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José Manuel BARROSO

President of the European Commission

Sustainable development: a strategy to do more and better

Concluding speech to the Stakeholder Forum on Sustainable Development
Brussels, 15 April 2005

Like synergy and empowerment, sustainable development has become one of the buzz words of the 21st century. Type it into Google and the website will come up with no less than 36,400,000 internet pages on the subject. Everyone seems to have heard of the word, but very few have looked past the jargon to think about what it really means in practice. Still fewer have the knowledge and insight to look at ways of making it a reality. That is why I am very happy to address this Stakeholder Forum on Sustainable Development. The European Economic and Social Committee has once again acted as a forum for lively and constructive debate. Your discussions have gone to the heart of what Europe can do to deliver long-term success and guarantee a better quality of life for future generations.

I understand this Stakeholder Forum was not a leisurely conference. Some of you worked until late last night on conclusions and recommendations. You proposed some 50 topics for discussion – and all of you participated actively in the working groups yesterday. I think the open space method has proved very successful as a way to discuss sustainable development. In a few minutes I will react to some of the points discussed, but first I want to stress how much importance I personally attach to this debate with you.

The Commission is working on the 2005 review of its Sustainable Development Strategy. We have already taken a number of steps in this review process. From the very beginning the Commission made clear that it wants to involve, to the maximum extent possible, citizens, non-governmental organisations, businesses, trade unions and others. As Vice-President Margot Wallström said yesterday, the Commission does listen to stakeholders. Equally, we want to explain much better what we are doing. We want to make our policy-making more transparent, to help you provide that vital input which can make our policies better. That is why we need your ideas, your opinions and your feedback. And that is why this Stakeholder Forum is so important to the review of the EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy.

The recently relaunched Lisbon reform strategy and the Sustainable Development Strategy together form key elements in the partnership for prosperity, solidarity and security that is at the heart of the EU’s strategic priorities for the coming five years. These two strategies express our positive vision for Europe. A vision of which we can be proud. We have already come a long way in the construction of Europe. But to keep moving forward and to guarantee future success, we must set out our ideas for how we see Europe now and in the next 5, 10 – yes, 25 years. The Sustainable Development Strategy will help us do this.

Ours is an integrated vision – encompassing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the Union. Ensuring that the renewed Lisbon strategy focuses attention on growth and jobs is itself an important step towards the sustainability of that vision. The endorsement given to this priority by the European Council in March should help to breathe new life into the Lisbon Strategy, five years after its launch.

After all, without taking proper action to increase our growth potential, how can we sustain our unique model of society? We must boost our capacity to generate the resources needed to extend and deepen our model. And of course, all the measures we take must be informed and guided by our broader vision of sustainable development, a vision enshrined in the Treaties and in the Constitution.

The Commission is therefore committed to tackling important unsustainable trends that, if left unattended, would call into question our capacity to deliver prosperity and solidarity in the longer run. Our future prosperity and quality of life depends on our ability to change consumption and production patterns.

We need to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and – very importantly - we must ensure the sustainability of public finances, taking account of the changing demographics of our continent.

In 1992 the UNCED Summit took place in Rio de Janeiro. I represented the EU Presidency, held by Portugal, at that event. I can assure you that this summit galvanised my thinking then, and continues to do so now. I will always be conscious of our broader responsibilities in pursuing our policies. Broader in a double sense: our policies have a bearing on the whole world and they have an impact on future generations.

This is why we must now make the Sustainable Development Strategy work. We have moved forward, but as our findings on progress and your discussions have demonstrated, we need to do more and better before we can say ‘we have built that vision for the 21st century’.

Let me share with you what I think would make a solid strategy. First, the strategy needs clearer objectives and targets. Take the example of transport. It is not enough to say we must do something about traffic congestion. We need to be specific about what tools and policy measures we want to use. We need to encourage the use of public transport in our cities and to balance the use of different transport modes for goods in order to reduce excessive reliance on the use of roads. And here we can build on some successful examples in our Member States. [In London, for example, the so-called congestion charge appears to have been quite successful]. The strategy must provide a firm framework for policies to guarantee that future generations will have a healthy and prosperous life on this planet.

Secondly, the strategy needs new instruments and we need innovative means of delivering the objectives. I think it is particularly on this point that we need to strengthen the strategy. For example, we must make greater use of the potential for science and technology to introduce cleaner, but still competitive, production practices. We also need to examine how to use the economic instruments at our disposal. These should be put to work for our objectives more directly and more effectively. In other words, we need to put our money where our mouth is.

Thirdly, we should clarify the governance of the strategy. This has become a constant concern in our approach to this and many other areas of the Commission’s work, as we strive towards better governance generally. Who does what? What is the responsibility of local government? What can be done by Member States and what should be done at EU level? At the moment everybody is doing something, but it is not well coordinated, lacks coherence and is therefore not very efficient. We must improve that. We could, for example, introduce guidelines that would allow us to share best practices on a wider scale. Here we could learn from the Lisbon experience. Moreover, success depends not only on governmental action, but also on the full involvement of all stakeholders.

Finally, we must monitor the strategy better. We have to set deadlines. Targets must be binding and be backed up by delivery. The ‘when’ question deserves an answer, otherwise the strategy has no bite. It needs teeth.

Now, I am grateful for your hard work to produce a whole body of conclusions and recommendations for the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy. Many of your ideas will put flesh on the bones of the Commission’s ambitions for this strategy: clearer objectives, better instruments, greater ownership and effective monitoring.

As Commissioner Dimas has just confirmed, your ideas are vital for the further development, and indeed improvement, of this strategy. But your conclusions are many and it is quite difficult – even for the President of the Commission – to respond to all the points you have made on the spot.

I can assure you that we will have a closer look at your conclusions, and the priorities you have listed, as we move ahead on the actual review in the months to come. You have covered nearly all the central issues that we need to address in the strategy and I do want to address a certain number of the broader issues you have raised. I will work hard to move the strategy from words to deeds. We must now institute the change needed to create a more sustainable society and economy. I think that your participation in this conferences shows that there is a will to do this. There is a lot to do but we must now focus on the key priorities and also identify the main tasks within each trend and put in place effective measures. One way to move things forward is to be positive – to report on the success stories and show people how this can be done. To share best practice between companies, citizens groups and Member States. We must tell people what they can gain from a more sustainable approach – and help, for example, SMEs cope effectively when they have to make difficult choices in a competitive. Finally, we must involve all parties and make certain that everyone knows ‘who does what’ The strategy must connect both to the international and the local level. And it should be a strategy for the whole EU 25.

Let me thank you for your contribution and highlight our next steps. The European Council has asked the Commission to prepare for June a Declaration on guiding principles for sustainable development. I find this an excellent initiative by the Presidency and think such a Declaration will help to frame sustainable development’s role as the broad overarching priority for all our policies.

Later in the autumn, building on those principles, the Commission will present proposals for the revision of the Sustainable Development Strategy. This will help to put a face on the principles. In fact, the principles will only be meaningful if they are reflected in an operational plan that implements them effectively. The European Council has asked for a new and more ambitious strategy, which will be discussed under the British Presidency. All the institutions, including the European Economic and Social Committee, have a part to play in ensuring that the path we map out towards sustainable development is a truly European strategy. A strategy shared by all institutions is the best guarantee that it will work.

Talking about delivery, this is the crucial element in the revision process. For this we need to ensure that the EU strategy fits better with our international commitments and with Member States’ National Action Plans on sustainable development. And again, we not only need governmental action. We must also define with you, the stakeholders, and the targeted actions we need to work on. We really have to get beyond the ‘walk of the talk’ and engage actively with you to act together.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by saying that the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy will receive my full attention throughout this year. I will also make sure that the complementary nature of our work on sustainable development and on the Lisbon Strategy is brought to the fore. As I said before, the Lisbon and Sustainable Development Strategies mutually reinforce each other. Both contribute to the goal of improving welfare and living conditions in a sustainable way for present and future generations. This Commission will work hard to achieve this, and I’m convinced that the renewed Sustainable Development Strategy will help us in this endeavour. Then, I promise you, many more people will see past the buzz word and know what sustainable development means in practice.

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