A telephone conversation in 2010 launched the idea of designating 2015 as European Year for Development, Andris Gobi?š told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Andris Gobi?š is President of the European Movement – Latvia and Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
He was speaking to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
The European Year for Development 2015 would be the first dedicated to such a global theme, since European years have been designated from1983 up to now. Is it true that you personally launched the idea of the European Year for Development 2015?
Everything started with my call to my colleague, the Director of the Latvian platform for development cooperation Mara Simane in 2010 when I said: we have a lot of problems in Latvia with development cooperation, with development policies, with development goals, and the modest financial commitments our county makes. And I added it was very hard to push through and to keep the promises we made.
So I said if 2015 is a special year for the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda, what would you say if we push for a European year of Development? And she immediately said yes, this is a good idea. Two days later we were in Concord, in the General Assembly, and presented the idea. Again, we got extremely positive feedback from the members.
After gaining this positive feedback from Concord, it was clear that this idea will fly, and as I am a member of the European Economic and Social Committee and I’m leading the European Movement in Latvia, I managed to get this idea into an opinion of the EESC, which became the first EU institution on board, already in November.
And my colleague Mara Simane spoke to Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who is also from Latvia, and once I was travelling with him on our way to Brussels, I asked him: How do we do this in reality? And he named his vice director of cabinet Peteris Ustubs as person in charge of the European year of Development, and from that moment, step by step with Concord, we addressed the Committee of regions, we addressed the Parliament President Martin Schulz, who was very positive. We then reached to different political parties’ representatives in the European Parliament. Charles Goerens (ALDE, Luxembourg), Thijs Berman (S&D, Netherlands), Phillippe Boulland (EPP, France), again to have the major groups represented, and the European Parliament voted [in April 2014] to make the European Year of Development a reality.
It the European Year of Development one of the key events of the launch of the Latvian EU Presidency?
Actually it’s the first big event of the Latvian Presidency. The European Year of the Development will be launched on 9 January in Riga. It will coincide with the visit of the College of Commissioners. It will be Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with the Latvian Prime Minister [Laimdota Straujuma] and the Latvian Commissioner [Valdis Dombrovskis, Commission Vice President and former Prime Minister of Latvia] who will inaugurate the European Year of Development.
We hear opinions that some EU countries, especially new members from the East, who lack traditions in development cooperation, should be involved more. Is Latvia providing a good example?
In terms of funding we are a bad example. We are not even close to the commitments we have made. But it could have been even worse if we didn’t have a European Year of Development, because such an initiative increases the visibility and puts some positive pressure on the politicians to keep their promises.
I think where we are extremely strong in Latvia is in real cooperation, not in the traditional aid-type of things. We don’t call this type of aid development cooperation, we simply do it. So there is a lot of cooperation with Georgia, Moldova. A lot of people don’t realise these countries are also recipients of development aid. These are the countries where the most projects from Latvia take place. And it’s real exchange, real cooperation.
It’s not about Westerners teaching Georgia democracy, it’s real development projects which I think are extremely efficient and need-based. Development is much more tan donating money, it’s much more than percentage of GDP dedicated to development aid. It’s about a coherent and fair policy. As an example, it makes no sense to send humanitarian aid to Georgia, and through our subsidies to destroy their farming sector. I’m exaggerating, but this is an example that we need more coherent policies. That’s the strength of Latvia and I hope my government will continue in the same direction.
Speaking about development cooperation, isn’t it unusual to mention countries covered by the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, which suggests another level of rapprochement?
It’s a priority area for Latvia, for us it makes sense to work with those countries, because the transition they experience now is something we have experienced some 20-25 years ago.