Thursday, September 02, 2004

Louis Michel is the toast of the NGOs

Non-governmental organizations are rejoicing at the fact that a man they, and they alone, can trust is the Commissioner-designate for the Development and Humanitarian Aid. Eurostep, a network of development non-governmental organisations, want him to have wider responsibilities for the EU’s relations with developing countries.

At present only the ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific) come into Poul Nielsen’s domain (the present Commissioner for Development). Other developing countries (which ones are those, one wonders) come under the remit of the External Affairs Commissioner, at present, Chris Patten.

Eurostep is worried that the situation will continue under Barroso’s Commission. Who knows, somebody might suddenly decide that it might be a better idea to have full and free economic relations with developing countries and allow them to develop rather than let the NGOs keep shelling out money that keeps corrupt government and practices in place.

One of the interesting aspects of the whole aid question is the number of various organizations involved just within the EU, which means, presumably, that a large proportion of the aid budget, that Michel wants to increase, goes on servicing these organizations.

There are all the NGOs or, as they are increasingly becoming known, the civil society organizations; then there is ECHO (European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office), one of the most scandal-ridden and corrupt institutions of the EU; then there is something called EuropeAid co-operations office. The last of these was established with very little publicity in 2001 in order to implement “the external aid instruments of the European Union”.

Currently this interesting and little known organization is supervised by a board of commissioners, chaired by Chris Patten with Poul Nielsen as Chief Executive. Other commissioners who sit on the board are the Enlargement Commissioner, the Trade Commissioner and the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.

The Chief Executive is supposed to supervise the strategic management of the board and the Chairman oversees the implementation of the policy guidelines. This is what the NGOs are complaining about. Their own Commissioner has not, so far, had much influence onver the activity of EuropeAid and too much of the relations with developing countries has been treated as foreign affairs rather than a matter of handing out aid money and sending in the appropriate multifarous “civil society groups”.

It seems that structurally nothing will change as the Austrian Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Patten’s successor, will simply step into his shoes on the board of EuropeAid as well.

The NGOs’ great hope is that Louis Michel will turn out to be a strong Commissioner (if one may paraphrase 1066 and All That) and will put development and aid higher up on the agenda. The European Parliament’s development committee, chaired by the Italian Luisa Morgantini, described by Inter Press Service News Agency as “a veteran of development politics”, is full of former professional aid workers and denizens of what is now officially described as “civil society circles”.

What we are talking about is a growing international network of self-appointed legislators, regulators and tax raisers, who would like to strengthen their own position through a “friendly” Commissioner, whose avowed aim is to make member states hand over more of their money for various development and aid projects, there not being any possible distinction between those two in the minds of these new imperialists.

One of these people is Giampiero Alhadeff, secretary-general of the NGO Solidar. He has declared his disquiet that
“…underneath the organisation of EU's management of its development tools and policies could in reality diminish the role of development policy in favour of security concerns”.
He and the other NGOs are prepared to fight this. “Civil society is also getting itself organized,” – he added, arrogating to himself and other highly paid international bureaucrats the right to speak on behalf of the whole of civil society.

Meanwhile, an independent organization Funding for Peace Coalition, has published a report, also passed over in silence by the British media, that details the many and varied uses the €2 billion handed over by the EU directly and indirectly to the Palestinian Authority since 1993, as well as a further €2 billion paid over in the same period by the member states.

This report is so important for developments in the Middle East, the European Union and the smugly oft-invoked “civil society” that we shall analyze it in detail. Suffice it to say for the moment that the report carefully quotes all its sources, many of which are Arab, and all of which show “the diversion of unprecedented sums of financial aid from the Palestinian people towards corruption and violence”, which could not have happened without “incompetence and apathy on the part of European agencies”.

These are the people who want yet more money from the taxpayer and more power over the unfortunate people of various developing countries.

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