Child rights NGOs join forces to lobby new EU leaders

7 February 2020

BRUSSELS — A coalition of six child rights NGOs met the European Union’s new leadership this week, aiming to cement child protection and participation as priorities for the bloc in the next five years and beyond.

“Egos and logos stay outside the room. When we are going here to the commissioners … there is no competition”

— Richard Pichler, special representative for external affairs and resources, SOS Children’s Villages International

The NGO leaders from Joining Forces — uniting ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages International, Terre des Hommes International Federation, and World Vision International — were in Brussels to meet with the European Commission, European Parliament, and European External Action Service.

Richard Pichler, special representative for external affairs and resources at SOS Children’s Villages International, told Devex that International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen is seeking the group’s input on a number of issues.

“One is of course child and youth participation; the other one is on tracking and measuring children’s issues being represented ... in EU policy, measuring input and outcomes in the funding for children,” Pichler said. “I was surprised how offensively she was meeting us on that, and [she] said, ‘Look, I need your inputs there because it needs to be relevant for the field.’”

The group also met Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, discussing the commission’s commitment — made under Lenarčič’s predecessor — to allocate 10% of the EU’s humanitarian budget to education in emergencies.

Asked whether the group discussed the prospect of Lenarčič continuing or expanding this target, Pichler answered in the affirmative. “Definitely continue, probably even expand,” he said, adding that Lenarčič was adamant that children in migrant and emergency situations should attend school just as locals do.

Lenarčič’s office told Devex that he had informed the group of his plans to maintain the 10% commitment, but his office could not confirm any plans to increase it, citing the unresolved negotiations over the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget. The Slovenian also encouraged the NGOs to share their good practices on the humanitarian-development nexus, as well as on climate and the greening of humanitarian operations.

At the Parliament, the group met MEPs including Italian center-left member Caterina Chinnici, who is vice chair of the Parliament’s budget committee, and Ewa Kopacz, the center-right Polish MEP and Parliament coordinator on children’s rights.

Pichler said that while MEPs on Parliament’s development committee have, in his view, “no power at all … formal power” over EU development policy, every MEP has “influencing power” to act as a “multiplier” for children’s rights across different political groups.

Joining Forces wants an EU Child Rights Strategy to “mainstream” child rights in EU decision-making, intersecting with the work of Dubravka Šuica, the commission vice president responsible for democracy and demography, who is charged with preparing a “comprehensive strategy on the rights of the child.”

Through the Joining Forces coalition, based at Plan International’s headquarters in the U.K. and currently staffed by a two-person secretariat, the NGOs conduct joint programming and advocacy in five countries.

“It’s then driving collaboration wherever we work, so there is no competition,” said Andrew Morley, president and CEO of World Vision International. “In many contexts, we don’t see each other as competition anyway, but it’s just kind of formalizing that we are all on the same team.”

Meg Gardinier, secretary-general of ChildFund Alliance and chief of the rotating Joining Forces CEO Oversight Committee, said the group evolved out of the success that the organizations had lobbying together to secure the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal to end violence against children by 2030.

Officials on the other side of the table in Brussels this week also appreciated the chance to speak to the child rights NGOs as a group, the trio of NGO leaders told Devex.

Morley said Joining Forces covers “100,000 employees roughly, 152 countries, and €7 billion [$7.7 billion] of revenue, so it gives a scale and a coverage which is just very appealing when you are speaking to a commissioner.”

“Egos and logos stay outside the room,” Pichler added. “When we are going here to the commissioners … there is no competition.”

Similarly, Pichler said the group is trying to see beyond the distinction between children and youth, technically demarcated by the age 18. “[Urpilainen] was also informing us on her youth focus. Then, we looked at each other and, without even talking to each other, it came to all our minds: ‘OK, careful. It must not be silo thinking. Children will become youth … You have to see this together.’”