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Reflection Paper: Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030

Monday, March 11, 2019

Last January 30th, the European Commission published its Reflection Paper “Towards a Sustainable Europe 2030”, which was part of a larger initiative of President Juncker on the Future of Europe, aimed at addressing the key policy-areas for the future of the continent. The path of the Reflection Paper has been long, since President Juncker announced its creation during the State of the Union of 2017, and many actors have contributed to his drafting. Notably, the High-Level Multi-Stakeholder Platform on the SDGs, composed by actors from very different backgrounds, of which CSR Europe was a core member, has played an essential role, as also recognised by the European Commission (e.g., at page 30 of the Reflection Paper).

You can access a factsheet on the Reflection Paper on the Commission’s website. At CSR Europe, we circulated among our members an EU Issue Insight (No 1.2019), which analysed the document in depth and gave our interpretations on the Reflection Paper.

Generally speaking, the analysis aims to steer the discussion on how the SDGs can be best achieved and how the EU should contribute to that. As also stated by Vice President Timmermans during the Press Release in presentation of the document: "Europe can and should lead the way."

Currently, the European Union is one of the areas where SDGs are best addressed and understood: all 27 Member States of the EU score in the top 50 countries in the Global SDG Index. Nonetheless, the European Union cannot afford to be complacent but need to act with strength to its population wealth and well-being in a healthy planet. 

At this stage, the European Commission presented some priorities to set the path for the next EU Strategic Agenda as well as to give some guiding lines to the next European Commission, that will be appointed after the next European Parliament’s election in May. These priorities go from the need of moving from linear to circular economy to correcting the imbalances in the food system, future-proofing energy, buildings and mobility, and the necessity to work towards a fair transition - leaving no one and no place behind. The Commission has already been working in these strategic areas, but they need a continuous commitment to transform them into an opportunity for the EU businesses.  

In order to reach a Sustainable Europe by 2030, some horizontal enablers should be set to support all the actors involved in the process. These comprise various policy domains, such as education, finance, CSR, trade, governance, and external policy. CSR is included in the key enablers of the transition, as private actors’ involvement is needed to ensure an efficient process. For example, the Commission openly addressed the need for implementing further actions to stimulate companies to put sustainability at the core of their business process, through incentives. This is totally in line with CSR Europe approach, and we will keep supporting the EC to put this in practice. Regarding Sustainable Finance, spring will bring some news on the European Commission’s side. CSR Europe will keep its member updated on all the ongoing packages on taxonomy, climate-related reporting, etc.

Finally, the Reflection Paper presented three scenarios to stimulate the discussion on how to follow up on the SDGs within the EU. These scenarios are illustrative: they aim to offer different ideas and spur debate and thinking. The eventual outcome would likely be a combination of some aspects from each. The three scenarios are:

  1. An overarching EU SDGs strategy guiding the actions of the EU and its Member States;
  2. A continued mainstreaming of the SDGs in all relevant EU policies by the Commission, but not enforcing Member States' action;
  3. An enhanced focus on external action while consolidating current sustainability ambition at EU level.

The Reflection Paper shows the ambitions of the EU to become the world leader when it comes to sustainability. It will depend on the next Commission and the next Strategic Agenda to live up to expectations.