Sustainability as a new facet in European integration

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Seven years in the EU’s sustainability efforts, which is about half the way to a final goal, have been marked by extensive actions towards reaching sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the member states. The whole picture seems quite optimistic: out of 17 SDGs, significant progress has been noticed in 5 and moderate progress in nine. Compared to other regions in the world, during 7 year only three SDGs (1, 5 and 6) were completed by 50 percent.

Short history of the European efforts in SDGs reveals EU-wide concerted actions.
Already a year after the adoption of the global SDGs at the end of 2015, the Commission issued in November 2016 a Communication to the EU institutions concerning “Next steps for a sustainable European future”. In the response to the UN-2030 Agenda, the Communication depicted the EU’s efforts in contributing to the SDGs implementation by highlighting key European policies for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
It also showed how the Commission’s political priorities could contribute to the SDGs’ implementation. It was also vital that already in 2016 the Communication revealed financial assistance in implementing SDGs through the EU funds: European Structural and Investment Funds; the three cohesion policy funds (i.e. European Regional Development Fund, Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
More on the “2016-next steps” in:

Then, in September 2017, the Commission published a reflection paper entitled “Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030” on the follow-up to reaching the SDGs and on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
More in:

In July 2019, the first “Joint Synthesis Report on the implementation of the European Consensus on Development” was published showing the EU institutions and the member states’ advancements towards SDGs’ principles through their development cooperation with the partner countries, whilst strengthening their cooperation with the UN and other multilateral organisations, civil society and the private sector.
The report, for instance, underlined significant progress in helping reducing extreme poverty through more joint-up EU action, in promoting gender equality and in improving health services around the world. It also mentioned that the EU contributed over €20 bn in 2017 alone to support developing countries in their efforts to tackle and adapt to climate change. EU support to sustainable energy is aimed at achieving energy access for about 40 mln people, with annual CO2 emissions savings of around 15 mln tons.
Another “Eurostat Monitoring Report-2019 on progress towards the SDGs in the EU context” evaluated the EU and the member states’ efforts in implementing SDGs; it also highlighted the SDGs cross-cutting and interconnected nature.
On the Eurostat report on SDGs in:; on monitoring SDG progress in:; see also: http://www.baltic-

In January 2019, the European Commission presented a reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” which showed the EU states’ progress made in implementing SDGs and identified the necessary priorities in moving forward. The priorities included: – developing a fully circular economy, – creating a sustainable food system, – steps to “greening energy”, -mobility and the built environment, and – gearing all horizontal policy tools (from education and digitisation to finance and taxation) towards the sustainability transition.
European Commission appointed 30 members to a new high-level multi-stakeholder platform to follow up implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the member states’ economy. The Platform will both advise the Commission on implementing the SDGs and provide a forum for exchange of best practice at local, regional and national levels.
The mentioned reflection paper-2019 highlighted a vital point: the “general sustainability” shall be accompanied by a “social sustainability”; hence, it was important to ensure that the sustainability transition would be “socially fair, for the benefit of all and leaving no one behind”.
More on reflection paper in:
Additional info from 13.x.2017 in:

As soon as the UN-2030 Agenda included five so-called “key themes” – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership – they place particular emphasis on cross-cutting drivers of development, such as equality, youth, sustainable energy and climate actions, investment, migration, mobility, etc. These key themes seek to mobilise all means in SDGs implementation: aid, investments, domestic resources and sound socio-economic policies.

EU management in SDGs
There are presently several commissioners responsible for SDGs’ outcomes: first Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans who advocates that the UN-2030 Agenda is both a comprehensive plan for creating truly green economies and an “instrument” for increasing well-being. The EU institutions and the member states are strengthening their collective efforts to translate the SDGs into concrete actions that can be measured and monitored. In the next five years the European Commission will try to fully integrate the SDGs into the member states’ economic governance and the EU’s development model.
Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica argued that the EU member states are already at the forefront of adopting the 2030 Agenda and making serious progress. Thus working in partnership with numerous developing countries, the EU can accelerate progress towards sustainable development.
Another Commissioner for Environment, Maritime affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella underlined that a shared, prosperous and sustainable future for all can only be achieved by knitting together the social, economic and environmental dimensions in the member states’ developmental policies. He also added that the transition to ecologically sustainable economic growth and competitiveness could be only successful if it promotes social rights and well-being for all.

Economy and politics combined
In line with the SDGs implementation, the EU also adopted a transition strategy towards a low-carbon economy, which provided for a climate neutral, resource-efficient and circular growth while ensuring equality, inclusiveness and sustainability. The EU efforts to combine SDGs and socio-economic developmental activities in the states were included into the European Consensus on Development.
As the Commission reflection paper on “sustainable EU towards 2030” suggested, the so-called horizontal enablers would underpin sustainability with adequate transitional measures in the following sectors: a) in education and science, technology and research, innovation and digitisation; b) in finance, pricing, taxation and competition; c) in responsible business conduct, corporate social responsibility and new business models; d) in open and rules-based trade; and e) in national/regional governance, policy and economic coherence.
The Commission’s paper also emphases the importance of adequate “national transitional actions” as the only positive way of including all states and communities in the SDG-process.
On the Commission’s paper in:

Member states’ actions in sustainability are based on the UN acknowledgement (already in November 2017) that the SDG implementing actions in the states would “require a profound structural transformation based on moves towards low-carbon economies being resilient to climate changes”. During next decades, the objectives of these priorities (linking climate, sustainability and resilience) would need resolute efforts in reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions and unprecedented actions in creating political economies that could resist rising climate impacts. One of the priority requirement is a more rapid and fundamental shift in the global/regional development patterns and investment away from unsustainable power generation, outdated infrastructure, as well as polluting and waste operations.
Besides, all actions to address climate change shall be inseparable from the SDGs and integrated into the whole national political-economy’s plans and commitment at all governing levels. This is going to be the most difficult task in modern political economy.

Modern SDG achievements in the EU
The EU has made three “divisions of progress” in achieving SDGs: continued and/or significant (in 5 goals); moderate (in 9 goals) and neutral (in 2 goals), out of total 17 global SDGs.
= Continued progress was made only in five goals (1, 7, 8, 9 and 16): e.g. in SDG 16 (on fostering peace and personal security and improving access to justice as well as trust in public institutions). Thus, reporting on crime, violence and vandalism has fallen from 13.2% in 2015 to 10.9% in 2020; the share of the EU population considering the justice system in their country to be sufficiently independent, increased by 4 percentage points between 2016 and 2021 (from 50% to 54%). Significant progress was made in SDG 1 (reducing poverty and social exclusion), on the economy and the labour market (SDG 8), clean and affordable energy (SDG 7), as well as in innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9). For example, positive achievements in SDG 7 were strongly influenced by a remarkable reduction in energy consumption in 2020 (minus 8 % compared to 2019) as a result of pandemic-related restrictions on public life and lower economic activity. Due to these factors, the EU was able to reach its 2020 energy efficiency target and was on track towards its 2030 target. Moreover, the use of renewable energy has grown continuously, with its share doubling since 2005; in 2020, renewable energy in EU accounted for over 22 percent of gross final energy consumption; however, imports of fossil fuels were covering more than half of the EU’s energy demand; it seems that the lower fuel energy consumption in post-2020 is likely to continue. Progress in SDG 8 (economy and labour market) in 2021 was influenced by strong economic growth: e.g. employment rate went up to 73.1 % in 2021, even exceeding its pre-pandemic level.
= European moderate progress has been acknowledged in nine goals: health and well-being (SDG 3), life below water (SDG 14), gender equality (SDG 5), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), reduced inequalities (SDG 10), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), quality education (SDG 4), climate action (SDG 13) and zero hunger (SDG 2).
= Finally, progress was neutral in two goals: in SDG 17 on partnerships and in SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation: i.e. in implementing these SDGs there was almost equal number of sustainable and unsustainable developments.

Additional factors: circularity and business
A couple of additional factors have to be taken into consideration by analysing the SDGs implementation: circular economy and changing business patterns.
As to circular economy, its most basic principle is to replace the current dominating wasteful linear economic model. Instead of policies relying on finite resources, the new rational policies shall conduct sustainable economy’s patterns and business. Circular approach provides new kind of renewable resources: waste is removed at every stage of production and/or manufacturing, from sourcing to recycling. In this way “circularity” helps to create a development policy and business models that restore and regenerates, rather than depletes and throw away available resources.
In short, circular approach is not only analysing the methods, means and places the new products are made; it also shows how those products are recycled and sustainably used.
In the corporate sector, the changing business patters are becoming vital: the role of business in such new realities as both in the post-pandemic period and in digital/climate transitions are changing profoundly: businesses have been playing a critical role in helping achieve SDGs and facing modern challenges by providing optimal services and solutions. Actually, businesses that do not adapt their operating models to new realities are running risks of loosing trust and forfeiting customers’ loyalty.

Contemporary managerial models are facing numerous uncertainties: from critical national agendas, to declining natural resources, to the changing skills required for employment. These and plenty of other challenges make forward-thinking leaders and politicians a task, according to Fortune Magazine, to “adopt conscious capitalism through the incorporation of key elements like trust, collaboration, and stakeholder orientation into day-to-day business practices”.
Most important is that companies wishing to be competitive need to adapt to the circular economy principles and new sustainable orientations. And it is going to be a profitable orientation: for example, the Accenture research shows a potential $4.5 trillion reward for achieving sustainable businesses by 2030.

In fact, adopting a circular economy model in governance is not just about growth (production of goods and services) but also about the ways a country’s business community is functioning. In this way “circularity” can present an opportunity to move beyond sustainability’s solutions towards transforming traditional business models into approaches that can accommodate two most vital global challenges, i.e. climate and SDGs; and in this way create a competitive advantage in Europe and the world. Thus, circularity can positively affect the process of faster implementing the SDGs and resolve national resilience issues.
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