8 December 2014 – By Seamus Jeffreson, Director of CONCORD; the European Development NGO confederation

The first ‘European Year’ on EU external policy is – among other things – an opportunity to have a conversation about development and issues of global justice with a broader public, with people unaware of European development cooperation and not necessarily involved with the NGOs and institutions working on development.

It’s also an opportunity to reflect with a wider public on the changing narrative about ‘development’ and in particular, why solidarity with the most marginalised and poorest people around the world should remain a priority for us as individuals and for the European Union. The opportunity of having the European Year on development issues is accompanied by the challenge of holding this conversation against a backdrop of continuing economic and social hardship in Europe and scepticism with all things emanating from the EU.

What role for Europe in the world?

The European Year is a moment to reflect on the importance of our interaction with the rest of the world. Many of Europe’s most pressing challenges (climate change, energy insecurity, migration) need to be tackled in global processes as part of European foreign policy.
As the European think tanks group reported in September “International development will always have poverty reduction and human security at its core. However, it is no longer simply about a one-way relationship of supporting developing countries – and especially not only about aid. We understand international development in this century to be about all countries and citizens tackling shared problems of sustainable development, and with each partner playing its part”.
The European Year is a chance to discuss how as individuals we have both the capability as well as the responsibility to contribute as actors – by our actions and by our behaviour, including consumer behaviour – to a more just world where human rights are universally upheld, including the undeniable right of all human beings to live free of poverty, marginalisation and inequality, and a world where good and sustainable stewardship is applied of our planet’s precious and scarce natural resources.
The European Year is an opportunity to increase awareness and engage citizens as critical thinkers about and supporters or actors in development.

A year of development decisions and milestones

The discussions around what replaces the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 have nourished the debate about the future of development, particularly in a world in which the majority of the world’s poor now live in middle income and rich countries. Our CSO colleagues from Latin America to Asia remind us that they are increasingly affected by the EU’s other policies (trade, agriculture, fisheries, energy) – now they have ‘graduated’ from bi-lateral development programmes. European commitments on overseas development assistance remain important nevertheless. As CONCORD’s AidWatch report underlined, in 2015 we are due to miss repeated commitments to providing 0.7 on GNI to ODA. We need to use the Year to renew the argument on why this target is so important to our credibility as well as in underpinning ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. Twenty fifteen sees a major milestone in global efforts to tackle climate change with the COP 21 in Paris in December. We should use the European Year to underline why action on climate change is so closely linked to development. Its effects are already being felt disproportionately by those who have had least responsibility for carbon emissions yet will be most vulnerable to climate change. We can build on the relationships we have developed with environmental NGOs in advocating for Sustainable Development Goals to push for an ambitious climate settlement with Europe in the lead.

The introduction of a concept of ‘universality’ in the proposed Sustainable Development Goals being discussed at the UN to replace the Millennium Goals – challenges us to think how the eventual goals might apply to us here in Europe. This idea, that it’s not about ‘us’ and ‘them’ anymore, echoed in the European Year’s slogan ‘our world, our dignity, our future’ invites us as global facing civil society to deepen our dialogue and relationships with our domestic counterparts. Twenty fifteen is also the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and platform of action on the rights of women. It is a reminder of the lack of progress we have made internationally – including in Europe – on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Let’s hope the European Year on Development will also be an occasion where our sector shines the light on Europe’s performance in global progresses in alliance with Europe’s civil society.

A civil society alliance

How can we in civil society best contribute to making the European Year a success?
At CONCORD, we hope to bring together an alliance of
European civil society networks to:

  • Support national or regional civil society coalitions or actors in the implementation of European Year campaigns and activities and provide them with advice and coaching for shaping local, regional and national activities in Europe.
  • Continuously upload relevant content to the civil society section of the official EYD2015 website of the European Commission and engage in social media interactions in partnership with the Commission including taking account of the EYD2015 thematic months.
  • Develop civil society’s own innovative campaigning and communication tools to stimulate a conversation and be easily adapted to local, regional and national contexts.
  • Ensure participation and contribution by civil society in centrally organised European events, including those organised by the incoming Latvian and Luxembourg presidencies.
  • Prepare policy recommendations based on input collected during year and project activities.

Given our roots in communities across the EU and our credibility and expertise, civil society organisations have been recognised as key actors to achieve the outreach objective of the European Year. Civil society organisations are keen and ready to play an important role as a partner for the European Commission and member states governments in implementation activities at European and national levels.

This outreach will require forging new relationships and alliances with those outside our sector and innovative communications tools and techniques. It will work better if the Year happens at national and regional level rather than in Brussels.
There are many communities in Europe deeply involved and active in Development issues but who work independent of the mainstream NGOs. One such community are diaspora groups – Somalis, west Africans, Congolese, Kashmiris, Kurds– what is their view on Europe’s role in promoting development in their communities of origins where cultural and family ties remain strong? How can we bring the energy, insights and support of diaspora communities to make EU development and foreign policy more relevant?

The European Year will be equally a moment to reach out to young people, trade unionists, the business community, consumers
and others to discuss what our work outside Europe means to the issues they care about.

Of course, if we want to discuss our issue with others, we need to be prepared to listen to their issues too. So we should look forward to discussions with our civil society colleagues on ending extreme poverty and promoting basic rights around the world and how this relates to their priorities for education, employment, decent social protection and sustainable development.

It’s time to start the conversation.

Seamus Jeffreson has been Director of CONCORD for just over a year.

He began his career working for the EC Project Office in South Africa at the time of the first democratic elections in 1994, before working with the European Commission on the Tacis programme for the former Soviet states and the European Agency for Reconstruction in the Balkans.

Prior to joining CONCORD he worked for CARE International on refugee issues in the Middle East and in Ethiopia for CAFOD and Trocaire.