The problems facing the developing world, including poverty, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, unsustainable debt levels and the HIV-AIDS pandemic, are high on the Presidency agenda.
There are four key development messages that we want to emphasise during the Presidency. First, we believe that the overriding aim of EU development assistance should be to eradicate poverty. Our efforts should be directed towards the attainment of the millennium development goals, which include the goals of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and halving the number of those without access to clean water. Second, Ireland considers that the EU needs a stronger voice in multilateral institutions such as the UN, the international financial institutions and the WTO to focus international efforts on improving the lot of the world's poorest people. Third, the EU needs to improve coherence in its various policies to respond better to the needs of developing countries. Finally, we believe that the Union needs to continue its efforts to maximise the effectiveness of its aid, in particular building on the recent reform of community aid, from which we are now beginning to see real improvements. This is essential if the Union and its member states are to play their full part in meeting the millennium development goals.
We have already made progress towards meeting these overarching policy goals. At the General Affairs and External Relations Council in January, Ministers adopted Conclusions that reaffirm the EU's commitment to development and set out specific steps for meeting our objectives. The Government is particularly pleased with the agreement to establish allocation criteria based on need and performance, which will help to ensure that the poorest countries in the world benefit most from the EU's development assistance.
The conclusions also place achieving the millennium development goals at the heart of EU development policy and reaffirm the EU commitments to increase official development assistance made at the Monterrey Conference on International Financing for Development. The General Affairs and External Relations Council in April will undertake a review of the follow-up to Monterrey as well as a first assessment of the EU's progress towards achieving the millennium development goals. A successful review of the millennium development goals will ensure that the EU is well-positioned to provide leadership at the international stocktaking of progress towards these goals in 2005.
The Government has made the HIV-AIDS pandemic one of the priorities of the Presidency. As part of our commitment to tackling the HIV-AIDS crisis, we will be hosting three key events during the Presidency. Later this month, an international conference on HIV-AIDS in Europe and Central Asia will be held in Dublin. We hope to obtain ministerial agreement to a new declaration which will provide a basis for stronger regional co-operation across 55 countries to fight AIDS, to tackle discrimination, to provide care and treatment and to save lives.
Ireland will also host a meeting between European and African parliamentarians in April to discuss the challenges that HIV-AIDS presents to governance in Africa. We will also host a third meeting in June on the importance of investing further in the development of an effective vaccine against HIV-AIDS. I should point out that the EU is already the largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, having pledged €2.2 billion as of July 2003, which accounts for 55% of commitments to the fund.
On debt, I launched in July 2002 a new debt strategy which reflected joint work by Development Co-operation Ireland and the Department of Finance. The strategy calls on the World Bank and the IMF to take a new approach to debt sustainability. It also supports, in principle, total debt cancellation for the 41 heavily indebted poor countries, HIPC, committed to good governance and sound economic management.
Since the launch of the strategy we have had discussions, both at political and official level, with the World Bank, the IMF and a number of our EU partners. We are submitting written views to the IMF as part of the review of debt sustainability. The EU is already a generous donor to debt relief having contributed over US$ 900 million to the World Bank trust fund for debt relief. In addition, the Commission is committed to writing off bilateral debts owed to it by countries qualifying for debt relief under the HIPC initiative.
We are using whatever opportunities arise during our Presidency to promote our national debt relief strategy. I addressed the issue of debt relief in my presentation to the European Parliament's Development Committee on 20 January last and called for even greater efforts from EU partners to tackle this problem. While there is no common EU position on the policy issues relating to debt relief, I will be taking a number of opportunities to direct attention towards the urgency of action by member states in this area.