Advisory councils call for our country to make a quality Voluntary National Review

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Our country is submitting a VNR (Voluntary National Review) to the HLPF (High-Level Political Forum) for the second time in July 2023. The IMCSD (Interministerial Conference on Sustainable Development) asked a number of advisory councils to make an opinion on the draft text of that VNR. The following councils approved the opinion: FRDO-CFDD, Minaraad, SERV, CESE Wallonia, Brupartners and the Wirtschafts- und Sozialrat.

In this joint opinion, the councils consider that making a VNR is an opportunity to make a thorough assessment of the implementation of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). While a first VNR is usually a ‘baseline assessment’, a second VNR should be much more of an evaluation that takes a critical look at its own performance. That evaluation should then lead to better policy responses to the major societal challenges.

This is not the case in the submitted draft. A self-critical evaluation is insufficient or not to be found in the text. The various governments of our country should use the VNR exercise more to strengthen the political will for concrete cooperation for sustainable development, while respecting everyone’s competences.

The preparation of the VNR by the different governments has not been optimal, including the non-full functioning of the IMCSD between 2017 and 2022. The text on which the advisory councils had to give their opinions is also incomplete. The councils do appreciate the choice of the IMCSD to make more room for civil society participation during the preparation of the VNR. A lot of organisations contributed with their proposals and expectations for the VNR. But the way the process went after the submission of those contributions in October 2022 did not ensure that civil society got the impression that the IMCSD actually did something with those contributions.

The opinion examines the various chapters of the draft VNR. The general impression is that the text for which the governments are responsible mainly seeks to paint a positive picture and is insufficiently self-critical. That picture further does not sufficiently reflect the serious lack of cooperation between policy levels, as an audit by the Court of Audit also states. The councils have long been calling for more cooperation, and that with respect for everyone’s competences. The discussion of policies SDG by SDG in the VNR does not correspond to what this VNR should be: an honest assessment of what has happened since 2017, what is going well and not well, and what is needed to do to achieve the goal contained in the SDGs. The text is little more than a long list of plans and intentions that seems to suggest that everything is going well, which is not the case.

As it stands, the draft text considered by the advisory councils has no great policy relevance. The councils urge further work on a text of sufficient quality to submit to the UN. The councils also ask the IMCSD to organise a consultation with them before the finalisation of the final VNR in which an open dialogue on the findings in this opinion is possible.

The opinion

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