BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Brussels and Washington are the two great lobbying capitals of the world, where campaigners talk themselves hoarse trying to shift the political dial.
Some of them have had the fortune to recruit British director and screenwriter Richard Curtis, whose powers of persuasion move hearts as well as minds.
Known for his romantic comedies, such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill”, Curtis has turned his hand to a didactic tragedy - “Mary and Martha” - being screened across the globe to coincide with world malaria day on April 25.
“You could take a simple story and take it straight into the heart of politics,” he told a Brussels audience of lobbyists, politicians and representatives of the European Commission.
“Mary and Martha” tells the story of two mothers, one American (played by Hilary Swank), one British (played by Brenda Blethyn), who lose their sons to malaria then lobby Washington politicians to try to prevent other mothers losing their children too.
For the developed world, theirs is an exceptional tragedy. In Africa, death from malaria is a daily occurrence. The continent accounts for the vast majority of the well over half a million annual deaths from a preventable and treatable disease.
Curtis, who wrote the screenplay, is appalled that a quirk of geography can be so unjust.
“If 650,000 children in Europe were going to die this year of one disease - if it were only 6,000 - everything would be stopped to do something,” he said. “I can’t understand why this tiny bit of geography should make it not matter.”
Brussels says it is listening.
European Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs met Curtis and said the European Commission would honor a pledge of 330 million euros ($430 million) for the Global Fund, set up by world leaders to tackle malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.
But after the current funding period, 2011-2013, there might be “a lower budget than expected”, Piebalgs said in a speech.
Over the coming weeks, EU member states and parliament are likely to freeze development spending - meaning a real-term cut - when they sign off on a seven-year financing plan for 2014-20 agreed after lengthy and difficult talks.
Curtis has a long track record in combining worthy causes with making people laugh. He helped to found British charity Comic Relief, set up in response to famine in Ethiopia in 1985.
Comic Relief, uses humor to raise funds to tackle poverty and social injustice and Curtis told his Brussels audience his foray into tragic script-writing did not mean he had given up on comedy.
“I have been getting more reflective as I get older, but I hope I have a couple of jokes in me too,” he said.
($1 = 0.7674 euros)
Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Paul Casciato