The emotions following the Paris terrorist attacks left a mark on the messages of EU officials during the launch on Friday (9 January) in Riga of the “European Year for Development 2015”.
More than 300 officials from 38 countries attended the launch in Riga of the “European Year for Development 2015”, the first year designated with such a global theme, since European years have been designated thematically since 1983.
The aim of the “European Year for Development 2015” is to make as many citizens of the EU as possible understand and support the role of Union in addressing global challenges and providing development aid. An unprecedented number of events during the European Year of Development will focus on 12 themes (see background) and are expected to citizens in all EU countries with the help of youth and women’s organisations, local authorities, and unions.
It is not by chance the launch took place in the Latvian capital Riga. Latvia not only holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, but in fact the initiative originated in this country.
>> Read: Gobi?š: The European Year for Development 2015 started in Latvia
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker paid tribute to Andris Gobi?š, President of the European Movement – Latvia and Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), who in 2010 started the initiative with Concord, the European confederation of Relief and Development NGOs.
Without directly referring to the Paris terrorist attacks, Juncker said that the world is becoming increasingly interdependent, and challenges such as radicalism do not know any borders.
“Our response needs to be united. Our policy must adapt to better face these challenges”, Juncker said.
‘Je suis Charlie’
Foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said that each year, over 1.4 million people lose their lives to violence.
“Je suis Charlie. Things are interconnected. The challenge of our new commission working internally and externally in different sectors is vital for our own interest and security, as well as for the benefit of the rest of the world”, she said.
According to Mogherini violence and insecurity have undermined the attainment of MDGs. On average, a country that experiences major violence in the period between 1981 and 2005 has a poverty rate 25% higher than a country that saw no violence, she said.
Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rink?vi?s said the EU had the necessary range of tools, and if it applied funding for development correctly, it could influence the reasons that provide inspiration for terrorism.
European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said the EU needed to strike a balance between its security and its development action. There is a need to tackle the security problem at its roots, starting with the humanitarian relief responses, to the long term responses in all crises, Mimica said.
As each of the speakers was taking the time to express their condolences to France over the Charlie Hebdo attack, ironically, French minister of State for Development and Francophonie Annick Girardin was left without speaking time. As she was last on the list of speakers, she was rudely interrupted at the beginning of her statement, with the moderator saying time was out.
Girardin, visibly upset, said that she would continue her statement nevertheless, but had to wrap up her message faster than she had expected.
It appears that Latvians are obsessed with scheduling, and even Juncker was surprised when his press conference the previous day was cut short abruptly by the moderator.
Henri Malosse, President of European Economic and Social Committee, made the strongest statement during the ceremonies. He called the Paris attacks a manifestation of “new Nazism, new fascism”.
“Terrorism is our enemy, but our first enemy is poverty, which is conducive to terrorism,” he said, adding that the Mediterranean is “becoming a cemetery because of (a) lack of development”.
Malosse did not spare the Commission from criticism, saying that development should be negotiated, from equal to equal, and that in his words this has been forgotten.
“Development policy got lost in bureaucracy,” Malosse said. The EU is supplying a lot of direct assistance to governments, “but where is the money?”, he asked.
Further, Malosse advocated the need of “real reform” in development aid, of establishing a dialogue which should touch upon the issue of religions and “never compromise on values”.
More coordination is needed in development aid, Malosse further argued, adding that the national politics of EU countries eclipse the common EU policy. He also argued that development should be a community policy.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment om Malosse’s critical statements, Mimica said he wouldn’t deny problems exist.
It should not be forgotten that development activity takes place in most fragile environments, and is run by partners, therefore avoiding that money going in wrong directions is a “delicate exercise”, Mimica said.
Rink?vi?s also answered this question and appeared to contradict Mimica to a certain extent, by saying that to some extent, NGOs were “more efficient” in providing development aid. He emphasis that a “more individual approach” to the world’s regions was needed.