At the beginning of 2019, the European Commission presented a reflection paper, in which it elaborates as to how the goals for sustainable development and the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, formulated by the United Nations are to be fulfilled within the scope of the EU 2020 targets. Even though many ideas are to be welcomed there are still some gaps in the presented roadmap of the ‘sustainability turn’ from the AK’s point of view.
Under the heading “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030“, the EU Commission is considering how it wants to shape employment, environmental and economic policies in the next decade. According to the EU Commission, measures on climate protection and sustainable development have to be guided by the goal of “promoting social rights and well-being for all”.
Sustainable development goals and Europe 2020 – more of the same?
The reflection paper contains some positive objectives, such as ‘eradicating poverty’ or ‘full and productive employment and decent work for all’. Yet, this is nothing new: the European Pillar of Social Rights already gave the impression that a social Europe would become a high priority. However, when taking a closer look at the available and thus far used policy instruments, such as the European Semester, doubts arise as to whether these goals are truly pursued. Hence, the AK demands clearly recognisable and comprehensive rethinking, replacing neoliberal economic orientation with progressive, redistributive and sustainable social policies which are not based on empty phrases. Climate protection policy must go hand in hand with the reorientation of social minimum standards, worker protection and distributive justice. Only then will it be possible to make European policy weatherproof for the coming climate changes.
From the AK’s point of view, public investments are a fundamental condition for the sustainability turn. The Golden Investment Rule would expand the necessary budgetary scope. This also has to be accompanied by a fair tax system and a more decisive approach towards tax evasion. High quality jobs, the expansion of further training opportunities for employees and a European coordinated minimum wage policy are only some of the measures, which would let a social Europe become reality at last. To achieve this, the principles embedded in the European Pillar of Social Rights as well as fair pay and adequate minimum wages would have to be applied and implemented as approaches towards a wage policy reorientation. It is important for the AK that all people are included in this turn.
Concrete measures – but socially inclusive
With its circular economy package, the Commission had made a contribution to a more sustainable use of consumer goods as early as 2015; however, this needs to be further strengthened. No doubt, the Common Agricultural Policy has a key role – subsidies have to be reallocated to ensure that the funds benefit sustainable development. Furthermore, reducing energy consumption cannot be achieved without an efficient energy policy, such as restoration and heat insulation. Instead of just driving forward their expansion, it is also essential to modernise generation grids. Fair mobility with regard to the transport of passengers and goods is another cornerstone of an environmental and social sustainability policy.
Thinking outside the box – standards must be adhered to at the international level
Approaches towards sustainable and social policy-making do not stop at Europe’s borders. In fact, from the AK’s point of view, international trade guidelines have to accommodate European minimum standards – after all, relevant conventions have not been ratified for nothing. Within the scope of these changes, minimum standards may be exported and as a result, globally social and environmentally sustainable changes may be moved forward. The support of the United Nations’ Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights would be a good start, as would be the enforceability of sustainability chapters in trade agreements.
In its reflection paper, the Commission refers to many accurate approaches. However, the AK believes that a holistic vision is still lacking and that the long overdue socio-political projects are not being pursued with the necessary determination. Environmental sustainability and a fair, redistributing social and economic policy are not mutually exclusive – on the contrary: they can only succeed together.