Reflection Paper 'Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030'

EESC opinion: Reflection Paper 'Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030'

Key points

  • Sustainable Development must be at the heart of the future of Europe. While appreciating the comprehensive analysis in the Reflection Paper, its description of the challenges, the direction in which to move and the potential for Europe that it shows, the EESC is concerned that the pace of transition towards sustainability, globally and within Europe, falls short of what is needed to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we agreed upon. The urgency of addressing today's environmental, social and economic challenges is not matched by political action.
  • Sustainable Development is a common goal on a global scale; it requires common effort of all nations to achieve sustainable use of natural resources and prosperity for all people. Europe cannot achieve it alone, but the EU can and should use its weight as biggest trade block and as big importer of bio-based resources to push globally for sustainable sourcing, thus supporting maintaining global biodiversity and ecosystems that are vital for our common future.
  • Sustainable Development is about the future of people; the economy should, within the planetary boundaries, work for society to deliver prosperity and equity, now and for future generations. The Agenda 2030 is a people-centred project designed to leave no one behind.
  • The time for reflection has passed: it is now high time for action. The EESC wants to see an urgent move to develop and deliver an EU-wide, overarching, long-term Sustainable Development Strategy accompanied by a comprehensive implementation plan to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
  • The Sustainable Development Strategy should encompass both EU internal and external action and promote maximum coherence between them. The implementation plan should integrate sustainability in all policy areas, outline key actions which the EU will undertake to implement the SDGs, a clear timetable and roadmap, concrete targets and indicators, and the main roles and responsibilities of all EU institutions, agencies and actors. Cornerstones of the implementation should be innovation, sustainability-oriented international cooperation and trade agreements, and mobilisation of business and civil society.
  • The establishment of a governance and coordination framework alongside the strategy for implementing the 2030 Agenda is necessary to ensure that the SDGs are at the centre of all policies. In particular, the EU Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 should be based on the SDGs and the European Parliament should play a prominent role in the future. The new Commission should be organised around the implementation and mainstreaming of the SDGs.
  • The EESC calls on the Commission to move beyond GDP growth policy. The use of GDP as a measure of prosperity ignores important elements of social and environmental costs and benefits.
  • The EESC recognises that there are leaders within the business community on integration of sustainability. Many businesses are actually ahead of the policies. Policy needs to create the stable environment and certainty to ensure best practice becomes common practice. This will make business capable of delivering sustainable solutions.
  • The EESC calls for all existing EU policy and budgetary/financial frameworks and tools (such as the European Semester, Better Regulation, MFF, etc.) to be urgently aligned with the achievement of the SDGs. Credible sustainability-proofing methodologies should be identified or developed at EU level to ensure that budgetary/financial instruments, policy frameworks, and impact assessment approaches support SDG implementation in the EU's internal and external action. New tools, such as measures of "distance to targets" and new indicators, should also be developed.
  • The EESC was the first EU institution to have a body dedicated to advancing sustainable development – the Sustainable Development Observatory – and is committed to promoting and mainstreaming the SDGs in a more comprehensive manner throughout its opinions as well as in its internal functioning and structure. It will therefore launch an internal reflection on aligning its internal governance with the SDGs.
  • Structured involvement of civil society is necessary and a clear mandate for civil society's participation in the development, implementation and monitoring of the strategy should be provided. The important role played so far by the Multi-Stakeholder Platform (MSP) should be reviewed with the involvement of all stakeholders and lessons learnt from the success of other relevant multi-stakeholder forums, specifically the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform. The MSP should be upgraded and brought into a formal and interinstitutional consultation framework, as recommended by the European Parliament[1].
  • Sustainable Development has the potential to be a tool for social solidarity and can counter the rise in populist anti-establishment feelings of citizens who are disconnected from decision-making and power. It must not be an elitist agenda but a people-centred project, aiming at making sustainable consumer choices accessible and affordable.

[1]           EP Annual strategic report on the SDGs, March 2019.