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Sustainability needs to be the guiding principle for Europe  

Cities and regions call for the SDGs to be at the heart of Europe's next long-term strategy after they were neglected by the European Council

Making the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the basis for a long-term EU strategy for a sustainable Europe by 2030 was at the heart of the discussion with European Commission's Vice-President Jyrki Katainen during the June plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR). CoR members also adopted the opinion by Arnoldas Abramavičius (LT/EPP) focusing on the role of regions and cities in localising the SDGs.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2015 - are the blueprint to guide the future course of economic and social development on the planet. Each of the 17 goals has specific targets (169 targets in total) with the objective to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure prosperity by 2030. In January 2019, the European Commission presented a reflection paper on a more sustainable Europe, proposing three scenarios on how the goals and targets could be achieved. One of the proposed scenarios was for the EU to adopt an overarching EU SDGs strategy. The European Committee of the Regions wants to go a step further.

"If the EU wants to show it is serious about equity and climate change, sustainability must be more than a footnote, but instead our guiding compass for the next decade. Though it is regrettable that the EU member states didn't have the political courage to fully commit to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, our Committee will continue to make the case that there is no alternative: we must build a sustainable EU by working in partnership with its regions and cities", said CoR President Karl Heinz Lambertz.

Given that 65% of the 169 targets included in the 17 SDGs cannot be reached without the involvement of sub-national actors (UN), bottom-up approaches and multi-level governance are paramount to achieve the ambitious goals set by the United Nations Agenda 2030. A recent CoR survey on local and regional contributions to the SDGs, conducted together with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), shows that 59% of respondents are in the process of implementing the SDGs.

Jyrki Katainen, European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, said: "The Committee of the Regions, our cities, municipalities and regions are our major implementing and innovation partners. Without this close link, we could not achieve the same goals we have decided together at the EU level", adding that "Innovations come from regions. Every single innovation happens in a city or municipality."

"Many EU regions have been pioneers in localising the SDGs and have demonstrated that regions and cities are essential not only as mere implementers but also as the policy-makers closest to their citizens, businesses and local communities. Many regions are more ambitious than the national targets. One example is my hometown, the city of Espoo, the second largest city in Finland, which as part of the UN SDG 25+5 cities leadership program sets the goal of reaching the Agenda 2030 by 2025 and support in the transformation process also the others globally", said Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions.

"The goal of leaving no one behind will require the mainstreaming of the SDGs within all EU policies as well as the support and integration of regional, national and EU funds. Building a more sustainable and inclusive model for Europe requires far-reaching structural reforms. Aligning the European Semester and a strong cohesion policy for all regions to the SDGs are key to successfully implement SDGs on the ground provided they are based on a legally binding code of conduct on partnership between all levels of government. The tools are there, what we need is the political will to make the SDGs a priority", said Arnoldas Abramavičius (LT/EPP), CoR rapporteur on the "Sustainable Develoment Goals (SDGs): a basis for a long-term EU strategy for a sustainable Europe by 2030" and Member of Zarasai District Municipal Council.

A specific CoR opinion focusing on the "planet" pillar of the SDGs will follow in the plenary session on 8/9 October 2019.


The opinion "Sustainable Develoment Goals (SDGs): a basis for a long-term EU strategy for a sustainable Europe by 2030" is the CoR's response to the European Commission's Reflection Paper 'Sustainable Europe by 2030' presented in January 2019. The Paper puts forward three scenarios to stimulate the discussion on how to follow up on the Sustainable Development Goals within the EU. 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.



Carmen Schmidle

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