Civil society organisations from across Europe are urging European Union leaders to make sustainable development the golden thread running through all EU policies.
The leaders of the European Union are due to hold a summit in Brussels on 20-21 June 2019 where they will hammer out the EU’s strategic agenda for the coming five years. A leaked draft of the five-year plan obtained by Euractiv reveals that the top priority EU leaders wish to pursue between 2019 and 2024, under the misleading heading “protecting citizens and freedoms”, revolves around migration, border controls and counter-terrorism.
While this may appear to be the populist thing to do, it is not the most popular, according to various opinion polls. Protecting the environment and sustainable living are popular amongst European citizens, regardless of their political ideologies. A near universal 94% of EU citizens say that protecting the environment is personally important to them, according to Eurobarometer, the EU’s polling agency.
Moreover, a recent YouGov poll found that the majority of Europeans polled were in favour of introducing greater protections for the environment, even it negatively affected economic growth, and that corruption, housing, health, pensions and unemployment rank above or equal to migration.
These trends were confirmed by what has been dubbed as the ‘green wave’ during the European Parliament elections.
Despite this clear preference for the environment among European citizens, the leaked draft plan relegates green policies to third place, behind migration and “developing our economic base”.
The golden thread of sustainability
Reflecting the clear preferences of millions of citizens to prioritise the environment, housing, health and employment, as well as responding to the urgent environmental and socio-economic crises facing Europe and the world, European civil society decided to join forces to demand the political establishment get its act together.
More than 150 organisations signed an open letter urging EU leaders to render sustainable development “the golden thread running through all EU policies” in the 2019-2024 strategy and beyond.
“Urgent action is needed to address escalating inequalities and tackle the climate crisis, stop the rapid loss of biodiversity, ensure sustainable consumption and production and quality employment for all, and manage a just transition towards an economic system founded on wellbeing and quality of life,” the signatories stated.
The letter was the brainchild of the European Environmental Bureau, the European Confederation of Relief and Development NGOs (CONCORD) and the Platform of European Social NGOs (Social Platform).
“The next five years will be decisive if we are to advance social justice, including by fighting poverty and social exclusion, creating quality employment, and ensuring the health, dignity and wellbeing of all people,” says Kélig Puyet, director of the Social Platform. “To achieve this, our leaders need to do more than pay lip service to social and environmental sustainability.”
“The outgoing European Commission wanted to make us believe in infinite ‘green’ growth while leaving the economic system untouched,” notes Patrizia Heidegger, director of global policies and sustainability at the EEB. “We need the next Commission to focus on an economy for human well-being within ecological limits – and a political leadership that dares to ask: how much is enough to live well?”
Making Europe sustainable can only be achieved through sustained pressure. “The high priority that the large majority of European citizens assign to the environment and their active and constant demands for a better and more sustainable future are making a difference in the corridors of power in national capitals and in Brussels,” says Jeremy Wates, secretary general of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “But they need to keep up the pressure by making it abundantly clear to politicians that they will not settle for anything less than a sustainable Europe.”