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Brussels, 16 May 2001

Commission proposes bold EU strategy for sustainable development

The European Commission has called on next month's Gothenburg European Council to take urgent action to secure a better quality of life for present and future generations. This requires sustained economic growth which supports social progress and respects the environment, a social policy which underpin economic performance, and a cost-effective environmental policy. To this end, the Commission proposes a European sustainable strategy consisting of three parts. Firstly, a set of cross cutting proposals to ensure that future policy making is more coherent and cost effective, as well as to promote technological innovation and stronger involvement of civil society and business in policy formation. The future reviews of common policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Transport Policy should have sustainable development as their central concern. Secondly, a set of headline objectives and EU-wide measures to tackle the biggest challenges to sustainable development not dealt with in the Lisbon strategy: climate change, threats to public health, depletion of natural resources, traffic congestion and land use problems. Finally, it identifies the steps needed after the Gothenburg summit to implement the strategy and to take stock of progress. In future sustainable development will be on the agenda of every spring European Council.

Announcing the strategy, European Commission President Romano Prodi said: "Sustainable development is not a choice. It's an imperative. We must do everything possible, even if this means making some sacrifices during the period of change and transition. What is at stake is leaving our children, grandchildren and future generations a world worth living in, with a more just society and a healthy, clean environment. This is a duty in which we must not fail."


Many of the trends that threaten sustainable development result from past choices in production technology, patterns of land use and infrastructure investment, which are difficult to reverse in a short timeframe. Although the Union has a wide range of policies to address the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainability, these policies have developed without enough co-ordination. Too often, action to achieve objectives in one policy area hinders progress in another, while solutions to problems often lie in the hands of policy makers in other sectors or at other levels of government.

The Commission's report recommends urgent action and a new approach to policymaking to improve policy coherence: all policies must have sustainable development as their core objective. In particular, forthcoming reviews of EU Common Policies (Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, Common Transport Policy, Cohesion Policies) must look at how they can contribute more positively to sustainable development. Earlier and more systematic dialogue in particular with representatives of consumers, whose interests are too often overlooked, should improve the quality of regulation and accelerate its implementation. Science and research also have a central role to play in guiding political decisions.


Sustainable development is not only about the environment. An effective strategy must integrate economic, social and environmental sustainability. In March 2001, the Commission identified six important trends that pose a threat to sustainable development in the EU: climate change; dangers to public health; increasing pressure on vital natural resources; poverty and social exclusion; an ageing population; congestion and pollution. European Union measures to encourage more sustainable development have been in place for some years. Today's paper focuses the four areas not already covered by objectives and measures agreed on in Lisbon, Nice and Stockholm. They are: climate change, threats to public health, loss of biodiversity, and transport congestion.

    1. Limiting climate change and increasing the use of clean energy

As a first step, the EU must meet its Kyoto commitments. The EU should also aim to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1% per year over 1990 levels up to 2020. The Union will insist that other major industrial countries comply with their Kyoto targets. This is an indispensable step in ensuring the broader international effort needed to limit climate change. The Commission proposes several actions in this field, including:

  • the phasing out of subsidies to fossil fuel production and consumption by 2010

  • a new framework for energy taxation

  • tradeable permits for CO2

  • promoting alternative fuels, such as biofuels for cars and trucks

  • actions to improve energy efficiency.

    2. Addressing threats to public health.

Food safety and quality should be the objective of all players in the food chain. The impact of hazardous chemicals on the environment and on human health should be minimised. Issues related to the outbreak of infectious diseases and resistance to antibiotics should be tackled. Key measures in this area include:

  • establishing a European Food Authority in 2002

  • further reorientation of support from the Common Agricultural Policy towards quality in production methods and output rather than quantity, including the phase out of tobacco subsidies, while putting into place measures to develop alternative sources of income and economic activity for tobacco workers and growers

  • improving consumer information and awareness through clear food labelling

  • a comprehensive Community strategy to promote health and safety at work.

    3. Managing natural resources more responsibly

Biodiversity must be better protected and the pressure on natural habitats reduced. We need to break the links between economic growth, the use of resources and the generation of waste. Key proposals include:

  • establishing indicators on biodiversity and resource use

  • reducing the EU fishing fleets to a level compatible with global sustainability

  • further reform of the CAP

  • an Integrated Product Policy to cut waste

  • putting in place of EU legislation on environmental liability by 2003.

    4. Improving the transport system and land use

Here the Commission proposes to make sure that economic growth does not mean continually rising pollution and congestion from transport. More attention also needs to be paid to maintaining the viability of rural communities and tackling urban problems. Key measures at EU level include:

  • a framework for transport charges to get prices for different modes of transport right

  • prioritising investments in public transport and railways

  • inland waterways and short sea shipping

  • developing open markets at EU level for railways and air traffic.


Sustainable development has an important global dimension. Many of the challenges to sustainability require global action to solve them. Climate change and bio-diversity are obvious examples. The Commission believes that developed countries must take the lead in pursuing sustainable development, and calls on other developed countries to accept their responsibilities as well. The Commission believes that the EU should start by putting its own house in order, to provide international leadership and as a first step towards achieving global sustainability.


The Commission will report to each Spring European Council on progress in implementing the Sustainable Development strategy. The Commission will propose a small number of headline performance indicators for this purpose to the Barcelona European Council in spring 2002.

The process of integration of environmental concerns in sectoral policies, launched by the European Council in Cardiff, must continue and provide an environmental input to the EU Sustainable Development strategy, similar to that given for the economic and social dimensions by the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines and the Employment Guidelines. The sectoral environmental integration strategies should be consistent with the specific objectives of the EU Sustainable Development strategy.

The Commission will establish a sustainable development "Round Table" of about 10 independent experts offering a broad range of views, who will report directly to the Commission President.

The EU Strategy for Sustainable Development will be comprehensively reviewed at the start of each Commission's term of office. Starting in 2002, the Commission will hold a two-yearly Stakeholder Forum to assess the EU Strategy.


The Amsterdam Treaty makes sustainable development one of the core tasks of the EU. The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 then 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 paper responds to that invitation. It builds on the Commission services' consultation paper issued in March, and on the many responses to it (see IP/01/479).

This paper is part of the EU input to the world summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg next year. This summit is a follow up to Rio Earth Summit in 1992. At the 19th Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 1997 the EU and other signatories of the Rio Declaration committed themselves to producing sustainable development strategies for Johannesburg summit.

Recent European Councils at Lisbon, Nice and Stockholm have already agreed objectives and measures to tackle two of the six issues that pose the biggest challenges to sustainable development in Europe: combating poverty and social exclusion, and dealing with the economic and social implications of an ageing society. This strategy does not propose new actions in these areas. These objectives are an integral part of the EU Strategy for Sustainable Development:

More information on sustainable development can be found at:

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