion dollars in 2007 and 1.5 billion dollars the previous year.

Nobel Peace laureate Rajendra Pachauri commented: "There is reason to be deeply concerned about what is happening in the agriculture sector in Asia.” “I don’t think Asia will be able to mount the impending crisis unless we bring about change in agriculture," he added.

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Public consultation on relationship between EU, Africa and China

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the subject: “The EU, Africa and China: Towards trilateral dialogue and cooperation on Africa's peace, stability and sustainable development”, to run until 13 June 2008.

The purpose of this consultation is to gather information and opinion from all African, Chinese and European stakeholders on:

1) the EU proposal to set up a trilateral (Africa-China-EU) dialogue and cooperation, notably in the areas of peace and security, infrastructure and sustainable management of natural resources, and
2) possible joint actions to be taken by the EU, its Member States, China and Africa to support it.

The consultation document itself provides more information on the rationale behind this public consultation and its follow-up.
The Commission invites all interested organisations and people in Africa, Europe and China to participate in the public consultation, which is available on the following web-sites:

http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/ipm/forms/dispatch?form=Trilaterals
http://ec.europa.eu/development/about/consultation/index.cfm

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Parliament's priorities for the 10th European Development Fund

The European Parliament (EP) has voted to adopt a report which makes a number of criticisms and recommendations concerning the 10th European Development Fund (EDF), covering the period 2008-2103, which has a budget of €22,682 million.

The report urges that the EDF be incorporated into the EU budget "in order to increase the consistency, transparency and effectiveness of development cooperation and guarantee democratic scrutiny".

The EP also contends that the commitment under the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) to devote 20% of funds to health and basic education by 2009 should also apply to the EDF.

MEPs criticised the Council’s recent decision to finance the African Peace Facility from the EDF, since this directs funds away from development in order to use them for foreign policy purposes.

The report also criticises the omission of the gender dimension as a specific area of action in the 10th EDF, and condemns attempts to make signing an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU a condition for a country to receive integrated regional programme funds.

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IMF voting system reforms “not enough”

Member states of the International Monetary Fund have voted to approve reforms to the institution’s voting system which reduces the proportion of votes allocated to the developed countries from 60.57 percent to 57.93 percent. The measures must now be ratified by member states' legislatures.

While 93% of members voted in favour of the reforms, Russia and Saudi Arabia voted against, as these countries will see their voting power reduced.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF's managing director, said: "I see this result as the beginning of the new legitimacy for the Fund."

Although the reforms constitute the biggest single change to voting rights in favour of developing countries in the history of the IMF, many developing countries and NGOs have criticised them for not going far enough to address the imbalance of power within the institution.

The reforms primarily benefit emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil, while the low income countries see only a very small increase in their voting power.

In recent years, the IMF has declined in importance, as developing countries have increasingly preferred to find alternatives which do not carry the unpopular policy conditions attached to IMF loans.

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Brussels criticised on access to documents law

On 30 April, the European Commission unveiled a proposal for reform of EU law concerning document transparency.

According to a Commission spokesperson, “the aim of the changes is essentially to increase transparency, improve the efficiency of the system in operation and also clarify certain of the articles”. However, the proposal has received strong criticism for failing to improve public access to EU documents.

UK-based civil liberties watchdog Statewatch claims that the Commission’s proposals are "retrogressive" in key areas, and "do not consider many of the fundamental questions posed by civil society and the European Parliament."

Statewatch is particularly critical of a proposed amendment which redefines the definition of a document to cover only those documents recorded in the Commission's system.

The watchdog further criticised the restriction of the right of public access to only those documents associated with legislative acts and “non-legislative acts of general application”. The European Citizen's Action Service (ECAS) commented on this point that “a distinction between legislation and non-legislative documents could create ‘grey zones' for hiding information”.

UK MEP Diana Wallis, Vice President of Parliament responsible for transparency commented: “If only legislative documents are covered, there is plenty of potential for keeping papers or opinions confidential if they fall outside such narrow parameters. ... Next year the European elections will represent a major test of the Union’s credibility and legitimacy with the public. Collectively, we have 12 months to demonstrate our commitment to transparency and open access to the often complex legislative process of the EU. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from improved access to documents.”

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