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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso: "Civil society participation in sustainable development – the European perspective"

EESC Rio+20 side event – 'Civil society taking global responsibility'/Rio

21 June 2012

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I greatly welcome the opportunity to speak at this event here today in front of so many members of civil society representing many millions of people around the world.

I particularly welcome the initiative of President Staffan Nilsson to organise this event because it means we have brought a bit of Brussels to Rio. Thankfully I do not mean the rain, no I am referring to the manner in which we the European Union integrates dialogue with our social partners and civil society into our decision making process. I would like to pay tribute to President Nilsson’s personal commitment to making Rio a success.

The immense challenges that the world faces today, the challenges of sustainable economic and social development, require levels of determination and policy coordination that the world has never seen before.

These changes need the ownership and involvement of all levels of society. That is why, more than ever, the European Union privileges the close links with civil society.

Since 2008, the European Union has been facing a severe financial and economic crisis. This crisis is far from over, but we are tackling it with determination and making deep reforms that should ensure the long-term sustainability of our economy, while further integrating the economic and budgetary policies of our 27 member states.

Throughout this process of reform and integration, we attach the greatest importance to working closely with civil society, and to gaining its support for our proposals, notably our long-term agenda for growth, the Europe 2020 strategy.

At the core of this growth agenda, are the objectives to make Europe a smart economy but also a sustainable and inclusive economy. One of its key objectives is to make Europe resource-efficient. This is both an environmental objective and an economic objective. We believe this framework will bring economic opportunities by improving productivity, lowering costs, and boosting competitiveness and innovation.

In this spirit, I warmly welcome that one of the main outcomes of Rio+20 is precisely the agreement on the need for a transition to a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

We believe that the green economy is a key instrument to progress towards more sustainable development.

This means to promote an economy that respects the boundaries of our planet, creates decent jobs, fosters social cohesion, tackles poverty and enhances food security.

An economy based on an efficient management of resources and natural capital and which taps the full ecological and social innovation potential.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will focus here today on the issues which concern you the most directly - the social dimension of Rio +20.

First and foremost, Rio is sending a message to the world that we all need to strengthen our efforts to change the way we produce and consume, adapting our economies to the boundaries of our planet. This is critical for securing sustainable growth and employment, and it is a precondition to eliminating poverty and achieving food and nutrition security for all.

As the European Union has made clear over the course of these negotiations, development thinking is not enough, we need development doing; we need to agree on concrete actions.

That is why the European Union has developed proposals for clear, operational goals and targets in key areas that address environmental objectives and poverty eradication. And I am happy that the EU efforts to make the outcome document more action oriented has paid off.

For instance, if we want to address food security, we need sustainable energy, water, oceans, land and ecosystems. Some 2 billion people, the very poorest on our planet, depend directly on these ecosystems for their livelihoods. So measures to address land and soil degradation, extreme events, protection of water resources together with resource efficiency, are vital to tackle the twin challenges of sustainable development and poverty reduction. All this shows that the Rio agenda must be concrete to succeed.

Distinguished guests,

The European Union has consistently advocated that the social dimension must be fully integrated in the sustainable development strategy.

This social vision needs to be highlighted at various levels, notably by emphasising the inclusive nature of the green economy and its potential for decent job creation, including green jobs, for all.

Only the access to decent work for all, the implementation of international labour standards and the provision of a social protection floor, can guarantee that growth is not only economically and ecologically sustainable, but also fair, just and equitable.

Equally important of course, are a range of fundamental, cross-cutting issues, which constitute the basis for sustainable development. In addition to social protection, let me underline, the central role of human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as the role of youth and education, civil society and public participation. If these issues are not properly integrated in national policies, we will simply not be able to achieve the concrete goals and targets we have set for ourselves. Obviously, development does not happen in a societal vacuum.

In this context, I would like to highlight here the growing role of civil society. It is one thing to agree on an outcome document. It is quite another to make it work in reality. To make a long lasting success of the Rio commitments, we need the whole-scale, constructive mobilisation of civil society, and widespread backing and ownership of its goals.

The European Union has always supported an open and inclusive process in decision-making.

The EESC is a very good example of the extent to which civil society and the social partners are involved in the decision making process and its benefits are clear to see.

We actively supported the full and active participation of all major groups, relevant stakeholders and social partners during the Rio negotiations - at the Conference itself, and especially in the follow-up and implementation of the commitments made.

Beyond Rio, the transition to an inclusive green economy will not happen automatically: in the longer term, civil society and the private sector will together play a fundamental role in delivering green growth and promoting sustainable consumption and production.

Developing countries in particular, will need the resources and capacity to implement actions on the ground. National means and official development assistance will of course continue to be important catalysts to strengthen investment capacities, particularly in least developed countries.

In this respect, the EU will remain the world's largest donor. Around 60% of today's ODA comes from the European Union, and much of it already goes for "Rio Priorities." For 2012-2013 EU aid to the three dimensions of sustainable development already amounts to 8 billion Euros – more than 10 billion USD.

However, the bulk of the resources needed for the worldwide transition to an inclusive green economy, will need to be mobilised from elsewhere. Civil society and the private sector will increasingly have a central role, as direct agents of change and real contributors for bringing sustainable development on the ground, through for instance large-scale investment and financing, awareness raising, innovation and local level engagement.

A global Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) would ensure not only that the financial sector pays a fair contribution to the economy but could provide valuable resources to fund development. The EU is a pioneer here and the Commission has proposed that much of the revenue generated by a European FTT should be put in the future EU budget. That will help ensure that the EU continues to be one of the world's biggest providers of development assistance.

These are important factors that can help to make the inclusive green economy a reality, and there are already some instruments to help guide the private sector in this direction.

Even more importantly, a clear political vision is essential to give direction and certainty to companies about future policy developments. It gives long-term orientation to public and private investors and therefore helps to achieve sustainable development, through an inclusive green economy.

For this reason, platforms that bring stakeholders together, like the EESC, have a crucial role in engaging in dialogue with civil society, both inside and outside Europe. They can also provide the basis for Observatories for Sustainable Development with broad ownership.

This crucial outreach is a first necessary step needed to develop the linkages between global civil society organisations that will be essential if we are to achieve global sustainable development.

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Rio+20 gives all of us a global opportunity to rally behind the sustainability agenda, including the inclusive green economy.

The priorities promoted by the European Union are as much about the environment as they are to do with social empowerment and poverty eradication. These dimensions are linked. Similarly, the cross-cutting issues that have been highlighted at Rio, in particular in its social dimension, will ensure that these priorities are properly achieved.

But, for true success at Rio+20, and indeed in the years ahead, we need active participation from all actors and at all levels. We will not achieve success from Rio+20 with governments alone. The challenge will be to achieve a real commitment from non-state actors to action at international, at national and at sub-national level.

Multilateral negotiations are often challenging, and, the results do not always meet all the objectives of all parties. But in the globalised, interdependent and highly connected world in which we live, we simply must, one and all, be determined and committed to achieving concrete outcomes. That is what the planet needs. That is what our citizens – especially the poorest – deserve. And that is what future generations demand from us.

I thank you for your attention.


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