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Implementation of SDGs is impossible without a strategy

EESC calls for appropriate indicators to measure progress at EU and Member States level 

In its own-initiative opinion Indicators better suited to evaluate the SDGs – the civil society contribution, the EESC reiterates its call on the Commission to establish an overarching European Sustainable Development Strategy with concrete objectives, targets and actions to achieve the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the EU. To properly measure progress on SDG implementation, quantitative indicators should be accompanied by qualitative ones, and should be developed with the involvement of civil society.

European Sustainable Development Strategy

"In order to achieve your goals, particularly long-term ones, you need a strategy accompanied by specific policy targets and meaningful indicators. This also applies to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, otherwise it is difficult or just not possible to measure any progress properly", says Brenda King, rapporteur of this opinion.

The lack of such European strategy affects the comprehensiveness of the set of indicators currently used by Eurostat to monitor progress in the implementation of the SDGs. In particular, the EESC identifies a number of shortcomings in the current indicator set, which fail to measure the distance to targets and provide an appropriate progress review. "The current method of evaluating progress in the absence of EU quantified targets is potentially misleading, since it provides no information about the distance to the SDGs", explains Thierry Libaert, co-rapporteur of the opinion.

Clear indicators

The EESC's opinion suggests a number of improvements addressing the deficiencies of the current Eurostat reporting system.

"We recommend the introduction of indicators that can provide a basis for policy planning and policy shaping", emphasises Brenda King. "It is crucial to create a comprehensive system of indicators which covers the European and national levels in order to show a clear overview of SDG implementation in the EU. That means firstly, to harmonise or at least interlink the current indicators for different policy areas at EU level with the EU SDG indicators and secondly, to use the same indicators or at least comparable ones at national level. Otherwise there will be a high risk of inconsistency between the different approaches taken by Member States and across sectors."

Civil society involvement

A strong engagement of civil society is a prerequisite to achieve the SDGs. In the EESC's view, a major involvement of civil society in both the definition of indicators and assessment of progress towards the goals is also needed.

Since qualitative information can highlight trends that cannot be captured solely by quantitative metrics, the EESC further suggests that the monitoring of SDG implementation should be complemented by a separate, independent qualitative shadow report, developed in partnership with civil society stakeholders. In addition, the EESC proposes that the European Commission cooperate in the organisation of a European SDG Summit as a stocktaking exercise involving all relevant stakeholders

Integration into EU governance and into the next EU budget

"Three years after the adoption of the SDGs, environmental, economic, social and institutional crises are looming over us", warn the rapporteurs. "The 2030 Agenda must urgently become the key element of EU policy." The EESC suggests that the current EU governance system should be adapted to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs should be part of all EU policies and all EU institutions should ensure coordinated work on progressing towards the SDGs. Progress monitoring should be part of the European Semester machinery and thus foster the implementation of the SDGs.

Given the importance of the SDGs for our planet – an area where the EU should become a role model of good governance - the EESC recommends that within the Commission, a Vice-President, with a dedicated team, specific budget and working structure with all Commissioners and Commission departments, should be in charge of incorporating the SDGs into EU policies.

Finally, the EESC calls for an agreement on an EU budget that makes sustainable development the core objective. The EESC recalls that the final Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period will signal whether the EU will be able to achieve its 2030 Agenda commitments.