Europe agrees to finance debt relief package

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The Independent Online
GORDON BROWN'S campaign to secure debt relief for the world's poorest countries came a step closer to success yesterday when European governments agreed in principle to offer substantial financial assistance.

But the move, which follows pleas from the Chancellor for 1bn euros to be diverted to debt relief, still left the precise figures undecided. Mr Brown said yesterday that debt relief was the most important issue for him in his new role as chairman of the International Monetary Fund's Interim Committee in Washington this weekend. The UK's contribution, he said, would be $125m if the $1bn package was approved by Europe, on top of the Government's existing pledge of $171m. "If these measures get the go ahead in Washington, it will be a matter not of years or months but weeks before the first Third World country will benefit", he said.

British officials in Brussels were encouraged by the debate at ambassador level yesterday, although the final aid package which will be negotiated by finance ministers seems likely to fall well below the mark of 1bn euros. Plans to aid the Third World were backed by Britain, France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, but technical and procedural problems were raised by Spain. One diplomat said: "There was an agreement that there should be a substantial EC contribution and that the precise sums should be finalised by finance ministers in Washington." The Chancellor said that his campaign was in part a response to the 100,000 letters and postcards received every month from members of the British public - including one from the Chancellor's mother - calling for action on debt relief. "It is a tribute to the sense that people feel that the Millennium and the turn of the year can be a new start", he said.

Leading article, Review, page 3,

Gordon Brown,

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