By Guillaume Lafortune, Phoebe Koundouri, Angelo Riccaboni, Peter Schmidt, Maurizio Reale
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.
The new European Parliament, the next European Commission, and the European Council will have a long path ahead to prepare for the next decades of global sustainable development. Jointly reaffirming the EU’s commitment to the SDGs is a clear way forward, UN and EESC experts write.
This June, EU citizens will not only elect the new European Parliament and chart the way to the formation of the next European Commission — both in charge until 2029 — but also lay the foundations for the future of the EU and its global role well into the next decade.
Political parties campaigning for the European elections and the future leaders of the EU have historic responsibilities.
European citizens and civil society, political parties, and European institutions need to enhance European democracy, social cohesion, and prosperity within planetary boundaries and strengthen the EU’s global engagement for a cooperative world order.
Decisive actions must be taken before 2030 to avoid irreversible environmental as well as dangerous social tipping points and to maintain the promise of achieving global goals, including the 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
The new leaders of the EU will also be responsible for agreeing to the next EU seven-year budget (2028- 2035) and negotiating the global agenda for sustainable development to continue the SDGs beyond 2030.
Political parties and the future leadership of the EU must lay the foundations for a new European Deal for the Future that answers the multiple crises by implementing the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement in an ambitious, integrated, and coherent way, including a longer-term perspective for the EU until mid-century.
The SDGs, adopted by all UN member states in 2015, call for integrated actions to promote social and economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and global cooperation.
However, at the midpoint, none of the 17 SDGs are on track to be achieved globally by 2030. 85% of the 140 SDG targets reviewed are declining or show very limited progress.
Europe’s progress on SDGs is too limited
Humanity is eroding the biological and physical resilience of the Earth’s systems.
Scientific evidence points to an increased likelihood of reaching dangerous and irreversible environmental tipping points during this decade.
Around the globe, social cohesion is under pressure. And the international financial architecture is failing to channel global savings to SDG investments at the needed pace and scale.
Europe has played an important leadership role in sustainable development, even before the adoption of the SDGs in 2015.
After the 2019 European Parliament elections and the formation of the current Commission, the EU embarked on an ambitious transformative agenda and became the first continent to adopt a bold net-zero commitment by mid-century — via the European Green Deal.
In July 2023, the EU presented its first Voluntary Review at the UN, detailing its progress on implementing the 2030 Agenda.
And most recently, last November, the European Parliament adopted important proposals for the amendment of the EU Treaties to strengthen the implementation of the SDGs, including more ambitious provisions to reduce global warming and safeguard biodiversity, health, education, employment, and social progress.
However, as the 2023/24 Europe Sustainable Development Report (ESDR) released on Thursday shows, progress in Europe on the SDGs is too limited.
A comprehensive approach is needed
The EU and member states also perform poorly on the International Spillover Index. The SDGs emphasise the importance of leaving no one behind, yet there are persistent gaps in living conditions and opportunities across population groups in Europe.
The EU still lacks a comprehensive approach to truly integrate the European Green Deal for a climate-neutral Europe as well as other transformations into a broader overarching strategy to achieve the SDGs and their social and international dimensions.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and geo-economic tensions have shifted political priorities and financial resources.
Combined with the growing societal fragmentation and political polarisation, these have led to pushbacks against more ambitious legislation in the EU to implement the European Green Deal and other policies that aim to promote social cohesion and equality.
Yet, this cannot be the time for backtracking or watering down what has been agreed and achieved. Instead, the European citizens and political parties should use the upcoming European elections to lay the foundations for a new European Deal for the Future.
This Deal must be a Green and Social Deal as called for by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) for years.
Alliances of thought leaders who can build viable political coalitions to push for truly sustainable — and more equitable — development, both globally and in Europe, are urgently needed.
Priority actions identified
We have identified 10 priority actions for future leaders of the EU, starting with the internal. First, the EU and member states must respond to the grave danger of negative “social tipping points” by strengthening the social ambitions of the EU and significantly reducing the risk of poverty and social exclusion of European citizens and communities. This is a fundamental condition to make other reforms acceptable.
The EU should also double down efforts to achieve net-zero emissions in the EU by 2050, with major breakthroughs by 2030. This must be accompanied by a stronger role of regional and local authorities in SDG implementation, investments, and monitoring.
The next group of priorities aims to strengthen the EU’s international leadership in sustainable development between now and 2030 and beyond.
We urge the EU leadership and member states to accelerate their efforts to curb negative international spillovers, notably those embodied in unsustainable supply chains, and play an active role in the transformation towards a more sustainable and fairer trade system.
Team Europe should be further leveraged for global SDG diplomacy, including strengthening diverse and universal formats, especially the United Nations.
And because the lack of fiscal space is the major barrier to SDG progress in low- and middle-income countries, we urge the EU and member states to support an ambitious reform of the global financial architecture.
The EU should also re-focus its international partnerships on the SDGs and move towards mutually transformative cooperation to achieve the SDGs.
A long path is ahead — but there is a clear way forward
The final priorities are more operational. To “get it done,” the EU should pursue its efforts to mobilise the current seven-year budget and additional financial firepower established in the aftermath of COVID-19 — via the NextGenEU and Recovery and Resilience Facility — toward sustainable development.
Furthermore, the next Multiannual Financial Framework, for 2028–2035, must integrate, maintain, and increase the total level of financing to sufficiently fund the required transformation deep into the next decade.
By institutionalising the integration of the SDGs into strategic planning, macroeconomic coordination, budget processes, research and innovation missions, and other policy instruments, the EU and member states can accelerate major transformations and ensure a fair transition.
Lastly, we urge the future EU leadership to establish new permanent mechanisms for structured and meaningful engagement on SDG pathways and policies with civil society, youth, and within the European parliament.
The new European Parliament, the next European Commission, and the European Council have a long path ahead to prepare for the next decades of global sustainable development. Jointly reaffirming the EU’s commitment to the SDGs is the clear way forward.
Guillaume Lafortune is Vice-President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN); Adolf Kloke-Lesch, Phoebe Koundouri, and Angelo Riccaboni serve as Co-Chairs of SDSN Europe; Peter Schmidt is President of the NAT Section at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC); and Maurizio Reale is President SDO of the EESC.
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