The EU needs a Pact for the Future

This article was originally published as an op-ed in Social Europe.

As the European Union approaches elections and the next term, discussions about a new political pact are buzzing with potential, write Patrick ten Brink.

While EU heads of state and government prepare the ‘strategic agenda’ to guide the next five years, versions of a new European arrangement have been sketched. The Antwerp Declaration calls for an industrial deal while the La Hulpe Declaration outlines demands for social rights. Yet amid these high-level debates, the environmental dimension has been conspicuously absent.

When setting priorities for the next EU legislature, however, the interconnected climate-biodiversity-pollution crises cannot be swept under the carpet. Failing to meet the union’s green targets would mean giving up on all the collective efforts already made—and on the EU’s position as a global environmental leader.

Today, environmental civil-society organisations are standing up against this glaring omission and advocating an all-inclusive Pact for the Future. In the next term the EU institutions must drive the transformative system change needed for a prosperous future within the confines of one healthy planet. The trajectory set by the European Green Deal must be continued and indeed taken to the next level: all other priorities depend on its success.

Rendez-vous with history

EU leaders must not miss this crucial rendez-vous with history. Yet in these times of crises and uncertainty, some politicians have been fanning the flames.

Disinformation campaigns and abuse of economic power undermine elections and put democracy at risk. Poverty and profound inequalities, augmented by inflation, have spurred a cost-of-living crisis, eroding social cohesion and sparking unrest. The economic system has brought wealth for some but harsh costs to many and is, every year, exacerbating the planet’s degradation, the triple climate crisis and the risks to our future.

It is important to understand the fears of some citizens. But the stark choices facing humanity underline the need for system change. It is not all gloom and resignation is not an option. Crucial is to create a programme that can engender hope. 

The green agenda is a catalyst for tangible improvements in citizens’ daily lives. The shift to renewable energies, clean technology and circular product development will make the economy more resilient and competitive while creating millions of good-quality skilled jobs. Farmers’ and fishers’ livelihoods can be improved through fair pricesagro- and pesca-ecological practices, and nature protection and restoration.

Less than 12 per cent of materials in Europe are reused or recycled. Tapping into this potential can not only reduce waste and emissions but also create new economic opportunities and safeguard the environment.

Fair taxationdecent working conditions and energy-efficient housing can boost household incomes. And accessible and sustainable infrastructure, along with reparable and toxic-free products, can empower individuals to make environmentally conscious choices.

Such measures, if well-targeted, can instil hope and foster engagement across the board. By ensuring that everyone benefits, the EU can not only drive positive change but also strengthen trust in its leadership.

Moral obligation

EU leaders heed the concerns of business and, to a lesser extent, trade unions but they should not ignore the concerns of scientists and citizens—especially the youngest. According to a recent international survey, 84 per cent of 16-25 year-olds are worried about climate change, with 75 per cent saying they find the future frightening and 83 per cent believing people have failed to take care of the planet. 

it is imperative that the current generation embraces its responsibilities and that new adults engage to drive solutions. There is a moral obligation to leave the world in a better state for the youth and future generations.

Europe’s global strength lies in its trailblazer capacity, rooted in robust social and environmental norms. This must be built upon, not undermined.

The European Green Deal was a groundbreaking starting point, impelling part of the needed system change, strengthening the EU’s international credibility and proving a tool for EU competitiveness globally. But the need is to move further, faster.

Applying the brakes instead would only increase the risk of being outpaced by others, diminish the EU’s global influence and leave the path clear for industry elsewhere to capture the growing markets for green technologies. It would also be a missed opportunity for climate, environmental and social justice, and a failure to protect human rights.

European Pact for the Future

European leaders should commit to an agenda of hope and confidence, an actionable and viable programme for our common future and a system change which leaves no one behind. We need a European Pact for the Future, which must reflect the fundamental choice society faces and serve as an action plan of hope and courage, for now and tomorrow, allowing the older generation to bequeath a liveable world.

A new social contract should embrace the vision of living well within planetary boundaries, along these lines:—

  • Navigating the ecological transformation: fully address the triple planetary climate, biodiversity and pollution crisis, building on the interconnections between crises; reduce resource use and seize circular-economy opportunities to save resources and money, while cutting emissions and building resilience; prioritise a shift to a well-being economy that places citizens’ welfare at the forefront.
  • Accelerating towards a one-planet economy: support sectors in becoming resilient and competitive on sustainability on a global scale; drive systemic change through investments, fair taxation and equitable distribution of resources; ensure adequate funding to support engagement across society and make sustainable choices easy for individuals and businesses alike.
  • Promoting a just transition: develop a new social deal that leaves no one behind, ensuring that citizens’ needs are central to decision-making; strengthen environmental democracy by amplifying the voices of youth and marginalised groups, fostering healthy democratic practices amid global challenges.
  • Showing solidarity and embracing responsibilities: manifest solidarity across a diverse EU, prioritising inclusivity and justice in green and social deals; commit to global justice and forge partnerships to address shared challenges effectively.
  • Implementing commitments: enforce EU legislation to uphold the rule of law and protect public health; strengthen EU governance and trust in the European project by designating European Commission vice-presidents to champion green and social deals, alongside a commissioner for youth and future generations.

With a clear commitment to a green and social deal within the boundaries of our planet, hope can thrive. Organisations and individuals are welcome to sign up for a pact that represents our best hope for a sustainable and prosperous future. Together, we can build a brighter tomorrow for ourselves and for generations to come.

Alberto Vela contributed to this piece.