2020 has certainly been a peculiar year and a year of many firsts. The first time we telework almost consistently, the first time we all cut down our travel massively – whether for work or for pleasure – the first time that we get so tech-savvy with the various online ‘meeting’ tools. My favourite recurring expression is: ‘you’re on mute’! So we’re tech-savvy, but…
Being able to connect with others in such a different manner has levelled the playing field in many respects and has also opened many doors, especially to colleagues further afield. These positive aspects will hopefully remain with us even when we return to a somewhat more normal situation next year. But the lack of physical meetings has also hampered our work, as CONCORD, to a certain extent. It has been harder to stay informed. It has been harder to keep a sense of the bigger picture and longer term amidst the urgencies. And it has been harder to influence. Civil society space narrowed in a very unexpected and almost unavoidable manner. But not being in the corridors of the EU institutions (or government ministries) has meant that many important day-to-day exchanges simply haven’t happened.
Now, the proof of the pudding is certainly in the eating, but one important change which has been happening almost unnoticed, while we are all busy teleworking, is the reorganisation in the European Commission of DG DEVCO into DG INTPA – which, by the way, stands for ‘international partnerships’. The official ‘launch’ of DG INTPA is not until January, but it has been in the making for months. And it doesn’t bode entirely well. Some key ingredients for our pudding are certainly missing and risk affecting more than just its flavour. For starters, what has happened to the SDGs? We now have a traditional development policy unit combined with Team Europe – so mostly focused on where the money goes – and a sustainable development unit which is merged with global partnerships – reflecting more the aim to achieve the SDGs through partnership. Is that an abdication of responsibility? Policy coherence for (sustainable) development has also disappeared off the map, by the way. While the Civil Society Unit has been merged with Local Authorities, but with fewer staff dedicated to the two. What was that about shrinking civil society space?
We already had a taster of the importance that DG DevCo attaches to private sector actors for the achievement of the SDGs. Now, despite no clear proof of the added value (additionality, effectiveness) of initiatives such as the European Fund for Sustainable Development, the EC is planning to increase the attention it gives to economic and (innovative) financing issues. That begs the question: with the weight given to financing and programming – and with more localisation via a process of ‘geographisation’ – in the new organigramme, is there a risk that DG INTPA will end up looking more like an implementing agency than a global leader in policy fora? I also wonder how these changes may relate to what is happening in Member States (and one notable former Member State)?
So all in all, we will need to step up our engagement next year with the European Commission, and the Member States, given their importance in guiding the Commission. We will need to engage swiftly and consistently to ensure that the hard-earned reputation that the EU has built as a values-based donor and policy-maker is not negatively impacted. And we most particularly must make sure that the EU is not losing sight of the SDGs as the main objective which unites all countries across the globe. Our task will certainly be easier if we are able to combine digital techniques with the more old-fashioned coffees and face-to-face meetings which are so valuable.
And on that note, I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to continuing our work together next year!