by Deirdre De Burca
Civil society had high expectations of the European Union when it came to SDG implementation. The EU had played an important role in the UN-level negotiations on the new global agenda. Its contribution to these negotiations were to a large extent informed by the effective advocacy of members of the civil society-organised Beyond 2015 EU Taskforce.
Imagine, therefore, how disappointed European civil society is to find itself still in the dark about the EU’s plans for SDG implementation, more than one year after the adoption of Agenda 2030 in September 2015? This reality is particularly difficult to accept in light of the commitments to inclusive, multi-stakeholder approaches to implementation set out in Agenda 2030.
The European Commission recently published its first public communication on how it will work with EU Member States to implement the SDGs on November 22nd 2016. Despite this fact, civil society remains unclear about exactly what the EU and its member states are planning to do to ensure the effective implementation of Agenda 2030.
SDG Watch Europe– a new European cross-sectoral civil society alliance set up to monitor and support SDG implementation by the EU and its Member States – was extremely critical of the Commission’s communication and of the lack of prior consultation with civil society (see our statement here).
This inaction on the part of the EU concerning SDG implementation is difficult to understand. Although Europe has struggled with numerous crises over the past few years, many believe that the transformative potential of Agenda 2030 could serve to revitalise what is now a politically weakened and demoralised union.
Agenda 2030 addresses a wide range of issues – poverty, education, healthcare and gender equality; sustainable production and consumption, climate change and industrial development; peaceful societies, good governance and global partnership. By aligning its own policies with this new global framework, the EU could seize the opportunity to renew its overarching mission and political vision, and strengthen the case for continued European political and economic cooperation. A new and compelling European narrative could be developed that could help citizens to engage more fully with the European project.
The implementation of Agenda 2030 in Europe also has the potential to kick-start a green industrial revolution across EU member states. The EU could position itself as a global leader in many areas where its policy-making is more advanced than that of other regions: social policy, the environment and climate change, to give just three examples.
Agenda 2030 could also allow the EU to shift its focus from narrow economic policy to a broader emphasis on promoting prosperity and well-being.
For example, the EU could take a global lead in developing and legitimising alternative measures of economic progress when evaluating its implementation of Agenda 2030. These alternative measures of economic progress (eg the Human Development Index and the OECD Better Life Index) could serve as important benchmarks in an era when economic growth indicators are static or falling. Such measures could also be very valuable in developing countries, where overall growth in GDP often masks a rise in inequality.
The implementation of Agenda 2030 could also promote and strengthen the EU’s external trade. Other countries and regions need the technical and industrial experience of the Union and its member states to support them in moving towards more sustainable development. There is a significant opportunity for private companies, professional bodies and non-governmental organisations in Europe to provide technical advice, policy support and training to their counterparts in other regions of the world.
The prospects for maintaining free and open global trading systems between the EU and the rest of the world would be greatly enhanced if all countries were collaborating technically and financially in the implementation of a comprehensive, measurable, sustainable development agenda such as Agenda 2030.
Given the many daunting challenges that now face the EU, what is needed is bold action on the part of its institutions and its member states. Full implementation of Agenda 2030 in the Union’s internal and external policies, with innovative financing agreed internationally, is the kind of action that is needed. Otherwise, Europe is likely to continue on a path of gradual political decline that may even result in the eventual collapse of the European project.
Deirdre de Burca has worked as Director of Advocacy with World Vision’s Brussels office over the past three year period. She was a member of the Steering Group of Beyond 2015’s EU Taskforce which aimed to influence the EU’s negotiating position in relation to Agenda 2030. She is one of the founding members of SDG Watch Europe, currently sits on its Steering Group and is also the facilitator for its “Reflecting and Innovating” work strand.