By Judith Hitchman, Urgenci, President of the International Committee.

It is notoriously difficult to carry out advocacy in Brussels without having a dedicated person based there. And for a network like URGENCI, this is an issue, as advocating for key policy issues such as agroecology and the importance of short food supply chains in the Farm to Fork, Green Deal or CAP are an important part of our European mission.

This is why we have been deeply engaged for some time in the IPES-Food collective work on these subjects. It all began with our collective investment in the 3-year process developed by Olivier De Schutter and his team on the Common Food Policy strategy.

Once complete and presented to the Commission, the process became the EU Food Policy Coalition. This coalition is organised under the auspices of Slow Food, and brings together all the various Civil Society Organisations, including NGOs in the Brussels Bubble as well as European Co-ordination Via Campesina and Urgenci. The many different task teams and work groups are managed by those with resources to do so, and the overall co-ordination is ensured by Ines Jordana, together with the Executive Board (compose by IPES-Food, IFOAM Organics EU, Slow Food, EPHA, SAFE, ECVC and the EEB)

As we believe European citizens must be at the core of policy changes to make certain opportunities (like the Farm to Fork strategy) become strong commitments to real sustainability in food systems, CSOs and Movements which channels citizens’ beliefs and science independent from corporate lobbies have a huge role to play in the discussions and design of food systems policies. It was essential that CSOs can coordinate sound, clear and collective messages. The EU Food Policy Coalition plays a unique role in that sense and can have a decisive impact in underpinning CSOs work to design and implement EU policies.

The advent of the current Covid-19 pandemic has had some very interesting impacts on how all this works and the collateral effects. Suddenly, from being among the few distant participants in meetings that took place in the cosy Brussels atmosphere everyone was working from home and on a more even footing. And while the IPES-Food work has always tried to be inclusive of any distant participation, there was always a slight feeling of being the outsider. No longer so. The fact that there were no longer any possibilities for chit-chat in the room before or after meetings, has made the calls of the various working groups far more egalitarian for all.

There has also been a change in methodology that makes distant participation via Zoom all the more participatory. For example, special meetings are being organised with MEPs to put forward our specific points on policy issues. This is preceded and followed by collective work on documents. Not only is the methodology inclusive and open, it is really co-operative and sincere in terms of how the different participants accommodate each other’s differences and align in solidarity on shared points of view.

The very clear, transparent reporting and sharing of all documents has also supported this collective work and efforts. It is largely the exceptional skills that Ines has shown in mobilising and collating all this collective effort that has enabled civil society organisations to collectively mobilise against the strong industrial lobbies (i.e. COPA COGECA, market-driven corporates, etc.) that co-opt our shared narrative for food systems transformation. Yes, the industrial voice is still shouting in the ear of MEPs, but the collective voice of organised civil society is also increasingly having an impact, even in these challenging times. No matter where we live, we can all now Zoom into the Brussels Bubble!