Europe must become a global leader in sustainable development

EESC presents bold vision for the future of the European Union beyond Sibiu

The European Union must get closer to its citizens and become the global leader in sustainable development, argues the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in a bold opinion on the future of the EU, which was adopted at its plenary session in March. In this opinion, the Committee calls for a new EU strategy which takes a holistic and cross-sector policy approach centred around Europeans' needs and sustainability, and puts forward policy recommendations touching on eleven priorities.                                                                                                                        

The EESC presents its vision for the EU in the run-up to the informal meeting of Heads of State and Government in Sibiu on the future of Europe and the 2019 European elections in May in order to encourage and take part in the debate, as well as to provide inspiration for decision-makers. The latter are expected to renew their commitment to the EU and to prepare a strategic agenda for 2019-2024 over the course of the meeting in Sibiu.

Europe must become the global leader in sustainable development. It is thus high time for the EU to embrace an ambitious agenda as rapidly as possible and to strengthen democratic participation, said EESC president Luca Jahier regarding a strategic agenda for 2019-2024, at the plenary debate in March. Sustainability must be the overarching principle of EU policies. Without this shift in our mindset and the acceleration of our actions, there simply won't be a future for the EU, he added. The cultural dimension of the common project must moreover be fully recognised in all EU policies.

The opinion on Listening to the citizens of Europe for a sustainable future also calls for an overarching strategy to implement the 2030 Agenda and - as is already clear from its title - address the needs of EU citizens. The strategy must ensure that competitiveness, growth, investment and business generally can become sustainable and serve the wellbeing of all EU citizens so that nobody is left behind. It must be backed up by an ambitious EU budget.

In addition to proposing sustainability as an overarching objective for a new EU strategy, the Committee's opinion also puts forward policy recommendations touching on eleven priorities.

Under the Governance priority, for instance, the EESC recommends that all internal and external EU policies need to be coherent and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, allowing for the principles of efficiency and proportionality. Sustainable development requires a holistic and cross-sector policy approach to ensure that economic, social and environmental challenges are addressed jointly.

The priorities put forward by Europe's economic and social interest groups also include a People's Europe. Under this priority, the EESC recommends pursuing measures to further enhance civic participation in EU policy-making in order to regain people's - particularly young people's - support for and faith in the process of European integration.

We must avoid a top-down governance approach and step up efforts to reduce the distance with EU citizens. A structured civil society dialogue must become a real tool for democratic participation as provided for in the Treaty on European Union, said EESC rapporteur, Yves Somville

In the Committee's view, communication must therefore be another priority for the new strategy. Enhanced communication on EU policies could tackle the mismatch between EU policies and the way in which they are perceived by Europeans and contribute to better policy evaluation in general.

In this context, substantial, credible and lively information could help raise awareness about the EU's achievements and the value of common action and combat the consequences of non-information or misinformation. All available channels - including civil society organisations - should be used to step up communication with the general public.

According to the policy recommendations under the EESC's Sustainable development priority, the future strategy should deliver on the EU's international commitments on climate, biodiversity and water. This means that it must at least ensure full and immediate implementation of the Paris Agreement and speed up the fair and sustainable transition to a high level of renewable energy supply. Moreover, a comprehensive food policy should be developed.

EESC rapporteur Peter Schmidt said that The EU must transform a linear economy into a circular, carbon-free economy, and common standards for delivering clean air and water and protecting our oceans must be established.

The eleven priorities also include a strong social dimension. It should enhance convergence within the EU, for instance by improving and increasing investment in education systems across the board and by guaranteeing universal entitlement to lifelong learning. The development of a common, comprehensive and balanced approach to migration policy should be another objective.

European business must become a stronger sustainable global player. This is another priority under the Committee's vision for the future. Sustainable businesses would cope successfully with the digital transformation and remain a driver for innovation and creativity.

Our opinion underscores the role of EU business in the future of Europe. EU business must be at the forefront of sustainability globally. The sustainable economy we aim to achieve involves free and fair trade, specific rules for public goods and services and fair taxation, explained EESC rapporteur Vladimíra Drbalová.

Closing the debate at the EESC plenary session, Luca Jahier urged EESC members to put the Committee's bold vision into effect: We must deliver on our promises. We must have the courage to be innovative, to take risks and to change.


Press release 19/2019: Europe must become a global leader in sustainable development