On 2 December 2015, Nicolas Schmit, the Minister responsible for relations with the European Parliament during the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), addressed the plenary session in Brussels during a debate on the European Year for Development. A few days before the closing ceremony to be held on 9 December 2015 in Luxembourg and in the margins of the informal meeting of the Ministers for Cooperation and Development, Nicolas Schmit delivered the Council's declaration on the implementation and assessment of the European Year, praising 'a stellar example of cooperation between the European Union institutions, Member States, civil society, the private sector and all those with an interest in development'.
Nicolas Schmit began by noting that an 'exceptional programme' was put together in order to showcase the results achieved by the European Union, working with the Member States, as a global player and the leading donor of public development aid globally. In this regard, he referred to the 'highlights' such as the inaugural session in Riga on 9 January 2015 and the debate in Brussels on 27 May 2015 on the post-2015 agenda with young people, attended by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
He welcomed the fact that 'a large number of Member States also organised a national official inauguration ceremony for the European Year for Development, in the presence of the highest authorities – a testament to their commitment to development cooperation which attracted the attention of national media'.
The Minister further noted that 'a multitude of activities' was organised in all Member States in order to encourage European citizens to participate directly and think critically in the field of development. Nicolas Schmit stressed that while the EU worked 'hand-in-hand' with the regional and local authorities, civil society, and educational, cultural and research players, the private sector also got involved.
2015 was described as an emblematic year rich in international events directly linked to sustainable development, the Minister added, citing the Universal Exhibition in Milan, the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations during which the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted, the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa and the Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris.
The Minister welcomed the fact that this initiative led to greater public awareness on the advantages of development cooperation, not only for the beneficiaries, but also for the citizens of the Union, and better understanding of the concept of policy coherence for development. 'Development is the key', he said, stressing that 'the fight against poverty and despair which leads people to leave their home country in terrible conditions' is a 'major priority'.
Concluding the debate, Nicolas Schmit noted that while the European Year for Development is almost over, 'our efforts to eradicate poverty and create a more just and peaceful world must continue and be stepped up'. He stressed the importance of development cooperation at a time when close to 1.3 billion people are still living in extreme poverty and developing countries are particularly exposed to the effects of climate change.
The Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, praised this 'year of partnership, innovation and sharing experiences', and called for 'working hand-in-hand to promote development beyond 31 December of this year'. While he welcomed the adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he also expressed hope that an ambitious agenda for the climate will be adopted at the COP21.
Contributions by political groups
A number of political groups spoke positively about how the year went but called for efforts to continue beyond 2015. Davor Ivo Stier (EPP) noted the importance of effective development strategies while also tackling the root causes of migration, which are poverty, systematic violations of human rights and corruption in neighbouring countries. In his view, 'what counts now is the implementation of Agenda 2030'.
Linda McAvan (S&D) praised the fact that the EU 'took action' to reach an agreement in Addis Ababa. She expressed hope that an agreement will be reached on the COP21 in Paris and stressed the need for 'the results to follow' in the coming decades.
For Charles Goerens (ALDE), 2015 was a success. He welcomed the 'indispensable contribution of development to resolving our problems' and called for 'a continuation along the lines pursued in 2015'. However, he lamented the trend among some to 'promote the principle of indifference'.
MEPs from the radical left and the greens focused on the importance of not resting on our laurels and putting the development commitments from 2015 into action, as well as ensuring policy coherence. Lola Sánchez Caldentey (GUE/NGL), cautioned against 'taking with one hand what was given with the other, which is what we are doing with trade policy', while Maria Heubuch (Greens/EFA) called for a 'change in our behaviour' and to 'keep in mind the interests of all'.
A number of political groups criticised the EU's actions in the field of development, particularly on expenditure in this context. Richard Sulík (ECR) pointed to the 'failure' of development projects and spending on 'marketing', noting that it is 'unrealistic' to ask certain Member States who are in debt to spend 0.7% of their GDP annually. Ignatio Corrao (EFDD) concurred, noting that the year could not possibly be cast in a positive light, as resources were used 'for advertising'; meanwhile, the importance of development aid has not been demonstrated in practice. Olaf Stuger (ENF) also took the view that despite the fact that the EU spends 'a lot of money' in this field, the effects are not apparent because in his view, the money goes straight into the pockets of dictators, 'allowing them to stay in power'.