The Ideal Interview of Jutta Urpilainen

CONCORD’s views on the Hearing of the International Partnerships’ portfolio

Next week, Jutta Urpilainen will be facing the European Parliament for a hearing during which she will be tested on her suitability for the role of International Partnerships Commissioner. The public hearings will allow the parliamentarians to examine candidate’s plans and priorities in the future job. It is a challenging and intense democratic exercise for the future Commissioner aiming at proving her competencies, understanding her priorities and evaluating any potential conflict of interests.

Indeed, as a Commissioner she will be in charge for the next few years of developing key policies and actions having an impact on European development cooperation. International Partnerships portfolio focuses on reaching a new and ambitious post-Cotonou agreement as well as on a comprehensive partnership and strategy with Africa with a strong call for countries of migration (origin and transit). Gender equality, financing the SDGs, support to civil society around the world as well as the negotiation of the external instrument (NDICI) of the next EU budget will be her main areas of work. A strong call for the External Investment Plan to unlock private capital and investment has also been clearly made in her Mission Letter. 

CONCORD came up with interview questions that MEPs could ask during the vetting process as well as the ideal answers that the Commissioner designate could use to prepare for the interview. 

Time to imagine the perfect candidate and play the role model!

Challenges, priorities and vision for the job

1. In general, how do you perceive your role? What are the main challenges you oversee? What will be your priorities in the coming years?


  • Collaborating with other Commissioners will be key to tackle cross-cutting issues like gender equality or address spill-over effects of other EU policies such as trade, agriculture, migration or tax on partner countries. Our world is interconnected every day more, we need to reflect this in the way we approach politics, in a more integrated, long-term and inclusive/participatory way. 
  • Many challenges will need to be unfolded in the International Partnerships portfolio: rising inequalities, climate change, instrumentalisation of development aid in favour of EU interests, migration management tarnishing certain trade and development negotiations, shrinking space for civil society… The context in which the new Commissioner will operate will be complex, requiring a good balance between flexibility and sticking to one’s principles.
  • Several milestones will mark the mandate: the new EU multi-annual budget, the  successor of the Cotonou Agreement, moving ahead with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for which we will only have 10 years to go. These milestones need to be clear commitments towards a fairer and more sustainable world.
  • My priorities will be to tackle these challenges with a systemic approach, underlining the causal link of power imbalances in global injustices. 

On Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

2. What will you do, concretely, to make gender equality and women’s rights a top priority in the EU’s international cooperation and development policies?


  • The backbone for gender equality (and for any other social injustice) on which the EU needs to work on are the discriminatory social norms. 
  • This could be tackled with a bigger investment in Global Citizenship Education in Europe. 
  • Externally, the adoption and the implementation of a strong EU Gender Action Plan III is necessary. This needs to go hand in hand with a systematic consideration for women’s rights and gender equality by all development cooperation actors – including the private sector.
  • I will have to work with my fellow Commissioners to ensure that the policies they are responsible for do not undermine girls’ and women’s rights and promote equality worldwide. 

On the future EU Budget - the external instrument

3. How will you ensure that the main objectives of the NDICI are to reduce poverty, leave no one behind and support sustainable development in partner countries? 


  • The future external instrument must put human development and social inclusion at the core. Therefore, the new NDICI needs to have clear targets for human development & social inclusion (allocate 20% of its ODA) and for gender equality (85% to programmes having gender equality as one of their objectives).  
  • In order to give proper means to the fight against climate change all around the world, the EU needs to rise the climate and environment spending as well as have a clear and substantial climate target.
  • The involvement of CSOs in the different stages of the programming cycle of both geographic and thematic programmes is crucial for an inclusive and effective instrument.
  • I will ensure the investment of private sector in development is regulated. We cannot rely on the corporate private sector, in particular large transnational corporations, to solve the funding gap to implement the SDGs. Today, growing amounts of public finance are being used to subsidise private companies to invest in developing countries but these investments are not translated neither in the improvement of people’s lives nor in environmental protection. 
  • Discussions around migration is usually set from a “management” perspective with a very negative security tone. We need to review our position and consider migration as a positive contribution to the world’s development by promoting human mobility for sustainable development. Reducing the migration spending target to 10% would go in the right direction.

On EU Aid

4. How will you ensure that EU development funding is used for genuine development cooperation and not sidelined for other purposes? 

  • First, we need to keep advocating for and ensure the EU meets internationally agreed aid quantity and quality targets. These include:
    • the 0.7% of GNI target
    • the 0.15-0.20% of ODA/GNI to Least Development Countries 
    • the support to development cooperation effectiveness commitments

Upcoming international processes such as the ODA modernisation process in the OECD DAC and the Financing for Development process in the UN will be key opportunities to remind the EU to uphold these commitments.

  • Aid is more and more perceived as an investment tool for which investors are demanding “value for money”. We need to remind ourselves that the achievements of the SDGs and ensuring no one is left behind should stay the priority of this solidarity mechanism.
  • Over the past years, EU aid has been progressively diverted to migration control, security objectives and foreign policy objectives. I want to stop this call and remind the EU that our ODA must up and foremost serve to eradicate poverty and achieve the SDGs.

On the future EU-ACP Agreement and EU-Africa cooperation

5. What should be the building blocks of the new comprehensive strategy between the EU and Africa?


  • The future strategy must create a real and meaningful partnership of equals with Africa. It is also important that the comprehensive strategy is coherent with the existing EU commitments towards Africa – such as the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. Respect of the ownership and mutual interests and accountability principles must be at the core of the future strategy. But coherence is not enough: the future strategy needs to be based on a broad development agenda, which does not only focus on investment and creation of jobs, but includes Agenda 2030 implementation, SDGs achievement – aiming at fighting against the rising inequalities in Sub Saharan Africa.
  • In this scenario, the post-Cotonou agreement represents an opportunity to build together with African, Caribbean and Pacific partners an ambitious agenda which puts people’s rights and the respect of the planetary boundaries high among its priorities. Civil Society’s engagement must be preserved through effective mechanisms that can ensure a meaningful participation of those actors on the ground whose involvement is key to achieve sustainable development.

On Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development

6. How do you propose to promote and operationalise Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development? 


  • If the EU is committed to achieving theSDGs, it must respect the Agenda 2030 principles and ensure that all EU policies contribute to sustainable development and take into account the objectives of sustainable development cooperation (in line with Lisbon Treaty article 208). This means, the EU needs to ensure that those furthest behind are prioritised and planetary boundaries need to guide the EU’s international cooperation and partnerships. 
  • Addressing transboundary impacts, intergenerational effects and fostering synergies across the economic, social, governance and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, including in its external policies and international partnerships, need to guide EU policy-making across all policy areas. The EU will develop an EU Action Plan on Policy Coherence for Sustainable Development to operationalise this important concept.
  • For my portfolio in particular, the transboundary impacts of EU policies on partner countries are key – to avoid we give with one hand while taking with the other. I will to this end engage in a proactive dialogue with the other relevant Commissioners. Concretely, this means that all policy-makers should better assess the impact of their proposed policies on those most vulnerable and marginalised within the EU and other parts of the world.
  • Abroad, EU Delegations in partner countries should play a more proactive role in monitoring these impacts and flagging incoherencies early on.

On Civil Society’s role

7. How will you further strengthen the mechanisms for dialogue with CSOs in the EU and in the partner countries, especially in the future EU-ACP Agreement? 


  • The EU must recognise the valuable and diverse roles of Civil Society within Europe and abroad. From implementers of sustainable development, to promoters of public accountability, they uphold democracy and encourage civic participation. While they are increasingly under attack around the world, including in Europe, the EU needs to take a stand and promote, defend and improve enabling environment for CSOs, in terms of legal and regulatory frameworks, political space and operational support. The support to Civil Society around the world is very close to my heart – hence it is high as priority in my Mission Letter as Commissioner-designate to International Partnership.
  • The role of EU Delegations is crucial in that matter. We need to ensure that CSOs on the ground are engaged and consulted in different phases of each EU programme-design; we need to make sure that the expertise on the field feed into EU policies and projects planning and implementing – policies and projects that ultimately aim to be impactful on people’s lives and on the planet.