European Economic and Social Committee’s Luca Jahier calls for the EU to become a world leader when it comes to meeting sustainable development goals
On 22-23 May, the Various Interests’ Group on the EESC organised a high-level conference on the 2030 Agenda and how to move from declarations to concrete action.
To make the UN 2030 Agenda a reality, we must have the courage to imagine a new world. We must have the ambition to put opportunities and goals before problems. We must have the creativity and determination to transform a vision into a positive European narrative for a flourishing sustainable development union. We must have the foresight and discipline to protect what is beautiful and fragile in our world and prepare for the future.
It is very easy to relegate discussions on sustainable development to experts and academics. But this would be a major mistake. For the debates surrounding sustainable development are profoundly political and they must take centre-stage in our political reflections on the future of the EU, on the future of Member States and of our global relations. To my great regret, the EU has not demonstrated that it has assimilated and embraced the opportunities for a paradigm shift provided by the 2030 Agenda. Unfortunately, the Agenda is quite absent from the 5 scenarios in the European Commission (EC) White Paper on the Future of Europe. Even the Rome Declaration and last years’ Communication on a ‘Sustainable European Future’ provide only partial and half-hearted commitments. In my opinion, this could be an immense missed opportunity. It also contradicts the EU’s commitments to the UN Climate Change Paris Agreement.
Prioritising sustainability in the EU
It is now time for the EU to take the political decision to make the 2030 Agenda a central pillar to the future direction and identity of the EU. It is crucial that we make sustainable development a horizontal European priority and that we strengthen the governance of the SDGs. We must take global leadership and align the Agenda with the EU’s longer-term 2050 sustainable development strategy. For to be credible, the EU has to deliver the 2030 Agenda and lead by example. This will involve building an overarching European Strategy for sustainable development. This strategy should abandon silos and embrace a holistic, coordinated and systematic approach. It should mainstream sustainable development across all EU programmes, policies and financial instruments. As a first step, we need an interinstitutional agreement on sustainable development between the Commission, the Council and European Parliament. Indeed, I would call on the EC to present a new scenario on the Future of Europe, which would put centre stage a sustainable democratic Union.
For 30 years after the definition of the concept of sustainable development, our common future is very much under threat. At precisely the time when others turn away from their commitments, it is imperative that the EU maintains the momentum, accelerating, investing in and embracing change. Now is the time for long-time engagement, to make the transition to an inclusive, equitable, resilient, low-carbon, circular and collaborative economy. Now is the time for political leadership, to rethink our growth models and improve well-being. To balance economic prosperity with innovation, social inclusion, democratic participation and environmental sustainability, all within our planetary boundaries. We must have the conviction and boldness to defend the universal, indivisible and mutually reinforcing dimensions of the 2030 Agenda.
Hence, it is crucial for us to build on our European values and safeguard the exercise of human, economic, social and cultural rights. However, we can only design and deliver this new world, by working transparently in partnership with a maximum number of social and economic actors from a wide spectrum of civil society organisations (CSOs). It is civil society which will drive change, with bottom-up initiatives which respect the opinions and rights of local people. Moreover, we can only embark on this new world by making sustainable development financially accessible to all citizens, by transforming perceptions, attitudes, developing a new attractive narrative and ultimately, by creating a sustainable culture among Europeans.
This will be the basis for re-installing hope and trust in our democratic systems. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will become our European Social Contract of the 21st Century.
President of the Various Interests’ Group
European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)