Brussels, 30 March 2001
European Commission issues working paper on Sustainable Development
The European Commission has issued a consultation paper setting out some initial views on the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development. The second stage of the process will be the preparation of a Commission's proposal for a Sustainable Development Strategy for the Gothenburg European Council in June.
The paper identifies six important trends that pose a threat to sustainable development in the EU - climate change; potential threats to public health; increasing pressure on some vital natural resources; poverty and social exclusion; ageing population; congestion and pollution from current patterns of mobility. The paper presents a policy toolkit for tackling these problems, but does not include specific objectives and measures. These will be contained in the Commission's proposal for a sustainable development strategy to the Göteborg European Council. The aim of the paper is to generate discussion and encourage input from other EU institutions and civil society. All stakeholders are therefore invited to express their views on these issues and to consider what more concrete measures should be included in the EU sustainable development strategy for Göteborg before 30 April.
The Amsterdam Treaty makes sustainable development one of the core tasks of the EU. The Union is also committed to producing a sustainable development strategy for the Rio + 10 Summit in South Africa next year that is being held as a follow up to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and the Rio + 5 Summit in New York in 1997.
The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 invited the European Commission to "prepare a proposal for a long-term strategy dovetailing policies for economically, socially and ecologically sustainable development" for the Gothenburg European Council in June 2001.
This consultative document is the first step in developing this strategy. The document does not include specific objectives and measures, but sets out the challenges and opportunities of sustainable development. It is meant to trigger a wide debate with other European institutions, Member States and civil society. Following this debate, the Commission will propose a sustainable development strategy to the Gothenburg European Council, containing objectives, measures and timetables.
The consultation paper points out that Europeans are in general much better off in material terms than ever incomes rose by a factor of five during the last century, most people have access to decent social welfare services, and life expectancies continue to rise. However, we still face several major challenges:
The document proposes to build the EU's future strategy for sustainable development around these six areas in order to move the debate on sustainable development away from abstract discussions about the meaning of the expression sustainable development.
Although the challenges identified are varied, there are some common features. A key failing is that policy making tends to focus too much on narrow interests and does not consider the bigger picture. As a result, policies in different areas often work against each other.
A further problem is caused by too often taking a short-term approach in its most acute form, crisis management. Many of the challenges to sustainable development are overlooked because the problems they pose tend to build up slowly over time.
A third obstacle to sustainable development is the existence of incentives that encourage production and consumption. For too long, the tax system has priced labour out of the market, and pollution into it.
Changing our behaviour is critical to achieving sustainable development. Whether as businesses or citizens, we need to know more about the effects our decisions have on others and we need to be able to make alternative choices. Technological change is key to making these choices available. Policy needs to stimulate technological innovation and encourage its take-up.
All stakeholders are invited to express their views on these issues and to consider what concrete measures should be included in the EU sustainable development strategy for Gothenburg European Council in June 2001.
Observations on the questions and other issues raised in the document may be submitted directly through the web site using the feedback form, by e-mail to email@example.com, or by post to:
Sustainable Development Task Force,
Rue de la Loi 200
The deadline for submissions is 30 April 2001.
Together with the Economic and Social Committee, the Commission is also organising a major stakeholder dialogue event in Brussels on 26-27 April. Details will be announced shortly.
The full document can be downloaded from the following Internet address: