An interview with Mr. Laszlo Borbely, former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament of Romania, Chamber of Deputies, Romania, on the Regional Seminar for Parliaments of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, organised jointly by the Hungarian National Assembly and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), held in Budapest on February 23 and 24, 2017.
REC: Please can you begin by explaining the purpose of the Regional Seminar on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Parliaments of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and by outlining the main points discussed during the seminar?
Laszlo Borbely: The Budapest event was the third seminar since the initiative was launched in Romania in 2015. It brought together 22 countries from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia and ex-Soviet republics to focus on parliamentary cooperation for sustainable development, and concrete parliamentary action in key areas such as climate change and water issues.
Participants discussed the steps that have already been taken towards the implementation of the SDGs over the past three years, at the same time highlighting the importance of taking advantage of the knowledge accumulated by civil society and non-governmental organisations. For this, capacity building and education are crucial. If the SDGs are to be successfully implemented, sustainability needs to be made attractive and marketable, as pointed out by Mr. Csaba Kőrösi, former UN ambassador of Hungary, and director for environmental sustainability in the Office of the President of the Republic of Hungary.
REC: What were the outcomes of the seminar?
Laszlo Borbely: The outcome documents from the three first seminars contain recommendations for the parliaments. They describe how parliaments have a determining role in the practical implementation of the SDGs implementation, as they can build bridges between institutions and create relationships within society. The parliaments will also accept a declaration on SDG implementation and encourage governments to develop an institutional system to maintain a focus on the 17 goals and 169 targets through budget lines, indicators and statistics for concrete projects.
Seminar participants returned home with the exciting challenge of reporting on the work of their parliaments towards SDG implementation using the IPU self-assessment toolkit on the SDGs that was finalised during the seminar. [The assessment tool is designed to help parliaments gauge how “fit for purpose” they are in terms of contributing to the implementation of the SDGs within their country, and to promote an understanding of the SDG concept.] To do this successfully, it will be important to establish intersectoral cooperation through working groups, special in-house committees or consultative bodies; and to translate this work into concrete programmes for financing.
Beginning with the use of the IPU self-assessment tool, seminar participants are expected to form a critical mass for SDG implementation. A broad commitment within the parliaments, and their belief in the benefits of the process, are crucial.
The next seminar in the series will be held in Belgrade, in 2018. In the meantime, parliaments must work towards institutionalising SDG-related actions, and the remaining 13 years of the UN Agenda period must be filled with concrete programmes and strategies.
REC: In pursuing its mandate, given by the signatories to the Charter of the REC, to assist the post-2015 global transformation process in the region, the REC organised the “Regional Consultation on the Implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Central and Eastern Europe” in April 2016.* How was this recent seminar relevant to the present and future activities of the REC?
Laszlo Borbely: Based on major international events in 2016, including the Budapest Water Summit in December, Hungary is a key regional player in the process, especially because of its work on water-related sustainable development. There is strong political will, also on the part of the Hungarian Government, to support projects in the region, and an important niche for the REC due to its specialist expertise in water-related and climate change issues in the context of sustainable development.
The presentation in Bucharest in April 2016 of the REC’s flagship educational toolkit, Green Pack, as a means of raising awareness of the SDG concept in schools, was well received, suggesting its potential for expansion to Romania and to other countries in the region. We hope that the newly developed IPU toolkit will achieve similar success in creating a critical mass for SDG implementation among parliamentarians.
* The outcomes of this event, highlighting the REC’s role in supporting countries to implement the SDGs, can be found in the publication Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development “Transforming Our World”.