European Year for Development scores unevenly across EU

Young people in Sofia hold their awards for EYD2015 essay "Our World, Our Dignity, Our Future." [Facebook]

The European Year for Development (EYD) has had an uneven success in reaching its goal – raising the awareness of Europeans about the importance of the EU development agenda. The EURACTIV network reports.

EYD2015 officially closed today (9 December) with a ceremony in Luxembourg, the country holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. It opened in January, during the Latvian Presidency. In fact, the idea originated in Latvia.

EYD2015 is the first year designated with such a global theme, since European years have been designated thematically since 1983.

>>Read: Details emerge about the European Year for Development 2015

Germany: Smooth operations

In Germany, the organisation of the events was perfect, with more than 200 activities in schools and universities, and at large-scale sporting events on topics related to development policy were launched nationwide.

Many German NGOs consider the EYD2015 a positive initiative. Bernd Bornhorst, CEO of the Association of Development Policy and Humanitarian Aid (VENRO) told EURACTIV Germany he was pleased to see German civil society involved intensively in the implementation of EYD2015. According to Bornhorst, the EU funding of domestic projects was commendable.

“This did not benefit – as with other European years in the past – mainly advertising agencies, but the European Year strengthened civic education as well as campaign work on development issues,” said Bornhorst.

Still, the work done to promote citizen awareness of the EYD2015 was insufficient in Bornhorst’s view: “The goal to bring together development policy and European policy actors has been used too little,” he stressed.

German media barely covered EYD2015. With very few exceptions, the relevant communication received no attention in newspapers, magazines and TV. In education, it became obvious that most initiatives on development depend on the private motivation of teachers.

For this reason, NGOs called for more investment in Germany’s development-related education and information work. While the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is in favor of spending 3% of the country’s Official development assistance (ODA) in this area, the government invests only 0.65% of ODA, according to the OECD.

The NGO World University Service (WUS) made a critical assessment of the fact that Germany lags behind in this field.

“Education is essential in order to increase the acceptance of change processes in their own society,” Kambiz Ghawami, Chairman of WUS, told EURACTIV Germany.

At least Germany’s development policy commitment is growing. In 2014, ODA reached 0.41% of gross national income, which makes it 12% percent more than in 2013 and an all-time high. That makes Germany the third largest donor in the OECD Development Assistance Committee.

Czech Republic: projects competed for EU funding

Activities conducted in the Czech Republic within the EYD2015 were coordinated by the Department of Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Czech Development Agency receives finances determined to be used as grants for various projects. €150,000 was designated for activities in the Czech Republic, on condition of 20% co-financing from national funds. 

Under the framework of EYD2015, there were two series of selection procedure for grants financed by the EU and the Czech Development Agency. In the preliminary phase of EYD in 2014, 16 projects were submitted to the development agency and 6 of them have been supported. In 2015, 12 projects took part in the selection procedure announced by the agency, out of the 10 that have been granted support. 20 projects joined the competition for grants financed primarily by the EU and 11 of them have gained support. The projects have been run by various types of organisations – NGOs, academic institutions, a business platform for development aid and Czech union of towns and municipalities.

According to Czech NGOs, public awareness about development aid is rising in the Czech Republic. However, they criticise the government for not fulfilling its commitments in terms of ODA.

“The added value of the work of Czech humanitarian organisations has been noticed by the public. We can see it in opinion polls, as well as in the stable support of public humanitarian fund-raising campaigns, be it for saving lives during floods in the Balkans, in consequence of Ebola epidemic in Western Africa or in the reaction towards the results of conflicts such as the current war in Syria,” said Katarína Šrámková, policy officer from the Czech Forum for Development Cooperation (FoRS).

According to FoRS, the Czech Republic does have a well-functioning institutional and legislative system for foreign development cooperation. As a member of OECD Development Assistance Committee, the country now belongs to the club of the major donors. In 2014, an estimated €160 million was assigned to ODA, which is around €9 million more than in 2013. However, the ratio of ODA to GNP was just 0.11 %, which is just one third of what the Czech Republic is committed to under international commitments until 2015 (0.33 %). In 2015, the ratio should be increased to 0.17 %, according to minister of foreign affairs Lubomír Zaorálek.

Slovakia: refugee crisis overshadowed EYD2015

EYD has enjoyed support at the ministerial level in Slovakia, and was able to attract celebrities as ambassadors. Events have been held throughout the year, and institutional ownership has been better compared to the 2013 European Year of Citizens, which got pretty much lost in Slovakia.  

The refugee crisis, however, has had an unintended effect of changing the narrative towards the need “to help in the countries of origin” in the context of not being willing to welcome refugees.

Asked if EYD2015 has been a success, Jakub Žaludko, project manager of the EYD campaign Slovak Platform, of nongovernmental development organisations, replied “Yes and no”. 

“In a minimalist sense, EYD2015 may be regarded as a success simply for the fact that this has been historically the first European Year campaign that thematically broadened the scope of public discussion to include global themes,” he said.

Žaludko said that those were themes “transcending the borders of the EUs Schengen comfort zone”. Migration, climate change, hunger, inequality became the main conversation points, also because of the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, the global forums held in Addis Ababa, New York and Paris, he stated.

“Hopefully, the year full of events, conferences, discussions and campaigning has left very small number of Europeans unmoved, thus being a success,” Žaludko concluded.

According to Peter Ivani?, media coordinator of EYD campaign, the press started to be more interested in the topics of development. This, however, is not always visible if one reads the papers or watches TV in Slovakia.

As several other EU member states, Slovakia misses the target for ODA for development. In 2014, Slovakia actually allocated less resources for ODA than in 2013.

Poland: recognition problems

The motto of the European Year of Development 2015 has been “Our world, our dignity, our future’. Promoting respect for diversity in hermetic Poland is an especially difficult task, because stereotypes are deeply rooted in people’s minds.

The European Year for Development in Poland was coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The MFA has undertaken four major initiatives targeted at increasing social awareness of the existence of Polish development aid.

Some non-governmental organizations have participated as well. One of the main events was run by the NGO Association “Grupa Zagranica” and the Schuman Foundation on 9 May – this year’s annual European Schuman’s Parade was dedicated to EYD 2015.

Many development-focused NGOs incorporated the aims of the year into their annual schedule, but most of them did not organize any special events for the EYD 2015. Even NGOs specializing in one or more of the focus areas of the EYD, such as the role of women, have not been involved in events connected to the Year.

Despite projects run by the MFA, some broadcast in public TV channels, as well as initiatives by NGOs, the EYD2015 has not been widely recognized in Poland this year.

Romania: raising awareness in a poorly known theme

Although Romania has been a donor of official development assistance since its EU accession in 2007, the general Romanian public has little, if any grasp, of what international development is, or of what its government is doing in this regard.

EYD2015 has thus offered as such an important in-country opportunity to raise awareness in this field, to attract attention to Romania’s development efforts in the Republic of Moldova, the extended region of the Black Sea, North Africa and the Middle East, and to facilitate exchanges between national and international public institutions and civil society actors.

One of the main mechanisms that have contributed to the attainment of these objectives has been RoAid – Romania’s Development Cooperation Programme. Within the framework of this programme, the European Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission have financed this year a series of dedicated projects that have facilitated the promotion of Romania’s development agenda, and the organisation of special training and experience exchange events.

An example of the emphasis that has been placed this year on communication is the We develop! media initiative. Financed within the aforementioned framework, and designed and implemented by EURACTIV Romania and the Romanian Centre for European Politics, the project has opened the door for more targeted media coverage in this field and has contributed to the promotion of Romanian and international development stories.

Bulgaria: gatherings with people around a table

European development policy is poorly known in Bulgaria, and many Bulgarians are asking why such a poor country, the poorest in the EU, should help others.

But, like other new EU members, Bulgaria is obligated to provide 0.33% of its GNI as development aid. This, however, is not widely known by the public.

Svetlana Kirova, PHD student at the department of International Relations and European Studies at the University of Ruse, said that for Bulgaria, EYD2015 was a good opportunity to pay attention to the topic and start thinking about itself not only as a part of Europe, but also of the world community of states.

A Facebook page documents the various events held in the country under the EYD2015 heading.

>> Read also: Mixed reactions in Spain over ‘Year of Development’ impact

The European Year for Development 2015 is the first year designated with such a global theme, because European years have been designated thematically since 1983.

The initiative originated in Latvia. The European Year for Development 2015 took place in Riga on 8 January, as part of the events marking the beginning of the first Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Commission representatives, communication experts, as well as figures from the NGO and business sector all agreed that the European Year for Development 2015 should provide an opportunity to reach out to a wider public regarding the importance of the development agenda. New alliances have being sought with youth and women's organisations, local authorities, and unions.

The campaign has aiming to reach audiences in new member states, mostly Central European European countries that haven’t been very involved in development activities up to now.

The various events during the European Year of Development will focus on 12 themes. The month of January will be dedicated to the theme “Europe in the world”, February will focus on “Education”, March on “Women and Girls”, April on “Health”, May on “Peace and Security”, June of “Sustainable green growth, decent jobs and businesses”, July on “Children and youth”, August on “Humanitarian aid”, September on “Demography and migration”, October on “Food security”, November on “Sustainable development and climate action” and December on “Human rights and governance”.

Subscribe to our newsletters