High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the invitation to take part in this event – it is an honour and a pleasure to be amongst you on such a key topic: the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to recover and build forward better.

We know it - the pandemic has caused terrible losses, both in human and economic terms. The IMF has estimated that the global economy shrunk by 4.4% in 2020, which is the worst decline since the Great Depression of the '30s. The pandemic has also affected many people, and put millions out of work – there are indeed over 110 million jobs in the world.

COVID-19 has also demonstrated that humans are not only part of nature, but that they need it for their survival, health and well-being. It has recalled that a poorly respected environment can be responsible for disease emergences and pandemics.

We had a wake-up call, and we need to act on it. We cannot just return to "normal", doing small changes. That will no longer be enough; we need truly transformational shifts. Implementing an agenda that delivers socially, economically and environmentally is more pressing than ever.

In that sense, I fully share the words of the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, when he says that the Sustainable Development Goals are more important now than ever. Now is the time to secure the well-being of people, economies, societies and our planet.

For the European Economic and Social Committee, the bottom line is that recovery and reconstruction measures need to align with the Agenda 2030.

The Committee has greatly the support packages that were launched at the EU level – and notably the Next Generation EU plan. The more than 600 billion € that are being made available must reach those in real need – and in the first place the unemployed and the business sector, with a special emphasis on SMEs, which are backbone of EU economy and which are struggling to survive.

EU funds should certainly support the transition to climate neutrality and digital economy. To succeed, we need to alleviate the socio-economic impacts of the transition in the sectors and regions most heavily affected.

The transition towards a more sustainable economic path needs to involve both the development of green sectors but also the "greening" of existing business models.

We must ensure the right balance between respecting our 2050 climate neutrality objective, supporting European businesses, providing young people with the education they need and consumers with incentives to shift consumption to sustainable goods and services.

Sustainable development should become a mind-set and the basis of a prosperous European economy, leaving nobody behind. And I would say even reaching "the furthest behind first", as expressed in a recent EESC opinion.

Coming from the EESC, I would of course also like to highlight the importance of involving organised civil society in policy-making and all the efforts to recover and make the EU fit for future. Such an involvement not only makes policies better and more effective, but also facilitates ownership and implementation.

At the EESC, we are fully committed to foster the involvement of civil society organisations and other relevant stakeholders to scale up efforts to attain the SDGs.

However, we already see that there is a number of challenges linked to the successful unleashing of the potential of the Recovery and Resiliency Facility. Many Member States did not consult enough the organised civil society or they consulted it too late. We recommended that this should be corrected at the phase of implementation of the national plans.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To finish, the Agenda 2030 shows the way towards a post-COVID sustainable reconstruction and recovery. It is our best chance to put our societies and economies on the path to a sustainable and inclusive development.

But for respecting the Agenda 2030, the European Green Deal must be fully aligned with the SDGs and connected firmly to the other key EU policy framework that is the European Pillar of Social Rights. Without such an alignment, there won't be any social and fair Deal and there won't be any civil society's endorsement of the proposed transformative measures.

The EESC is strongly committed to support these encompassing initiatives and EU institutions work to turn them into reality.

Thank you for your attention. Looking forward to the discussion.

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High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development