Postcard from Riga

12 January 2015

Seamus Jeffreson is the Director of CONCORD, the European confederation of development NGOs. Here he gives his personal reflections of the launch of the EYD 2015 in Riga last Friday.

Snowy Riga, and the magnificent new national Library was the setting of the official launch of the EYD 2015 on 9 January 2014.

riga

LAPAS, the Latvian NGO platform, was one of the initiators of the idea of a European year focusing on development cooperation, so it seemed appropriate to be in the Latvian capital.

If we were in any doubt of the commitment of the EU institutions to the EYD – the presence of Jean Claude Juncker and Federica Mogherini along with Latvian prime Minister Laimdota Straujama at the opening session was a welcome reassurance and underlined the wider implications of 2015 beyond a narrow approach to development cooperation.

It is the year to agree ambitious sustainable development goals. As both Juncker and Mogherini pointed out – these will apply to us here in Europe too. I’m looking forward with civil society colleagues in Europe to seeing this fact reflected on the ‘domestic’ legislative agenda of the EU.

Everyone made the link with climate change talks scheduled for Paris in December – which is the time to make a global deal on reducing global warming.

You can find the video of my short opening remarks at the launch event here:

Nous sommes tous Charlie

The attack on ‘Charlie Hebdo’ in Paris was a very present theme during the day. In the ‘Green Room’ while waiting for the first session to begin, Economic and Social committee President Henri Malosse distributed ‘Je Suis Charlie’ stickers to Federica Mogherini and to us other speakers. Former Latvian president Vaira Freiberga – something of an institution in her own right as a voice of post communist Eastern Europe – was one of many speakers to express our collective solidarity with the French people and determination to defend freedom of expression.

From words to action…

I felt the need to bottle up all the commitments made for ambitious SDGs, Europe’s leadership role in ensuring a climate deal, the universality of the SDGs, the importance of other non development policies (from trade to agriculture to fisheries – so well argued by new Swedish Development Minister Isabella Lövin) by EU leaders. The Environment Commissioner underlined the importance of the ‘circular economy’ directive in 2015 – that we all understood Mr. Timmermans had taken off the table at the end of last year. We in civil society will be watching this one closely and are right behind you Mr. Vella!

In the press conference Foreign Minister Rinkēvičs and Development Commissioner Mimica underlined the importance of supporting NGOs to ensure the visibility of EU development cooperation and articulation with the European public – couldn’t agree more!

Here’s what everyone said – the advocates among you can scan and memorise for policy commitments:

Some of us were lucky enough to hear the OECD’s Eric Solheim remind us at the high power lunch that money is not the problem: it’s a question of political will. Time to get some of his native Norway’s sovereign wealth fund’s trillions out of oil company shares and invested in sustainable development in the countries that need it most and the switch to a green, low carbon economic growth.

Time for the EU to tackle speculative financial transaction making bankers even richer and start generating financial transaction taxes for the fight against poverty and action against climate change. There must be votes in that for politicians…?

And civil society voices?

Press conferences are apparently very precisely timed events. French cooperation minister Annick Girardin was not impressed at being rushed. I was not impressed at being bumped off the second panel session! – here‘s what I was going to say.

Fortunately the day included some of civil society’s perspective and role in having a conversation with a wider public about development and global solidarity. World vision and CONCORD EYD ambassador Marius Wanders was joined by Inese Vaivare (LAPAS), Stefan Grasgruber (Sudwind Austria) and Ingo Ritz (Global Call for Action against Poverty – GCAP) for a lighthearted look at what the EYD means to normal people not inhabiting the Brussels bubble.

Watch the video of the role play session here

This culminated in the presentation of Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s letter on the action/2015 to Commissioners Mogherini, Mimica and EP Development Committee chair Linda McAvan.

Two Latvian bikers are going to bike from Cape Town to Riga, guided by school students to interesting places on their route (too late for me to apply for a sabbatical year to join them alas)… Luxembourg are launching a video competition – watch their video presentations here.

I’m probably biased but I thought Plan and CONCORD’s Tanya Cox was the best speaker in the panel on good governance and accountability in the SDGs. Although the development Commissioner’s contention that he is the most feminist voice in the college of Commissioners lead to a minor twitter storm.

Europe women’s lobby head Joanna Maycock immediately invited him for a meeting – prepare yourself Mr. Mimica!

It was a pleasure and food for the mind to listen to Homi Kharas – UN brain on SDGs – give a thoughtful Kapuscinski lecture. Find out more here.

So after a high profile launch with lots of political commitments it’s time to take the EYD out of the conference room and into the classrooms, trade union halls, bars, and pop festivals around the 28 countries of the EU.

Latvian platform LAPAS show
ed us how fun and stimulating we can make this year with their pre-launch event in the magestique Splendid Palace cinema this week. It’s true – those Latvians like to sing and really are idealists!

If you missed it or fancy a trip to Dublin, I’m sure Irish national platform Dochas’ launch event for the EYD 2015 on 22nd January will be worth attending or tuning into. Irish president Michael Higgins obviously thinks so – he’ll be there. More info here.

Ireland also contributed the youngest delegate to the conference too. She asked delegates what ‘sustainable development’ meant to them.

And there’s still time to register for CONCORD ‘s launch of the Civil Society Alliance for the EYD 2015 at Mundo J in Brussels where – in addition to launching action/2015 for an end to poverty, inequality and climate change, – we’ ll be asking our colleagues in other parts of civil society from youth to trade unions, environmental, women, social, human rights and fair trade NGOs and movements (among others) – what are your priorities for 2015? How can the EYD work for you?