EU Consensus for Development - interview with Seamus Jeffreson, Director of Concord

28 Member States and EU institutions work to find consensus around Sustainable Development Goals. A new consensus that tackles the issue of the movement of people in all its complexity, and that focus on human security (of the individual and society at large) rather than states’ security (territorial integrity, border control) through the important role of development cooperation policy, instruments and money. In this article Alba Gonzalez (EU Policy Officer) interviews Seamus Jeffreson, Director of Concord on the EU Concensus for Development.

What is the EU Consensus for Development and why is it important?

It is a statement by the EU institutions and all the Member States on priorities and strategies for the development sector, a vision that guides policies in the EU development work. It is important because it is not only the ‘consensus’ of the EU institutions but also of all 28 Member States so everybody is bound by it.  Therefore, it is the vision and statement of intent across the 28 Member States plus the EU Institutions (European Commission, the Council and the Parliament).

What are the main challenges for CSOs in the review of the Consensus?

The first challenge is to have a Consensus, i.e. that EU Institutions and Member States can agree on something and can have a consensus on issues about Sustainable Development. Just because we had one in the past it does not mean that we can still have a consensus in future. So the fact that we can still have one is the first objective. The second is to secure the positive aspects of the current consensus. The third is to see how the current challenges are seen by the EU and its MS and how they deal with them in such a way as to maintain the spirit of the development effectiveness principles. What I mean here is that over the last 20 years the sector has developed a human rights based approach that requires the participation of all actors, including civil society and partner countries which should work in collaboration. These basic principles are the ones that we endorse in all our work as NGOs and CSOs involved in global solidarity and we need to ensure that these principles remain whilst the EU struggles with the perceived challenges towards migration or security and all the very current issues that the EU is dealing with.
It is absolutely right for a new consensus to tackle the question of the movement of people we are seeing and its relationship with Sustainable Development. But we want it to be addressed in the direction that managing migration flows is not just at short-term political ‘problem’ that can be solved, for example, by outsourcing the management of our borders to third countries or changing the language of ‘partnership’ with neighbouring countries to a language of conditionality. We need a Consensus that sees the issue of movements of people in all its complexity, that we draw on our track record of development cooperation to look at the root causes, that we include the people affected in decisions and policies that affect them.   
People are understandably focused on security, but the Consensus needs to focus on human security (of the individual and society at large) – not states’ security (territorial integrity, border control) – this is the role of development cooperation policy, instruments and money.

CONCORD replied to the EU Commission public consultation on the review of the EU Consensus for Development, what is CONCORD doing as a follow-up of this public consultation?

We are trying to ensure a proper dialogue with the Commission and the other EU Institutions that are involved in the Consensus in addition to MS, to go beyond the submission of our views. It is great that we submitted a position, SDG Watch did as well, all kind of different organisations submitted their views but we need more than that, we need a dialogue and a proper discussion, we need a more meaningful consultation. A consultation is not about me giving you some questions, receiving your answers and then writing the document. That is what we are seeking and I think one of the advantages of CONCORD that we need to try to exploit is that we have a very strong presence with our secretariat and with our members based here in Brussels as well as in the EU MS, through our members and the members of our members. We need to use all those channels to make sure that there is a broad understanding of what our position is and that we use all those channels to make our voices heard.

What would the impact of this EU Consensus be for Development for persons with disabilities?

One element of the Consensus is the translation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into EU Sustainable Development policy. The goals are not perfect in terms of persons people with disabilities but I think that there are steps forward and I think it is a framework that hopefully can be beneficial if it is properly supported. I think a successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, both in terms of using the goals and targets to make a major progress, in terms of using the spirit of the SDG which is quite good on participation, governance and partnership, should be an advance. The universal nature of the SDG can be a benefit to persons people with disabilities globally. The common feeling that there are inalienable rights, wherever you are, and the support of the UN framework need to be respected, that is a positive thing for persons people with disabilities. The mantra of the SDG is “leaving no one behind”, that mantra remains and I think it is not a bad one. If that mantra can be turned to something practical and go beyond budget allocation or consultation or how we measure them, it can truly benefit people including communities which have been traditionally left behind such as persons with disabilities.