Praise and Criticism at key European Development Event's Opening

    A series of cooperation agreements worth 1.6 billion euros between the European Commission and countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific region, as well as a human right prize awarded by the European Union to 17 journalists across the world marked the opening of the European Development Days on Saturday, Nov. 15, in Strasbourg, France.

    European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel announced the signing of a series of regional initiatives to be funded by the 10th E.U. Development Fund, a move that nearly doubles the fund's size.

    "These strategies are the resounding proof of the closest attention the European Union pays to regional integration in ACP countries, and of the support for your own efforts to this end," said Michel at the forum's opening ceremony.

    The initiatives, which were agreed upon by E.U. and ACP regional representatives, will cover a five-year period between 2008 and 2013 and will be monitored on an annual basis. They come on the heels of a 2000 partnership agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin, and revised five years later in Luxembourg.

    Louis Michel also awarded a prominent international media prize for human rights commitment to Larisse Houssou, a journalist from Benin who exposed the tragedy of child soldiers in Sudan's war-stricken region of Darfur.

    The Lorenzo Natali Prize, named after a former E.U. commissioner for development cooperation, also acknowledged the work of 17 other journalists from five different world regions. Their reporting span a range of issues from illegal abortion in the South African city of Pietermaritzburg to Algerian kids without access to school, the reintegration of Sierra Leone's former child soldiers, the killing of judges in the Philippines, and the violation of human rights by the Brazilian police.

    Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, founder of the global environmental non-governmental Green Belt Movement, expressed her appreciation for journalists reporting on human rights, saying that her voice would have remained unheard without them.

    "Much of my work would never have been done hadn't it been for journalists who risked their lives for my story to be known," she said while addressing the awarding ceremony.

    Maathai also attended the EDD opening ceremony, along with Noerine Kaleeba, president of global anti-poverty agency ActionAid International, who launched an appeal to E.U. leaders for increased effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

    Kaleeba criticized European heads of state who were gathering in Washington for a G-20 summit on the global financial crisis, condemning their reluctance to comply with a European Commission proposal to support countries affected by rising food prices with 1 billion euro in aid.

    "The leaders of E.U. countries, it seems, are not keen to use a portion of that money to tackle starvation. They say they will find it elsewhere, repackaging existing aid perhaps, drawing from disaster funds elsewhere," she said. "Meanwhile those same men whispering in the corridors have managed to guarantee their ailing financial sectors to the tune of 2 trillion euros. This is a very sad reflection of the priorities of European leaders."