Error causes vital Burmese aid effort to stall says Committee

25 March 2010

The House of Lords EU Committee have written to Europe Minister Chris Bryant MP expressing their deep concern that failures by the European Commission have led to a delay in EU and UK aid programmes reaching people in Burma where humanitarian assistance is desperately needed.

There is an urgent need in Burma to rebuild homes destroyed by Cyclone Nargis, however the failure by the European Commission to transpose a measure under the EU Common Foreign Security Policy - which included an exemption from sanctions against Burma for development activities – means that EU-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and aid agencies, including those funded by the Department for International Development (DfID), working in Burma are unable to purchase timber to help in the relief effort.

The blocking of EU aid agencies purchasing local timber means that urgently-needed EU and UK aid efforts have stalled and post-cyclone reconstruction assistance cannot take place.

The Committee recognise that this failure is an error by the Commission, rather than a deliberate policy, but point out that the UK Government as well as other Member States failed to identify and rectify the problem when the Regulation was at draft stage. They call on the Government to press for the situation to be resolved quickly and also to work to ensure sanctions against Burma are 'smart' and designed to maximise impact on the ruling military junta while minimising any negative impact on the Burmese population

Commenting Lord Teverson, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy, said:

"There is an urgent need for major rebuilding work in Burma following Cyclone Nargis. That disaster left huge numbers of Burmese without shelter and rebuilding homes is the key priority of international aid efforts. However these efforts are being undermined by the European Commission’s failure to implement exemptions in EU sanctions which would allow aid agencies to buy local timber.

"This is an oversight rather than a deliberate policy by the Commission but it is a serious concern that neither the Commission themselves nor any Member States spotted this issue at the Regulation’s draft stage, and have still not got around to correcting it.

"We are calling on the UK Government to make correcting this error a priority so the aid agencies on the ground can get on with the vital job of rebuilding Burma and don’t face obstacles put in their way by the Brussels bureaucracy."

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