There have already been many grand political declarations about how 2005 could be the year of development. The European Commission added its voice on April 12 when it published proposals to boost the volume and effectiveness of development aid. The same day, EU finance ministers examined scope for introducing a dedicated tax as a source of additional funding.

In quantitative terms, the EU has no reason to be ashamed of its record. Accounting for more than 50% of all public development aid distributed worldwide, it is unquestionably the world's leading fund-provider, a trend that is being further enhanced.

However, figures do not tell the whole story. If the EU wants to act as a driving force for development on the world stage, a hope expressed by EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel, it needs to speak with one voice and put forward coherent policies. This is where Michel's efforts risk falling flat.

Firstly, within the Commission. It has for the first time adopted a document affirming that all EU policies must take account of the interests of developing nations. This is a significant political breakthrough. However, it remains fragile. The Development DG had to force a commitment from the Trade, Agriculture and Fisheries DGs. What is likely to happen when it comes to translating words into action...

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