A key priority of the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union under International Partnerships/Development Cooperation is to bring Human Development to the discussions held at the level of the European Council. Therefore, the work on the topic will be consummated in two separate strands: Education and Health. The findings of the process, to which the Portuguese NGDO Platform was invited to contribute, are expected to be made public during the coming months in the form of Council Conclusions.

If it was not already evident, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of education in our societies. The World Bank estimates that the instability caused by Covid-19 will have an impact of around 10 billion dollars on the future income of the most affected generation. UNICEF hints at the number of 24 million people who will definitely drop out of school due to the pandemic. These setbacks come at a time when, according to a recently published study by Oxfam, the fortunes of the world’s 10 richest men have increased considerably since the pandemic began. Given the fact that today the gap between rich and poor is widening at a very quick pace, it is essential to focus on those sectors that can best contribute to the fight against poverty and inequality. One such sector is certainly Education.

Education impacts people’s lives significantly, either negatively – due to its absence or inaccessibility – and positively – if it is a constant part of the personal development process. It is no accident that the people with the highest levels of education get the highest return on their skills, and are also in the best position to play an active role in defining the future of their society. The inverse is also true and it suggests that sustainable development is intrinsically related to access to quality and universal education. It is based on the understanding that Education should be valued as a top priority of the EU’s cooperation with its partner countries, that the Platform has sought to contribute to the discussion on Human Development in the European Council. To this end, the experience gained by NGDOs provides a fundamental input and is living proof of the need to invest more and better in supporting public systems in partner countries.

Having overcome all uncertainty surrounding the next Multiannual Financial Framework, the 27 Member States came finally to an agreement on the EU budgetary amounts for the next seven years. The current – programming – phase is equally important, and it will help to outline the key financial targets that must be met during the period concerned. Several European organisations (CONCORD included, in an appeal also signed by the Platform) feel the commitment to education depends on allocating to the sector at least 10% of the funds earmarked for promoting human development in the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI in the original acronym). This is an important goal, but it must also be supported by other commitments, such as a clear intention to use instruments like budget support as part of a strategy to strengthen country systems – which has actually shown to be particularly effective in terms of impact on the delivery of public services to the most vulnerable populations.

The Platform has been calling to the Council to also commit to enhancing its support to Civil Society, especially Civil Society Organisations in partner countries, considering all of the work they have carried out and the important role they play in many communities – the importance of which is illustrated by the results of the work carried out by several Portuguese NGDOs. These organisations have provided very important input in several dimensions, including support for the most basic levels of education, initiatives related to non-formal methods of education, work for promoting gender equality and the empowerment of girls in contexts marked by adverse dynamics.

The European Council expects to address this matter in the coming months and to adopt the Council Conclusions that will provide a common ground for the 27 Member States to focus on Human Development. Education emerged as one of the cross-cutting issues in the process that culminated in the priorities of civil society for the Portuguese EU Council Presidency. The Platform will continue to monitor the process, together with the partners of the Presidency Project.

This article was co-financed by the European Union. Its content is the sole responsibility of the Portuguese Platform of NGDOs and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union.

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