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About the Author

Ahmed ElAmin
Journalist (Brussels, Belgium)

I started my life as a hack covering development projects for street children in Brazil; ended up teaching at a high school in Botswana; barged around the Kalahari reporting on local development projects for a magazine and also covered business stories for AFP; wandered around Southern Africa, Europe, and India; worked for a newspaper on the health and Native Canadian beat in Canada before heading off to Bermuda to cover finance and the reinsurance market; co-founded an online publication on offshore finance while living in a village of 700 people in Languedoc; drank a lot of wine; moved to Montpellier to cover the food and drink industry when the boom and the publication collapsed; drank a lot more wine covering that sector in France and Spain; and somehow ended up in Brussels working for a private communications company. At least the beer is good.


Where was the European Commission?

Published 25th March 2010 - 8 comments - 4051 views -

Wilfried Ruetten, director of the European Journalism Centre (EJC), rightly criticised the European Commission for not sending a representative to talk to about 100 bloggers from around the world at the kick off of TH!NK3: Developing World in Brussels. But perhaps there was an excuse.

“I want it on the record,” Ruetten said on 23 March in frustration that no one representing the Commission was available to speak before the group. After all, the Commission had put some funding into the TH!NK3 launch event . The answer to where they were is probably a good indication of just how busy those involved in development have been lately.

After all, here was a chance to make the group aware of the EU’s policy on development. According to the ECJ’s preliminary programme, the organisation had hoped to get Viviane Reding, the Commissioner responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. Andris Piebalgs, the Commissioner for Development, was definitely not available.

Reding, a former journalist, was a good second choice. But usually Commissioners have busy schedules and such groups usually get a Commission representative from the relevant unit. So how come no representative showed up?

Well, they were busy boys and girls on the 23 March, the day of the launch event. Many of them were probably at the one-day conference in Brussels, hosted by Piebalgs, to discuss the reconstruction process in Haiti.

The European Haiti event brought together around 50 NGOs from Haiti, Europe and the US, as well as representatives of the Haitian government. The meeting was held as a run up to the NGO's global conference in New York this week and the International Donors Conference on 31 March at the UN’s headquarters in New York. As an aside, the UN also held what it calls a “high-level” Dialogue on Financing for Development , 23-24 March at headquarters.

Later on the 23 March, Piebalgs also took part in a conference at the European Parliament on – wait, hold your breath – the EU’s millennium development goals, hosted by Michael Cashman, the Parliament's rapporteur on the subject.

Also on the 23 March, Brussels was host to the Fourth Ministerial Meeting between the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the EU. The meeting was co-chaired by Tekeda Alemu, Ethiopia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and chair of the IGAD Council of Ministers, and Angel Lossada, Spain’s foreign affairs secretary.

The EU delegation included Stefano Manservisi, the Commission’s director general for development aid. The discussion focused on the Horn of Africa, including Sudan, Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

On Sudan, both sides talked about the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). "They acknowledged the importance of IGAD´s role in the full implementation of the CPA and the importance of a coherent and coordinated approach of the international community and the regional actors in support of the current process. In this context, the EU welcomed in particular the recent decisions taken by the heads of state and governments of IGAD to remain actively engaged in line with overall approach towards the Sudan, both with respect to Darfur and the implementation of the CPA." That's the press release. Banal and unrevealing as is normal when discussing topics bound to heat up the room.

While we are at making a list of recent EU work in the development sector, let us not forget our bananas. On 19 March the European Commission, in the form of Piebalgs, and the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) group of 78 countries signed the second revision of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement. The new agreement, which still has to be ratified by the EU Council and all the countries involved, was adapted to deal with climate change, food security, regional integration, “state fragility” and aid effectiveness.

I mention bananas, because the ACP countries have for some time been losing their preferential trade agreement with the EU on the fruit we all love. To offset this loss the Commission has proposed a €190 million support package for banana exporters from the ACP states. It is part of the historic Geneva Agreement on Trade in Bananas.

The EU concluded the Geneva deal with Latin American countries and the US in December 2009, supposedly settling 15 years disputes over the banana trade. I have been covering this complicated trade war for a long time, so ‘Whew’, I hope it is over.

Broadly, the agreement cuts the tariff which the EU applies to bananas imported from Latin American countries. This slowly brings to an end a trade war between the US and their banana companies and the EU, which put the tariff on to support its former colonies in the ACP group. ACP countries were allowed to bring bananas into the EU duty free.

Piebalgs stated: “These measures will help ACP countries to adapt to the new realities of the banana trade regime. The Commission has committed itself to fully stand by ACP countries to foster their efficient integration into the world economy while respecting international trade rules. This package delivers on that commitment.”

Goodbye ACP bananas and hello Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita, banana price fixers who were caught out by the EU. In 2008 Dole, Del Monte and US-German importer Weichert were fined €60.3m in total for the price fixing. Chiquita was not because it was the first to rat on the game.

OK, the companies export from all over, but I had to get that last swipe in. Really, the new banana deal is good for Latin American producers. Their import tariff will be cut from €176 per tonne to €114. The ten main ACP banana-exporting countries (Belize, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname) will get the €190 million support package to help them prepare for when the tarrifs fall.

Once the European Council and Parliament sign off on the agreement, all ACP bananas-producing countries will continue to enjoy duty- and quota-free access to the EU under separate trade and development agreements.

And the US has agreed to settle its related WTO dispute with the EU.

To round up, there was also a meeting of the Africa-EU Task force on the 19 March to prepare for the Africa-EU Summit in November this year.

So, all of these recent events are what the European Commission’s representative could have talked about as recent developments illuminating EU policies. But they were busy. Now you have it.

Photo credit: Council of the European Union.

More information:


EU Delegation in Haiti
EC Cooperation programmes with Haiti
Structured Dialogue
Video: Press conference


Revised Agreement (PDF)


Full text of the Communication and Proposal for regulation (PDF)


Haïti Reconstruction Process Conference

Haiti Reconstruction Process Conference press conference with Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for development and non-governmental organisations. Credit © European Union, 2010.

EU-IGAD Political Dialogue

The agenda of the EU-IGAD Political Dialogue focused on peace, security and governance; pastoralism and food security; and institutional development in the region. © Council of the European Union.

Category: Aid | Tags:


  • Andrei Tuch on 25th March 2010:

    Outstanding. I, for one, always prefer my officials doing useful things without talking about them, rather than the other way around.

    So Latin American countries will pay a third less as import duty, and ACP countries will continue paying nothing at all? And the latter are worried about being driven out of the market? Are the efficiencies of scale at the US’s client states so overwhelming?

  • Benno Hansen on 25th March 2010:

    Don’t know if you noticed but this tweet was retweeted several times yesterday - among others by “diplomat group”. Organized web 2.0 damage control?

  • Lara Smallman on 25th March 2010:

    I wondered the same thing myself on the way home and was initially in agreement with Wilfried. But I soon came to a different conclusion, and now find myself agreeing with you! I’d be more worried if Commissioners and their Representatives were readily available for talks at the drop of a hat. Good to read that they are hard at work. Thanks Ahmed.

  • Tania Rabesandratana on 25th March 2010:

    Thank you EU sleuth.
    Still, I can’t help but think that there must have been a deputy head of something available to do a 20-min talk - from ECHO, EuropeAid, DG Development, or Relex even?

  • Maria Kuecken on 25th March 2010:

    Really interesting.  Thanks for bringing this to light, particularly the banana trading dispute—I’d not heard of that before.

  • Andrew Burgess on 25th March 2010:

    Thanks Benno for bringing my tweet ( into the conversation. I don’t think this was circulated as damage control since that was what I found by consulting their official and public appointments for the day!

    Nonetheless I didn’t think Viviane Reding would have been the best choice of Commissioner to speak anyway - what with her new portfolio.

    The Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, would have been my choice for sure and I would have thought he would have done so - was a nice chap when I met him. Guess it was just a case of bad timing…

  • Julien Frisch on 28th March 2010:

    One could have at least sent somebody from a lower level in the Commissioner’s administration…

    In any case: Good post, and it has thus been promoted for the Editors’ Choice of the week on!

  • Ahmed ElAmin on 30th March 2010:

    Thanks for the kind comments and reference. The banana dispute is quite interesting, if you had the patience to follow it at the World Trade Organisation over the past 15 years. The WTO breathed a sigh of relief over the ending of what it called “one of the longest running disputes in the post-WWII multilateral trading system”. Here are the dirty details at the WTO.
    Chronology of the banana disputes in GATT/WTO

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