While the remits of subnational authorities vary widely between Member states, they have proved to play a crucial role in the achievement of the SDGs. Most underlying policies and investments are a shared responsibility across all levels of government. Moreover, subnational authorities were responsible for 57% of total public investment in 2016 on average across OECD countries. Most of these investments relate to infrastructure for basic services, over which cities and/or regions have core competences, and which are sometimes the subject of dedicated SDGs.With estimates showing that 65% of the 169 targets underpinning the 17 SDGs cannot be reached without engagement of and coordination with local and regional governments, the SDGs are clearly relevant for local and regional authorities.
In addition, subnational authorities are the government level the closest to citizens, local communities, businesses, academia and civil society. They are instrumental in fostering ownership and partnerships for SDGs on the ground. They will be essential to implement SDGs 16 and 17 which respectively require strong institutions and partnerships with all actors of society and economy.
Cohesion policy also plays a key role in implementing the SDGs. It is a major EU investment tool to support the implementation of the SDGs and to achieve the EU Treaty objective of economic, social and territorial cohesion. It is one of the most visible EU policies at local and regional level, demonstrating the benefits of the EU to its citizens. It finances projects to reduce disparities between the levels of development of various regions, helping to decrease inequalities and leaving no one behind – including remote and declining industrial regions.
Some regions and cities are already well aware of their responsibility to "territorialise/localise" the SDGs and took bold steps to translate the SDGs on the ground. The Basque Country in Spain, Aland Islands, Espoo and Helsinki in Finland, Lombardy and Sardinia in Italy, Utrecht in the Netherlands , North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany, Flanders and Ghent in Belgium are just a few examples of a growing mobilization at local and regional level.
Now, the challenge is to support these local/regional leaders to face their new challenges. It also about requesting adequate EU support to increase the take-up of the SDGs by other regions and cities which are not familiar or do not have the capacity to localize the SDGs.
The CoR is committed to raise the awareness of the EU institutions on the role of subnational authorities in the implementation of the SDGs and on the support they need. Synergies between all existing initiatives must be facilitated as well as clarity on the available support. Concretely the CoR promotes subnational good practices towards the EU institutions and requests the EU to integrate a territorial/multi-level approach to its work onthe SDGs.
The inclusion of regions and cities within the EU policy making on the SDGs will be instrumental in facilitating their actions. The UN and academia already recognized that the implementation of the SDGs can only be "common but differentiated ", context specific: taking into account economic, social, cultural, political and geographical specificities. This should be reflected in all EU institutions' work on the SDGs and help subnational authorities to develop SDG strategies at their level.
The European Parliament adopted mid-March 2019 its annual report on the SDGs and – in part following input from the CoR through the rapporteur and political groups – it includes several points on multi-level governance, the MSP, and the role of cities and regions. It is very much in line with Mr Abramavičius' draft opinion. Several adopted amendments were suggested by the CoR.
The European Commission published in January 2019 a Reflection Paper entitled "Europe moving towards a sustainable future" - which is part of the wider debate on the future of Europe. It reflects the recommendations of the EU multi-stakeholders' platform on SDGs in which the CoR was a leading member. Indeed, the CoR - represented by Arnoldas Abramavičius (ECON LT/EPP) - was part of the team drafting recommendations for the Reflection Paper which have been largely taken up by the Reflection Paper. Moreover the Reflection Paper clearly acknowledges the work of the platform as well as includes an executive summary of its recommendations in its Annex 3. Recommendations taken up include the recognition of the SDGs as a reference framework for action with a transversal approach, covering all policies, including social, economic, environmental and governance dimensions, at both internal and external levels. The CoR recommendations pay particular attention to policy coherence for sustainable development, territorial disparities and the need for cohesion, as well as governance issues – including MLG – are also included in the Reflection Paper. Mr Abramavicius and representatives of the CoR presented these during bilateral meetings with VP Timmermans and Katainen, and their cabinets.
The CoR was invited several times to speak to the Council Working Party on the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development on 27 March. The CoR Director conveyed the main messages of the draft opinion to Member States (including on the necessity for the EU to have an overarching EU strategy to implement the SDGs and on the pivotal role of regions and cities in this regard), made recommendations for the Sibiu conclusions, and answered questions from Member States. This process of engagement culminated on 10 December in the Council Conclusions on SDGs which pay tribute to the work of the CoR, cities and regions in the implementation of SDGs. This document is also very much in line with Mr Abamavicius adopted opinion.
More broadly, this opinion provided the basis for the awareness-raising work accomplished by the CoR on the role of regions and cities in the implementation of the SDGs. Several events were organised and the rapporteur, Mr. Arnoldas Abramavicius, intervened at several conferences to convey the messages contained in this opinion and shape the European debate on the implementation of the SDGs.
Right after adoption, the opinion was diffused to relevant interlocutors in all EU institutions. Commissioners Timmermans and Katainen sent a letter of reply welcoming the opinion, taking note of the relevant recommendations included and acknowledging the key role of regions and cities in implementing the SDGs.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- calls on the European Commission and the European Council to acknowledge the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a priority for their political agenda, and an overarching objective of the next EU strategic plan 2019-2024 and beyond;
- contends that there is an urgent need for an EU overarching strategy coordinating implementation between all levels of government with time-bound targets and concrete deliverables for 2030, together with monitoring and review mechanisms;
- calls for the new European Commission to take a leading role in setting up multi-level, multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral governance, enabling the mainstreaming of all dimensions of the SDGs in all EU policies. Encourages the European Commission to use the Better Regulation guidelines as a tool to help design legislation taking into account all dimensions of the SDGs. Calls on all the EU institutions and Member States to align the European semester to the SDGs;
- points out that 65% of the 169 targets of the 17 SDGs require the firm engagement of regions and cities in implementing and monitoring the SDGs in order to be achieved. Many European regions and cities have been pioneers in this SDG localisation process and have demonstrated that regions and cities are essential for implementing the SDGs effectively and rapidly;
- highlights that cohesion is the main EU investment instrument for regions and cities to implement the SDGs and ensure their economic, social and territorial development. The next EU cohesion policy should have its objectives better aligned with the SDGs, to ensure better implementation and coherence of actions.