To achieve the objectives of a green and just transition, the European Union needs not only to implement the components of the Green Deal but also to step up a gear on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through EU policies. It needs to move quickly to reform the current economic model beyond GDP-based growth and to promote a holistic policy framework that will ensure a sustainable economy for the wellbeing of society.
The sustainable economy we need for Europe's resilience and a European Green and Social Deal was the subject of a high-level conference held on 10 May by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the French Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Taking place on the 50th anniversary of the Club of Rome's landmark report on The Limits of Growth, the conference brought together top officials from the European institutions, the French presidency, civil society actors, think tanks and academics, as well as trade unions and environmental and youth organisations actively promoting an economy of wellbeing.
In her powerful keynote speech, Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-President of the Club of Rome, stated the urgency of addressing the three-C crisis – COVID-19, climate and conflict – through systemic thinking and an economic reset.
Even though we predicted a collapse 50 years ago, she said,
decades have been wasted and we are now reaching tipping points on all fronts (population, growth, demographics, food, energy systems, industrial outputs, material needs, over-consumption etc...). We are risking collapse! In a world affected by gross inequalities and a planetary emergency, only economic systems that prioritise growth in human wellbeing, in the fairer redistribution of wealth and in social and natural capital will deliver long-term economic and political stability.
In the high-level policy panel discussion, EESC president Christa Schweng emphasised that Europe should be economically prosperous, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable in order to increase its resilience and strategic autonomy in the context of multiple crises. The French Presidency of the EU Council, represented at the conference by Thomas Lesueur, France's Commissioner-General for Sustainable Development, echoed this vision. One of the presidency’s priorities is to foster a European model for growth, to make Europe a land of job creation, innovation and technological excellence, in which economic development is aligned with climate goals. Frank Siebern-Thomas, Head of Unit for Fair Green and Digital Transitions at the European Commission, stated that the green transition will not be inclusive by default, as we need policies to support regions and people to make sure that no one is left behind. Concluding the first panel, Philippe Lamberts, Co-chair of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament stressed that infinite growth of the economy is a physical and biological impossibility, as life is a story of optimisation under constraint.
The EESC has called on the EU to propose a new vision of prosperity for people and the planet based on the principles of environmental sustainability, the right to a decent life and the protection of social values, said Peter Schmidt, President of the EESC's NAT Section. As highlighted by Professor Tim Jackson, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) in the fireside chat,
this is not the time to look away but to seize the power of change. The 'sustainable economy we need' requires fundamental changes in the nature of enterprise, the organisation of work, the role of investment and the structure of the money system.
Three panel discussions then took place, to:
- present examples of existing initiatives and good practice in implementing sustainable economic models (such as the wellbeing economy, Doughnut economics, etc.) from EU Member States and the private sector.
- discuss the challenges and obstacles to scaling up existing initiatives on the sustainable economy and the main drivers for change, addressing the importance of the circular economy as an opportunity to reduce dependencies on raw materials and to enhance strategic autonomy.
- explore concrete ways and steps, including economic governance reforms, needed to achieve a sustainable and resilient economy in the context of a European Green and Social Deal.
In the discussion, the youth voice stood out loud and clear, with its call for a new economic system reducing our dependency on growth and jobs – a call for fair and equal distribution within society and across generations that warrants particular attention in the European Year of Youth. As stressed by Jan Mayrhofer of the European Youth Forum,
the current economic system doesn't work for people or for the planet – so we need to change it!
At the end of the conference, the EU wellbeing economy coalition, an informal coalition of civil society organisations and think tanks convened by the Institute for European Environmental Policy and the ZOE Institute, launched the process to create a Roadmap for the European Wellbeing Economy Deal. This should be based on six building blocks: policy design; transparent and democratic institutions; fair and equal distribution; meaningful employment; a decarbonised economy, and the strong resilience of communities.