From the outset of our EU Presidency, Ireland has urged the need for renewed action by the Union on the millennium development goals, MDGs. An important UN stocktaking on progress towards achieving the MDGs is to take place in 2005 and Ireland, as Presidency, feels that the Union, as the world's largest donor of overseas development assistance, should show leadership in this important task.
We used the occasion of the annual orientation debate on the effectiveness of external actions at last month's General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, to highlight the millennium development goals. A Presidency paper provided the basis for a debate among Ministers and the adoption of Council conclusions which stated the achievement of the MDGs is a key objective for the European Union and the wider international community, and that the commitments made by EU member states at the 2002 Monterrey conference on financing for development reflect the Union's leadership role in international efforts to achieve the MDGs.
EU commitments at Monterrey included the volume of ODA. In this regard, the EU pledged that collectively an EU average of 0.39% of GNP would be reached by 2006. Member states which had not reached the EU average of 0.33% agreed to strive to reach at least this figure by 2006.
In the January 2004 GAERC conclusions, the EU confirmed that its commitment to the achievement of the MDGs should be reflected across the range of EU policies and in its decisions on financial allocations. Ministers also agreed that a major effort will have to be sustained during 2004 to ensure that the commitments made by member states on increasing overseas development assistance at the 2002 Monterrey conference will be met.
This Presidency initiative will be followed up at the April 2004 GAERC which is due to discuss the current position on the EU's Monterrey commitments on the basis of an extensive report from the Commission. Further, in ensuring that the EU is well positioned to provide leadership in the international stocktaking of the MDGs in 2005, the April 2004 GAERC will also consider inviting the Commission to take on the role of monitoring and analysing member states' implementation of their commitments in respect of the MDGs similar to that which the Commission is currently undertaking on the Monterrey commitments.
Under the Irish Presidency, therefore, the EU is in the process of bringing MDG implementation to the top of its external agenda and the EU will be well placed to play a leadership role in the UN 2005 stocktake commensurate with its role as the world's major donor of ODA.