Dear CONCORD members,
I had the privilege during my handover with outgoing director Olivier Consolo of spending some time meeting CONCORD’s members. I want to report on what I heard and learnt and invite your feedback.
The purpose of the visits was to listen and understand the Confederation better. I also came away with some impressions I wanted to share.
I would therefore warmly invite your reactions and response. I’m now on Twitter and you can e- mail me (seamus.jeffreson (at) concordeurope.org). Looking forward to continuing the discussion.
The value of CONCORD
Hopefully, most of you agree, but it is worth beginning by saying what a positive experience it was visiting members and asking what they felt was the value of the Confederation and what they felt they got out of CONCORD. There seems to be consensus on the value to both networks and national platforms of advancing common goals through this network. Networks bring valuable operational experience for development, credibility and policy resources. National platforms have a potentially huge wealth of inputs from their wide membership, and excellent contacts to member state governments (increasingly important in EU policy making and in UN processes, where member states votes count).
This balance between the interest of networks and national platform members obviously needs to be carefully maintained. The fact that it is often easier for network members to participate in working processes of the Confederation because they have staff in Brussels should not stop us exploring to the maximum ways of making it easier for experts from our members’ members to get involved.
The reasons for and benefits of working at the European level perhaps need to be re-stated and re-argued (staff change both among our members and in the organisations we lobby and seek to influence). The first of the 2014 priorities ‘The Europe we want’, – work around the European Parliament elections – should provide one clear opportunity to underline the case of collective work on an EU level.
Representing the interests of countries ‘formerly known as new member states’
Ten years after the EU’s biggest enlargement, the ‘EU 13’ seem on many levels well represented and active in CONCORD and its working structures. This seems something impressive and of enormous value to my mind, coming back to Brussels having left to work overseas the same year of the enlargement. So I feel this is something to be celebrated. Nevertheless, some issues that I would expect to be of interest to some of our members – democratic transition and human rights, relations with eastern neighbours and Russia, do not seem prominent on CONCORD’s agenda.
Is this because the interested countries have limited resources? Do our ways of working and language issues disadvantage our newer members? Has the imposition of the ‘donor/aid’ structure on new member states as a condition of EU membership meant that wider society in some countries does not feel interested in our issues? Can CONCORD as a whole do more to engage with smaller and new members to facilitate their participation and have their issues are addressed?
Facilitating the work of a broad network
This is obviously a perennial and an existential challenge for CONCORD. It is striking for a newcomer to see just how much work is achieved by the dedicated members of the working groups and other working structures and processes. The reports and policy recommendations reach a wide and influential audience and makes a real difference to EU policy. By doing so, this work advances our aim of reducing poverty and inequality. CONCORD has something unique to offer – it really is a membership-lead organisation – visibly more so than other networks. I came across lots of ideas about improving ways of working: enabling more involvement from a wider circle of members, improving working methods through better use of technology like the CONCORDnet (in place of chats over chain emails), webinars as a sort of ‘meeting lite’, working with working structure chairs and secretariat staff to improve our skills in facilitate input.
The fact that CONCORD is a member lead network means longer and slower processes, but it seems to make our policy conclusions and recommendations all the more authoritative through having civil society from all EU member states and the biggest European NGO behind it. This applies to national governments as well as EU institutions.
Next year in 2014 we’ll continue to deepen our focus on our membership by launching a new survey that will analyse the wide CONCORD constituency. The survey aims to update the profile of who and what CONCORD represents. This will help us better position ourselves towards the EU institutions post-elections as well as our key global partners.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to speak to me and I look forward to hearing your views on these and other issues.