Speech by Ms Marjatta Rasi, Secretary of State at the Governance Forum of the European Development Days

Opening Session 15 November 2006

Prime Minister Verhofstadt
President Barroso
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentleman
Dear Colleagues,

Let me start by saying that I am honoured to be here speaking on behalf of the European Union Presidency. I also would like to congratulate the European Commission for organising the European Development Days. The global challenges of development have been gaining more and more importance in the European policies and among the Europeans. This has led to an ever-increasing demand for information on opportunities and challenges of development.

This week-long event has already gathered large numbers of people in the wider-public events here in Brussels. Today we are starting an intensive three days among policymakers and other experts. The interest among the audience clearly demonstrates that the development days are filling a vacuum and are able to respond to people's demand for more information and an opportunity for networking. This is also a good opportunity for the practitioners not only from the EU, but also from our partner countries, as well as other development institutions such as the UN and multilateral financing institutions. And above all, this is a forum of frank and honest dialogue and debate which is free from the tight negotiation atmosphere that is all too familiar to us.

As a general theme during our presidency, Finland has very much emphasized the implementation of the commitments we have made in the EU. Only by turning our policy statements in to action and operation, we can expect reaching our development goals.

In the October GAERC we touched upon two issues that should boost the EU's global contribution and strengthen our partnerships with the developing world. In the Council meeting it became clear that we need to strengthen effectiveness of our aid even further and have a more coherent pro-development approach across our policies.

We have  had very fruitful discussions on complementarity and a division of labour in the Council. EU is globally the largest donor providing about half of total registered development assistance. Therefore increased effectiveness of EU will change the global aid architecture a great deal.

All work on aid effectiveness needs to be built on our partners' ownership and commitment to national development. It is also a great challenge to us as donors, since that means not being in the lead of the process all the time. This requires trust among partners. Trust building among partners is a long process. I am confident that the European Development Days will be remembered as a forum where European, African and other partners were able, through frank discussions, to build further the mutual trust that is needed for effective cooperation.

At the October GAERC we also discussed how we can better integrate development concerns in the Council decision-making in order to promote policy coherence for development. This is to say, how we can ensure that different policies  contribute to each other in a coherent manner in the field of development. In this regard, one priority issue during our Presidency has been trade and development. We made some good progress in the October GAERC as to how to implement our Aid for Trade -commitments.

The Implementation of  the EU–Africa strategy has also been one important priority for Finland and I am happy to note that progress has been made so far including the preparation of the  first report for the December Council.

I have listed some themes that we have touched upon during our Presidency that is already entering its final quarter. I am also very confident that these issues will be further advanced by the in-coming  German  Presidency.

During our Presidency, one of the challenges we have addressed has been the perceived diminished legitimacy of the Union in the eyes of its citizens. We have made efforts to address this for example through increasing the transparency in the Union and turning statements in to actions. I fully believe that the Development Days do play a fundamental role in meeting these objectives. Here we will be able to show and debate the global partnerships the EU has made with different partners in order to meet global development challenges. One good example is the EU–ACP -partnership with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states that dates as much back as 30 years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I very much welcome that Governance has been chosen as the general theme for the experts' meeting. It is needless to say that governance is at the very core of development and at the top of international development agenda since poverty reduction and sustainable development are impossible without major improvements in governance. The governance field is so extensive that only by working together and building on existing mechanisms poverty reduction efforts can become successful. The link between accountable, transparent and responsive governance and poverty reduction is clear. Therefore, Governance is also an important element for the implementation of the EU-Africa Strategy currently under discussion in the Council.

With the EU Strategy for Africa Europe has reaffirmed its strong commitment to Africa's development. The Strategy is centered on the objective to promote the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It aims to strengthen the ties between the two continents. Through the Strategy, the EU has pledged to concentrate its support in the areas of peace and security, good governance, economic growth, trade, social cohesion, environment and migration. 

For the EU there is a strong need to constantly stay on guard to ensure that our policies vis-à-vis developing countries are coherent and mutually reinforcing. This has been one of key messages during our Presidency. This is highly relevant in governance issues as well. One could even argue that one of the very vital elements in improved governance is policy coherence. Policies of different government sectors must be consistent.

Good governance is a crucial element in a large number of fields: we cannot fully reap the benefits coming from the increased economic integration and trade if governance structures are not in place; we cannot assume improvement in aid effectiveness if governance systems are inefficient; and we will find harder to face the challenges in social sectors if governance is not supportive.

Ladies and Gentleman,

The Governance agenda is an important element in our ongoing efforts to implement the Paris Declaration on harmonisation. The Council recently approved the Conclusions based on the Commission communication on “Governance in the European Consensus on Development – towards a harmonised approach within the European Union”.

This Governance Initiative provides an important step towards a common European understanding on democratic governance and acknowledges the multidimensional and holistic nature of governance.

In order to bring forward the process on good governance one very crucial element is a regular and comprehensive political dialogue with the partner countries. From the EU side we need to align our support to national processes and strategies on democratic governance and use country systems and procedures to the maximum extent possible.

The Governance Initiative is particularly important for our partnership with ACP. We need an inclusive and flexible process while assessing the governance situation. I am also pleased to notice that regional assessment systems, like African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), are getting more important role in governance assessment.

During our Presidency, we have emphasized the need to enhance good coordination with other donors including multilateral organizations. The Good Governance is also a case in point where we need close cooperation with the UN system and the World Bank and the OECD Development Assistance Committee, regional organisations and other partners. Building further synergies and co-operation with these partners is welcomed and necessary.

Let me also mention the importance of corruption prevention as one important element of the Good Governance. It should not be forgotten that the poorest of the poor pay the highest price of corruption.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) has strong development implications. It is necessary to explore how our partner countries can maximize the benefits of the Convention and how we can contribute to their efforts.

The Helsinki Process on Globalization and Democracy is a joint initiative of Finland and Tanzania aiming at improving and democratising global governance and finding innovative solutions to global problems. The Helsinki Process has initiated discussion on the implementation of the UNCAC. We all understand that the Convention can only have effective development indications if it is fully implemented.

I believe every country has a unique governance system and it has to be respected. We also need to understand the difference between bad and weak governance. However, there are universal values which are the basis of good governance. National accountability and the responsibility of governments at all their levels towards their people, protection and promotion of human rights and democratic principles and the rule of law are common values and universal in their applicability. Nor can we discuss governance without mentioning gender equality, women’s empowerment and social equality as crucial dimensions of good governance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is of great importance to inform our citizens about global development issues and the realities of development cooperation. We need an enhanced public understanding and an educated public opinion on development issues. I feel that we have sometimes been too shy or weak in telling about the important role of development policy and the achievements of development cooperation.  I sincerely believe that increasing knowledge on the EU's role in global development will increase the legitimacy of the EU in the eyes the European public. European citizens share values that appreciate assisting poor countries to reach the MDGs and to overcome humanitarian crises. This was one clear message from the European Stakeholder Conference on Development Education held in Helsinki earlier this year.

I wish to conclude  by saying that today's development agenda is very broad and challenging. We need to  enhance  our efforts to further strengthening  cooperation with all the donors, the partner countries and the civil society organisations -both here in Europe and in developing countries. As we can surely witness in this event, the Civil Society organisation are following the EU development agenda with great interest. Their presence in addition to the  European institutions -Council, Commission and the Parliament- brings added value and effectiveness to our joint efforts for development.

I am convinced that European Development Days will provide  an excellent  opportunity for all of us to bring forward our common goals to reduce poverty and to promote good governance.