An opportunity to set the course for a sustainable Europe
At its plenary session on 21 September, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) agreed upon its opinion on Sustainable development: a mapping of the EU's internal and external policies, an exploratory opinion on the request of the European Commission (EC). The Commission is currently carrying out an internal "mapping" exercise in order to identify those policies which already address the challenges set out by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The EESC refers in its opinion in particular to the chance such a transition will entail: The crucial political, social, economic and structural challenges the EU is facing now should not be an obstacle but the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should rather be the motor to shape the EU's economy towards sustainability and social inclusion. The SDGs are not only important for European external and development policies, they are also critical for our domestic policies. If the EU wants to achieve the SDGs we have to fight poverty, unemployment and social inequality within the European Union. And we have to shift our economy towards a low carbon and circular economy model. There is no either or! The SDGs require countries to do both in an integrated way.
The EU should use the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as an opportunity to present EU citizens a new vision and narrative for a sustainable Europe in 2030. This would also help overcome the unprecedented lack of trust of EU citizens in the EU project and in particular win young people's support for it. The Committee calls for an overarching and integrated strategy for a Sustainable Europe 2030 and beyond, providing the necessary long-term time horizon, policy coordination and concrete action plans for implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda.
Focus on key areas driving the transformation towards a sustainable Europe
In its opinion the EESC has already identified key policy areas for transformational change, such as
- A just transition to a low-carbon, circular and collaborative economy: The transition is an opportunity for the EU to modernise its economy and thus increasing its competitiveness and resilience while at the same time improve the quality of life and well-being of the citizens. Progress with the transition to the low-carbon and circular economy clearly needs to be accelerated. The European semester should be used as a governance framework.
- Transition towards a socially inclusive society and economy with decent work conditions and respect of human rights: The EU must shift its economic paradigm towards a more inclusive model which distributes wealth more fairly. Employment standards and a European minimum income will help to ensure territorial and social cohesion. Digital, low-carbon and circular economy also offer a huge job creation potential which must be tapped.
- Transition to sustainable food production and consumption: Europe needs an integrated sustainable food policy. Producers need to grow more food with less environmental impact, while consumers must be encouraged to shift to nutritious and healthy diets with a lower carbon footprint. Europe has also to reconsider its agriculture's orientation towards export which can weaken food production in development countries. Another challenge to tackle is food waste – 100 million tonnes of food are wasted alone in the EU.
- Investing in innovation and long-term infrastructure modernisation and encouraging sustainable businesses: There is a clear business case for sustainability Some businesses have already started, but upscaling and replication of successful sustainable business experiences are paramount. EU funding programmes need to be brought together and aligned with the SDGs. The Juncker plan plays a decisive role and should be adapted in a way to fully address the challenge of the SDG implementation in the EU.
- Making trade work for global sustainable development: Trade and investment agreements must be shaped in a social and ecological way. The best way of securing social, labour and environmental standards in free trade agreements is to ensure much greater involvement of civil society throughout negotiations and the process of implementation and monitoring.
Overall, the EU needs to improve the coherence of its policies and consistently gear them to balanced sustainable development.
Citizens and civil society are crucial partners
The transition process must be driven by a strong political will, and accompanied by a broad information campaign in order to get Europeans on board. "We need civil society and citizens as partners in this process because in the end it is the people who will carry out this transition," say the rapporteurs of this opinion Mr. Ioannis Vardakastanis and Mrs Jarmila Dubravská.
The EU should move to a multi-stakeholder-led approach in SDG implementation, which means to it should include all actors and civil society organisations based on the principles of participation, accountability and partnership. The Committee has proposed to set up a European Sustainable Development Civil Society Forum in order to give civil society a strong role in the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.nat-opinions.38299