Opening of the European Year for Development 2015: One vision for an inclusive and sustainable post-2015 world
9 January 2015, Riga, Latvia
Speech by Tanya Cox, Co-chair of the Beyond-2015 European Taskforce.
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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon.
I’d like to begin with a thought borrowed from Winston Churchill. He said: “All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope”.
But, no matter how simple those things may be, for a lot of people in the world today, especially poor people, they’re completely out of reach.
But they’re all extremely linked to just governance and accountability.
Poverty and inequality aren’t accidents of fate. They are the results of specific power relations and policy decisions which are discriminatory, exclusionary and unjust.
Let’s not run away from the truth, nor from its implications, for once. Poverty and inequality aren’t accidents of fate. They are the results of specific power relations and policy decisions which are discriminatory, exclusionary and unjust. When poor people are asked to define poverty, they describe it as powerlessness, voicelessness and exclusion from decision-making.
And it’s not just poor people in “other” countries who feel like that. Even here in Europe, people are feeling pretty disenfranchised, disempowered, as though what they think doesn’t really count. The economic and financial crises – which, we should remember, are man-made crises – and the responses to them have only made those feelings stronger.
Which brings me back to governance. And why Beyond 2015 Europe considers it so important that we address the failures of governance at all levels in the post-2015 framework.
“Governance” is all about how power and authority are used to manage national and global public affairs and resources – such as economic resources and natural resources. Governance is also about whether, or not, people are able to engage in and influence decision-making. Weak or illegitimate governance is one of the main reasons why the benefits of progress aren’t shared equally between people.
Clearly, that isn’t just true at a national level. It could also be said about international governance of international processes, international institutions.
We really need to create strong, stable, democratic institutions from local to global levels that make sure that everybody’s well-being is improved.
Just governance is also about respecting and realising human rights; it must be inclusive, participatory, equitable, transparent, accountable; and it must guarantee access to justice, respect the rule of law and fight against corruption. That’s quite a tall order.
It obviously implies making quite a lot of changes at all levels and in most countries. Given that those changes are quite challenging – for some, at least – those “in decision-making roles” have so far preferred to claim that other solutions are possible. What about a bit more growth, for example? Growth should do the trick! Well no, actually it won’t, and it’s been proven that the benefits of growth don’t trickle down and are not shared out fairly.
So what does this mean for the post-2015 framework? How can it contribute to changing the structures and processes of all forms of governance?
Well, in terms of where we’re at in the process right now, what has been suggested at UN level in the Open Working Group document (Goal 16) isn’t a bad start. And the EU’s recent Council Conclusions were actually rather strong on good governance and the rule of law. They recognise the importance of good governance for a transformative future framework. Even if, on the other hand, we’re not quite there yet on accountability and there’s a bit of confusion with monitoring and reporting.
Going forward? Beyond 2015 Europe believes that civil and political rights aren’t a “nice to have”. They’re a must if we want to improve governance. They’re part of what we call “the enabling environment”. No justice is possible, no accountability is possible, if no – or only false – information is available, and no one is able to speak out. We very much hope that the EU, and the EU’s partners, will remain strong on civil and political rights in the post-2015 negotiations.
Secondly, we need to decentralise and open up the channels of power, at national and local levels, so ordinary people can have a say in decisions that concern their lives. And we need to go beyond good governance if we are going to ensure the equitable management of economic and natural resources. And at an international level, we need to make sure that all countries are represented in global governance structures, especially economic and environment-related ones.
Thirdly, we need to have the courage to put checks and balances in place – for governments or for the private sector – so that human rights violations stop and corruption is eliminated. Nowadays, checks and balances – or regulation – are dirty words. But without them, abuses of power will spiral out of all control. We know what the abuses are, we know how and when they generally occur, so let’s use the opportunity of the post-2015 framework to actually do something about them.
And this is what brings me to accountability. Rigorous, independent and appropriate accountability mechanisms, from local to global levels, will be an important counterpart to better governance. Because it’s key that ordinary people are able to feed in to these mechanisms – whether we’re talking about social audits or parliamentary enquiries – a bottom-up approach must be taken.
And all actors must be accountable, both for the commitments they make and the actions that they take – or fail to take. For example, the ever-growing influence and impact of the private sector on governance issues which were traditionally the sole remit of the state, like the provision of global public goods, must be reviewed. Mechanisms to ensure the private sector’s accountability and transparency are still ineffective, and in some instances non-existent.
I’d like to end with a call to all European leaders and their partners, once more borrowing from Churchill: “It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required”.
Now – with the opportunity of the post-2015 framework – is one of those moments when our best isn’t good enough. We must make just governance and accountability a reality for the billions of people around the world who don’t experience those words “freedom”, “justice” or “hope”.
15 years from now, everyone must have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, their potential, and their rights.