Next year promises to be “a very exciting and groundbreaking year for international development.”
The statement comes from European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, commenting after the European Parliament voted last week by overwhelming majority to designate 2015 as the official European Year for Development.
But what is EYD2015 and what does it aim to achieve?
Every year since 1983, the EU has designated a specific theme around which it has encouraged debate and dialogue within and among the bloc’s member states. The aim is to raise awareness and — ultimately — to change attitudes.
EYD2015 would be the first designated to a global, external action-related theme.
“This year provides an unparalleled opportunity for us to engage with EU citizens, to showcase our strong commitment to eradicating poverty worldwide and to inform them how every euro of support helps to make a difference in the lives of so many, in some of the world’s poorest countries,” Piebalgs said.
EYD2015 aspires to inform EU citizens about development cooperation efforts and highlight the EU’s role as the world’s biggest aid donor.
As in previous years, measures will include communication campaigns, conferences, events, initiatives, studies and surveys at European, national, regional and local levels, to convey key messages and encourage participation among the general public.
Marius Wanders, a board member at CONCORD — the European NGO confederation that first advocated for the EYD2015 initiative — believes the year represents an opportunity for open public debate with citizens, but cautions that it “should not be only about aid — what Europe gives — but also about the consumption choices that we make as citizens that affect global development.”
It’s not clear whether consumer behavior will be among the topics of the year, which is expected instead to focus efforts on stimulating interest in development issues and creating opportunities for active engagement and on-the-ground implementation of policies through the Commission’s new aid volunteer scheme, among other priorities.
Although extra funding will likely be made available — as in most previous European years — for local, national and cross-border projects that address the year’s theme, the availability of extra EU funding for overseas projects remains uncertain.
However, EYD2015 will certainly be considered a flagship campaign of the first 12 months of the next European Commission — only expected to be nominated in November or December 2014 — and an opportunity for the incoming president and development commissioner to send a strong signal that development features prominently in future policymaking.
The Commission may also propose new legislation that could see strengthened policy integration and coherence among the work of directorates-general in fields such as energy, trade, agriculture or gender, to name a few.
According to Wanders, the initiative is very timely: “It’s the year when important global agreements to decide how to tackle global poverty will be negotiated.”
Indeed, 2015 is the final year for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the year in which the post-MDG agenda will build up a head of steam to take the major decisions on what the future framework will look like in practice.
For the EU Commission, it also marks four years since the adoption of the “Agenda for Change” — the blueprint to refocus its development aid to ensure it reaches those sectors and countries most in need.
Piebalgs, who praised the work of the European Parliament in bringing the concept to fruition, said EYD2015 promises to be a major event that “will need the broadest support possible to match its ambition and its huge geographical reach.”
Next year will see donors and stakeholders once again come together to look at what has been achieved and — most importantly — what remains to be done.
And despite many EU member states finding themselves falling behind with their official development assistance targets during the ongoing economic downturn, the institutions will at least be encouraged by the public levels of support for development aid. For example, in a Eurobarometer survey released at the European Development Days in November 2013, some 85 percent of EU citizens agreed that Europe should continue helping developing countries.
With continued strong backing from the European public and the institutions, the aid community may feel more optimistic that 2015 can indeed meet expectations and prove a truly pivotal year for the future of development.
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