As debate over the successor to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) gathers momentum, the EU's Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs argued in favour of objectives applicable not only to the developing countries, but to every country in the world.

Piebalgs met with journalists on 4 June to discuss the recently published report of the United Nations High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda.

The EU development commissioner was among the 27 “eminent personalities” who authored the report, led by the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

To prepare the process of putting in place post-2015 MDGs (see background), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had asked the panel to produce a report “on how the post MDGs could look like”, Piebalgs said. He added that the UN leader had “made a gamble” by establishing a small panel of personalities representing different parts of the world, and co-chaired by least developed countries such as Liberia, emerging big countries such as Indonesia and a developed country committed to development such as the UK.

What became obvious to Pieblalgs is that developing countries came “strongly” with proposals for measures creating new jobs, especially for young people, and with “a higher ambition” for education. The proposals on sustainability, encompassing environmental, economic and social sustainability in one framework, as well as the issue of human rights were also reflected in the report.

'We live in one world'

As a result the high-level panel took “a broad ambition for universality”, proposing that the post-2015 MDGs should apply not only for developing countries, but for each and every country, including Latvia, Russia, UK or China, said Piebalgs, who is from Latvia.

“There will be no more North-South divisions, which I believe are outdated. You can call Latvia as much a North country and a South country. And you can call the same any other EU country. And China is also a North country and a South country. We live in one world,” Piebalgs said.

The Commissioner took as an example the eradication of poverty as an area where all countries had to make efforts, even though poverty levels vary from country to country.

The Commissioner quoted a member of the panel who said: “We live in one house, not even in one village, and it’s not the first floor that takes care of everything, while the second floor still waits until it takes some care as well.”

In terms of priorities, the high-level panel proposed 12 goals which reflect the priority objective to be achieved, which in Piebalgs’ words are rather broad, and then identified around 50 targets which help achieve the goals.

Piebalgs said that when the MDGs were first discussed in 2000, nobody expected they would become a reference in peoples’ lives. But as the world comes close to 2015, he said that it appeared that “everybody” accepted them a reference point “on how we should invest our money and how we should measure our success”.

The biggest success of MDGs so far has bee on children’s enrolment in schools and the weakest – maternal health, where we have not succeeded globally, the Commissioner said.

For Piebalgs, as 2015 comes closer, two challenges become obvious. One is to try to reach the 2015 objectives. It would not be acceptable to say: “We have not achieved such objective, because it was too ambitious”, he said.

The second challenge is what happens after 2015, the two options being to continue the present framework or put in place a different one.

Goals and targets

The answer of the high-level panel is to put in place a new framework, in which four groups of goals were identified:

  • Fighting extreme poverty,
  • Environmental sustainability, including resource efficiency and climate change,
  • Equity, human rights, political rights, the situation of women, and
  • Global challenges such as financing and new partnerships.

Piebalgs said that when the panel tabled its report last week, the first reaction proved to be positive.

The Indonesian president presented the report and none of the groups of countries that spoke criticised it, he said.

“I would say this was the best reception one could expect … Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] asked the report to be bold and practical. These objectives have been achieved,” the Commissioner said.

Piebalgs said that in the optimum case, the report could be transformed into a binding agreement of member states on the post-2015 framework.

“What will happen now that a lot of ideas will come from member states, but I believe the report will not be forgotten. The report will be praised by some, criticised by others, but will not be forgotten,” Piebalgs said.

He said the Commission will now go out to promote the report to EU countries but also the whole post-2015 process, reminding that the Commission had produced a Communication on the post-2015 MDGs, which he described as “close” to what has been proposed in the High Level Panel Report, “although not so detailed”.

>> Read: EU's 'decent life' plan seeks to shape UN development goals

Asked by EurActiv to elaborate about job creation, which is a goal for the European Union itself, Piebalgs said that in the developing countries, this issue was linked with the creation of critical infrastructure where it was missing.

“When you don’t have access to energy, it cannot be done. If there is no sufficient investment in agriculture, people will go to urban areas where they will be dependent on humanitarian aid. Bottlenecks that prevent job creation in the poorest countries need to be addressed,” he said.

Piebalgs also made reference to job creation in richer countries and in the EU, where he gave as an example Austria, as the country where the government’s efforts had led to significant results in dealing with youth unemployment.

“You need to invest money to get the first job. If you get the first job, you can move on. Job creation is an issue per se. It’s not that market development will create sufficient jobs for society. It could be created by the private sector, but the government is responsible,” the commissioner said.