The future poses numerous challenges to Europe. Ongoing pollution of the environment, climate change, demographic change, economic and social imbalances and migration to mention only a few. Hence, on January 30th 2019, the European Commission presented a reflection paper for a more sustainable Europe by 2030. It is the objective to meet these challenges with clear strategies in order to improve the environmental, economic and living conditions for all.
In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations, among them the EU with its Member States, have jointly determined the Agenda 2030 with 17 Sustainable Development Goals - SDGs. The specific targets contained therein, shall end poverty, protect the planet and ensure wealth for all. The Commission under the incumbent President Juncker has worked towards ensuring that all sectors will take sustainable development into account and had therefore initiated the debate on the future of Europe in March 2017. However, so far not much has happened to actively implement these targets.
In order to finally drive forward the discussion and development of a European vision and strategy for the long-term implementation of these SDGs as well as the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, the European Commission presented a reflection paper in January 2019. It describes and evaluates the challenges for Europe towards a sustainable model, which are wide-ranging: apart from environmental risks such as the destruction of the ecosystem, the rise in greenhouse emissions and the continuous extraction of fossil fuels, the EU is faced with economic and social risks. Many Europeans think that the EU does not adequately protect them against future challenges. Nationalism and Isolation is promoted. About 22.5 % of the EU’s population is still affected by poverty. There are great income imbalances, in particular between the genders.
Hence, all future activities should be oriented towards these sustainability targets. The European Commission regards circular economy, ending imbalances in the food sector, sustainability of energy supply and mobility as well as social justice as the most important political foundations. The focus as how support can be provided to achieve these targets is on investments in education, science and research, technology, innovation, pricing, fair taxes and competition as well as on promoting social dialogue.
Future scenarios are described as a starting point for a discussion towards implementing the targets. These reach from a proposal for a comprehensive strategy at EU level, which should be the framework for all activities at EU and national level, via the continuous consideration of SDGs by the EU Commission, up to focussing on external action and consolidation of the current sustainability efforts at European level.
Within the framework of a high-level conference on “Sustainable Europe 2030: From Goals to Delivery” of the European Commission’s European Strategy Centre on April 8th 2019, it was discussed how to concretely implement the SDGs. It is definite that these have to be taken seriously not only at EU level, but also globally and that governments and also civil society must be actively involved. According to Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, it is in particular the private sector whose social responsibility has to be held liable. With regard to sustainability, the EU would now have the chance to assume a leading position and to be a pioneer and forerunner for all.
This view is shared by Jyrki Katainen, Vice President of the European Commission and reliable for jobs, growth, investments and competitiveness. He emphasised that acting in a sustainable way is not only an absolute necessity but also a chance for Europe.
It remains to be seen what the priorities for the next Commission will be. In any case, a lot of effort will be required to protect the planet, to promote global development and to retain Europe as place of social justice, sustainability, democracy and peace. Hence, a clear and speedy implementation of the sustainability targets is vital.