18.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 195/29


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy — A platform for action

(COM(2005) 658 final)

(2006/C 195/08)

On 13 December 2005 the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 26 April 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Ribbe, and the co-rapporteur was Mr Derruine.

At its 427th plenary session, held on 17 and 18 May 2006 (meeting of 17 May), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 137 votes to 2 with 4 abstentions.

1.   Summary of EESC conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC has repeatedly mentioned the importance of sustainable development for Europe's future and for global development, and therefore welcomes the presentation of a ‘platform for action’ in which the Commission addresses the issue.

1.2

The communication presented by the Commission is one of five documents published in 2005 alone on the subject of sustainable development. Although he EESC is constantly stressing the importance of concrete steps, it deplores this large number of different documents produced, which makes it almost impossible for the average politically aware person to follow the dossier.

1.3

The links between the Lisbon strategy and the sustainable development strategy are unclear. Measures to provide information and improve coherence are needed to ensure that these links are understood by the general public. The impact analysis tool must be adapted so as to take account of the social and environmental dimensions to the same extent as the economic dimension. The research and innovation advocated under the Lisbon strategy should explicitly support sustainable development.

1.4

The EESC does not see the ‘platform for action’ set out in the communication as a new, revised strategy. Although it provides an accurate analysis of the current situation and notes that it is unsustainable, the communication does not really get beyond this. Far too little, if anything, is said about what specific action could be taken.

1.5

In this document, the Commission does not follow the EESC's recommendation of April 2004 or meet its own undertaking of June 2005. It does not set out clear goals to be reached under the sustainability strategy.

1.6

A strategy should normally describe the means of achieving objectives. The absence of objectives is bound to result in gaps when it comes to identifying instruments. This is a definite problem with the communication: if you do not know exactly where you are going, then you cannot decide how you will get there.

1.7

The key actions described in the communication are vague and very poorly defined. Some are former demands, or undertakings, which have been pending for more than 30 years without being carried out. But there is no discussion of why such long-standing objectives have not been achieved, or of whether they are still appropriate and above all sufficient.

1.8

Wherever a crucial statement is made, however, the Commission remains non-committal. Its stated intention to use international trade as an instrument for promoting sustainable development can only be welcomed. But a ‘platform for action’ can also be expected to answer the question of how to achieve such an aim.

1.9

The Commission should clarify the role of the parties concerned by answering the question of who should be doing what, depending on the remits of the EU, the Member States, the social partners and other players.

1.10

The EESC for its part intends to contribute to the debate by building up a database that can be used to promote best practice, identifying obstacles encountered by operators, etc. This should enhance the expertise which the Commission and other parties can draw on.

1.11

The communication thus leaves more questions open than it answers; it even raises new questions for which society is vainly awaiting a response.

1.12

The EESC deeply deplores this situation. The communication is not really bringing sustainable development policy forward, but rather proves that the process currently seems to have stalled.

2.   Main elements and background of the opinion

2.1

On 13 December 2005, just before the EU Council of Economics and Finance Ministers in Brussels, the Commission presented a communication to the Council and the European Parliament on The review of the Sustainable Development StrategyA platform for action  (1).

2.2

The EU's sustainable development strategy under review was adopted at the summit meeting in Gothenburg held in the summer of 2001. The EESC has expressed its views several times both on preparations for the strategy and on the strategy itself, most recently for example in its exploratory opinions on Assessing the EU sustainable development strategy  (2) (April 2004) and on The role of sustainable development within the forthcoming financial perspectives  (3) (May 2005). It also held a high-profile Stakeholder Forum with the Commission in April 2005 that was considered to be very constructive, and another hearing in March 2006 in connection with drawing up this opinion (the results of the hearing have obviously been taken into account in the opinion).

2.3

The Prodi Commission had announced that it would revise and adopt the Sustainable Development Strategy, but this never happened. Instead, there were considerable delays each time with drawing up the document(s). This may be a sign of how difficult the Commission — as well as the Council — find it to take forward the sustainable development strategy.

2.4

In February 2005 the Barroso Commission presented, not a revised strategy, but a communication entitled The 2005 Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy: Initial Stocktaking and Future Orientations  (4). In that communication the Commission talked about ‘the worsening of unsustainable trends’, noted that progress on integrating environmental concerns into sectoral policies was ‘limited so far’, that ‘poverty and social exclusion’ were a ‘growing problem’, and that ‘in a world of growing 'interdependence' we cannot continue to produce and consume as we are doing today’.

2.5

The communication now under discussion must be seen in the above context. The EESC can see the document as a further step towards revising the sustainability strategy, but not as the result of a completed revision. According to recent — though mostly unofficial — information, the current intention is that the European Council should adopt a revision of the 2001 sustainability strategy at its summit in June 2006 and that the conclusions of the summit should then present the common European sustainability strategy until 2009. The EESC would point out firstly that the Commission has not fulfilled its 2001 commitment to present a revised strategy at the beginning of each new Commission term. Now five documents (5) drawn up in 2005 are on the table which at best can be considered ideas and background material for a revised strategy, but in no way a new, revised strategy for the next four years that addresses current — and increasingly worrying — trends.

2.6

The EESC is surprised that the Commission has not provided any detailed comments on its recent exploratory opinion Assessing the EU sustainable development strategy  (6), although it had promised to do so. Many of the basic questions raised by the Committee in that opinion have not yet been addressed, which is reflected and confirmed in the lack of goals, ideas and direction in the present ‘platform for action’.

2.7

The Committee is also unable to find — as was the case in 2004 — any clear indication as to how the two major strategies that guide the EU's action, sustainable development and the Lisbon strategy for growth and employment, are defined and classified in relation to the objectives set by the Union in Article 2 of the EU Treaty (7). The national reform programmes for the Lisbon strategy show that sustainable development is not identified as a priority by the Member States. This conflicts with the conclusions of the European Council of March 2005, in which sustainable development was identified as the overarching strategy of the EU.

2.8

In this opinion, the EESC will consider mainly whether the statements, questions and recommendations that it presented in its above-mentioned opinions of April 2004 and May 2005 have been taken on board and applied.

2.9

The opinion also considers whether the Commission's own explicit undertakings are being fulfilled.

3.   General comments

3.1

In the communication under consideration the Commission first outlines the general situation, as it has done in many previous documents. These two sentences from the third paragraph of the communication surely sums up the situation quite clearly: ‘Europe has made a good start in applying these principles of sustainable development. […] However, the rapid pace of change requires the stepping up of efforts … .’

3.2

The Committee agrees with this statement and with the general analysis: many exemplary initiatives have been taken at both EU and national level, as well as by companies, NGOs and private individuals. But these are not yet enough to signal a trend reversal.

3.3

There are concrete successful examples at national level (e.g. the positive environmental and employment impact of the German programme to promote energy-efficient building renovation and use of renewables) at sectoral level (e.g. not using climate-harming CFCs in car air-conditioning systems and the ‘Environmental Technologies Action Plan’) and even at company level (e.g. British Petroleum's undertaking in 1998 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10 % below 1990 levels by 2010, a goal that was already reached in 2003 thanks to energy efficiency measures; see also the letter from major UK and multinational companies supporting the British prime minister in combating climate change (8).)

3.4

These examples show that sustainable production and consumption practices are not only technically, but also economically, feasible and help to maintain or create jobs. This message must be conveyed more clearly than before.

3.5

Sustainable development is an alternative, new, integrated social development concept; the economic, social and ecological dimensions of sustainable development are mutually reinforcing and help to uphold ‘European values’. Sustainable development thus promotes the general social good. In this context the Committee welcomes the joint efforts of the Commission and Eurostat to develop a ‘welfare indicator’ that is a more informative unit of measurement than GDP from the perspective of sustainable development. The ‘ecological footprint’ reported by the European Environment Agency, for example, could serve this function. Such an indicator would have to take external environmental costs, but also certain social costs, into account.

3.6

The point of sustainable development is not to correct deficits created in the development of one sector through measures taken in other sectors. That is how policy used to work. In June 2005 the European Council confirmed this interpretation of the concept of development, and several European Commission documents prove that such an approach is also effective (9).

3.7

However, a broad debate among political and social stakeholders is first required about the values we have in Europe — sometimes in contrast to other regions of the world — and which we must defend, and the objectives we wish to achieve in Europe through sustainable development. Indeed the debate seems to be long overdue. Only when the objectives and (European) values aspired to have been clearly identified can we begin to discuss ways of achieving these goals (i.e. the strategy). Once again, the EESC is not convinced that the matter has been adequately discussed. The Committee repeats its comment from two years ago that the concept of ‘sustainability’ itself is unfamiliar to many ordinary people, and those that have heard of it are often unable to understand what it means. This may be a poor basis for political action (the same applies to the Lisbon strategy).

3.8

The EESC is very aware that this debate about values and objectives is not an easy one, especially in the context of global markets. If Europe takes the lead in maintaining living conditions, this might for example cause unsustainable production to be transferred from Europe to other parts of the world (which would not be a positive achievement from a global perspective) and have a negative impact on the competitiveness of European companies. But it is precisely because many problems are likely to arise that the broad debate repeatedly called for by the Committee must finally take place.

Focusing on key issues

3.9

In its communication the Commission focuses on six ‘key issues’:

climate change and clean energy,

public health,

social exclusion, demography and migration,

management of natural resources,

sustainable transport,

global poverty and development challenges.

3.10

As it repeatedly stressed in its above-mentioned opinions, the EESC considers a certain focus to be appropriate, but it would point out that at least those areas, such as agricultural and regional policy, for which the EU has full responsibility — including financial responsibility — should be addressed more thoroughly. These areas are notable by their virtual absence from the communication: the only reference is an internet link in Annex 2 to the Commission proposal for a regulation on the strategic guidelines for rural development 2007-2013 (COM(2005) 304), but no more details are given about the objectives and measures linked to sustainable development.

3.10.1

Reform of the agricultural and fisheries policy, for example, is mentioned briefly in the introduction to the communication in relation to the EU's efforts to date, where the Commission stresses that ‘the reinforcement of rural development policy’ reflects the commitment to integrated policy- making. But the EESC is completely baffled by this statement, since there is absolutely no question of any ‘reinforcement’. Contrary to the Commission's political commitment and the EESC's recommendations (10), funding for rural development in the 2007-2013 programming period will be significantly below the current budget outturn and the Commission's planned expenditure (11).

3.10.2

As regards fisheries, the EESC would simply point out that so far it has not even been possible to guarantee the agreed catch quotas, which means that seas continue to be overfished. Simply listing various internet sites with information on previous policies or possible planned Commission communications or green papers does not in the circumstances seem enough to achieve the stated ‘operational’ goal of achieving a ‘maximum sustainable yield in fisheries by 2015’ (12).

Lack of clear objectives

3.11

In its communication of February 2005 (COM(2005) 37 final), the Commission made an important and — in the Committee's view — correct analysis of the continuing unsustainable situation and trends, and in Part II (‘Responding to the challenges’) it announced approaches that the EESC had previously called for. For instance, the Commission emphasised that ‘economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection go hand in hand, both in Europe and in other parts of the world’, and said that it wished to put ‘sustainable development at the core of EU policy-making’, pointing to ‘the need for clearer objectives, targets and related deadlines as a way of giving focus to action in priority areas and enabling progress to be measured. Although the trends represent long-term problems that will need long-term solutions, the only way to ascertain that society is moving in the right direction is by setting clear intermediate targets and measuring progress. Setting long-term objectives, therefore, must not come to mean postponing action.’

3.12

In its opinion of April 2004 the EESC also lamented the fact that the sustainability strategy contained so few clear, and therefore also measurable, objectives. It noted that this had not always been the case: the Commission communication on which the sustainability strategy was based set out clear objectives (13).

3.12.1

The EESC already made it clear in that opinion that a strategy would lack direction without appropriate objectives and interim targets. We asked what a ‘strategy’ actually meant, noting: ‘A strategy is defined as a detailed plan for achieving a specific goal, factoring in, from the outset, those elements that might potentially impact any action taken. Thus, the future EU sustainable development strategy should:

provide clear objectives;

outline the individual tools to be used to reach the objective(s); which also involves setting out precisely the responsibilities, remits and scope for exerting influence in each case;

divide, if necessary, long-term objectives into intermediate goals that can be regularly monitored using readily comprehensible indicators;

address those factors that may cause problems in this process; and

see to it that all policy areas are consistently analysed and assessed using sustainability criteria (14).

3.13

Probably the greatest fault of the Commission communication and the ‘platform for action’ it describes is that again no real, clear targets and milestones are set and ways of reaching them outlined, although the Commission itself regards these as necessary. In fact the document only contains very vague key actions; Annex 2 mentions a number of ‘operational objectives and targets’, as well as ‘examples of key actions: ongoing and planned’, which either seem arbitrary, provide little information or are intended only to be ‘explored’ or ‘considered’.

3.14

There is no mention either of who would ultimately be responsible for what and of how the different political levels should be interlinked in order to achieve optimum synergy effects from the various remits.

No debate about instruments

3.15

The EESC was interested to read point 3.2. and the comments on the most effective mix of instruments. It is quite correct that: ‘Governments and other public bodies have a wide range of tools by which they can encourage people to make changeshow they regulate, tax, procure, subsidise, invest, spend and provide information. The challenge is to achieve the right policy mix […]. Perhaps the most powerful method to promote change is to ensure that markets send the right signals (“getting prices right”), thus providing a powerful incentive for people to change their behaviour and shape the market place accordingly. This can be done by making sure that all of us, producers and consumers alike, face the full costs and consequences of our decisionswhen we are making those decisions. For example, this means building the cost imposed on others in society by “polluters” into the price of the product, … .’

3.16

The EESC can only endorse this approach, which is consistent with many of the opinions it has adopted over the past few years (15). However, the Committee deeply regrets that the communication gets bogged down in the analysis and gives no indication of how external costs are to be internalised in this way.

3.17

In its opinion of April 2004 the EESC called on the Commission to take action here by seeking and conducting dialogue with all the parties involved. These parties had not only every interest, but also a right, to learn how (and when) internalisation of external costs would be guaranteed. In that opinion the EESC also asked for clarification of the impact of internalising costs on economic competitiveness in general and transport in particular. The Commission itself had noted that ‘less than half the external environmental costs …. are internalised by the market prices’, thereby encouraging ‘unsustainable … demand’  (16) .

3.18

The EESC would like to know when and where the Commission finally plans to have this debate. We believe that Sustainable Development Strategy is exactly the right context for doing so. The Committee regrets that a communication on the use of market-based instruments for environmental policy in the internal market, which was promised over two years ago, is still not forthcoming.

3.19

The EESC also regrets the Commission's relative lack of commitment in the statement: ‘Member States should, together with the Commission, exchange experiences and best practice on shifting taxation from labour to consumption and /or pollution in a revenue-neutral way, to contribute to the EU goals of increasing employment and of protecting the environment.’ The EESC asks the Commission to take steps without delay to undertake the necessary research and pass on the findings with an evaluation and impact assessment in the form of a communication addressed to the European institutions.

3.20

As well as abandoning an old EU virtue, that of formulating clear goals and setting clear deadlines, the absence of discussion about possible instruments and their impact is another major failure of the communication. Of course, this avoids possible conflicts, but the EESC has called several times for such a critical discussion with all those concerned to be actively sought, since without it no substantial progress can be made on the sustainability agenda.

3.21

The Committee welcomes the announcement that national strategies are to be better aligned with European strategies. But as said, this requires a real European strategy, not just one on paper that merely blends long-established positions, declarations of intent and programmes that have so far not succeeded in adequately reversing negative trends.

3.22

The Commission document assigns impact assessments a key role in improving coherence between different initiatives and their different phases (planning, implementation, etc.). However, it is essential to bear in mind that such assessments should not be based solely on costs incurred, but must also take account of economic, social and environmental benefits (17). A criterion similar to the ‘competitiveness test’ should therefore be designed to ensure that these last two dimensions are not neglected.

3.22.1

The Committee reiterates its view that eligibility for project funding under the various programmes and budget headings should be based on the criterion of sustainable development (18). This should also be taken into account when evaluating the effectiveness of spending.

Lack of clear governance

3.23

The EESC sees another weakness in the Commission document in addition to the absence of clear objectives and a discussion of instruments, namely that the Commission does not answer the question of how responsibility is to be shared. This is a delicate issue, since some of the measures planned fall within the remit of the Community (e.g. trade policy), whereas others are more a matter for national governments (e.g. energy) or for coordination at European level (e.g. social policy). Yet another dimension — the global — can be added to this range of remits (see above).

3.24

The EESC considers one of the reasons for the absence of real progress on sustainable development to be the sheer number of strategies, action plans, etc., as well as the changes they have undergone over the years to reflect political priorities. In accordance with the guiding principles for sustainable development set out by the European Council of June 2005 (19), the Committee believes that it is up to the Commission to clearly state which level of authority is responsible for measures taken. That level should then give an undertaking to the parties concerned to ensure stability, also in the longer term, and consistency with other measures.

3.25

In view of the principles set out in the White Paper on European governance and the intention stated in the White Paper on European communication policy to ‘close the gap’ between the EU and its citizens, and further to the consultative forum on sustainable development held on 20-21 March 2006, the Committee considers ongoing, formal consultation with stakeholders to be essential in order to translate mobilisation of operators on the ground into definite progress and to put sustainable development into practice. It will therefore take on the task of creating a database similar to the one it already manages on the single market (PRISM). The aim will be to identify obstacles encountered by operators, promote best practice, provide information on the organisations responsible for these innovative projects, establish a bottom-up approach and enhance the expertise available to the Commission in particular when it draws up proposals for directives, impact analyses and communications.

3.26

The Committee also believes that the reform of the International Monetary Fund announced in 2008 provides the European delegation with an opportunity to speak with one voice in order to ensure that the concept of sustainable development becomes one of the conditions for granting aid.

3.27

The EESC welcomes the Commission's stated intention to review the sustainability process every two years in a progress report, involving both the European Council and the European Parliament, and also making use of the EESC and the CoR in their role as social catalysts.

Link to modern industrial policy and research

3.28

The Commission's recent communication on the new industrial policy (20) announced that a high-level group on competitiveness, energy and the environment would be set up and that there would be discussion of the external aspects of competitiveness and market access (spring 2006) and of managing structural change in manufacturing (end of 2005). The Committee welcomes the setting-up of the High Level Group (in February 2006) and its remit (21) and is willing to support it in its work if necessary. It also hopes that the discussions which will be defined by the Commission at a later stage will be consistent with its commitment to make proper use of synergies between European policies and to make trade-offs so that the objective of sustainability can be achieved.

3.29

Although the Committee fully supports the target of earmarking 3 % of GDP for R&D (with two thirds of funding provided by the private sector), it considers that this investment and the resulting innovation must be part of an overall plan to promote sustainable development. As far as possible, the Commission should present — in collaboration with Eurostat and its national counterparts — a regular report summarising the situation, in order to ensure consistency between the Lisbon strategy and the overarching sustainable development strategy. If necessary it should put forward recommendations in the integrated guidelines to guarantee that they are compatible and create synergies.

4.   Comments on some of the key issues described in the Commission document

4.1   ‘Climate change and clean energy’

4.1.1

The EESC is dismayed to note that the Commission concedes almost with resignation that climate change can no longer be prevented and that the only thing that can now be done is to soften the impact for those most affected.

4.1.2

The ‘key actions’ on this issue are no more than declarations of intent and cautious verbal undertakings to work towards further commitments and international agreements. The failure to set clear goals in this policy area is particularly alarming since it is already clear that current targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 will probably not be met, despite the mounting danger and the now undeniable occurrence of serious storms with catastrophic consequences for people and economies.

4.1.3

The EESC nevertheless welcomes the rather general statements about harnessing EU potential to improve efficiency and develop technologies in the sphere of renewable energy and energy consumption. The Committee endorses these Commission targets, but urges the Council and the Commission to establish clear and genuinely ambitious objectives, to define the instruments for achieving these objectives and to discuss them with all those involved.

4.1.4

It seems that industry may now be on the verge of a breakthrough with regard to CO2-free coal-fired power stations. Under a sustainability strategy the question should certainly be raised of what framework (and therefore instruments) policy-makers should establish in order to promote the application of this technology.

4.2   ‘Social exclusion, demography and migration’

4.2.1

Although the Committee is pleased that the platform for action regards combating poverty and social exclusion as more than just a question of increasing low incomes, it considers the proposed key actions to be quite inadequate. In particular, the Commission should update the Laeken indicators (22) on quality of work (23) and strengthen this dimension in the guidelines.

4.2.2

The Commission says that it will consult the social partners on the issue of the work-life balance. If the social partners consider that measures are called for but fail to reach an agreement in accordance with Treaty Article 139, the Committee believes that the Commission and the EU legislature should take action. This approach should also be adopted in the other spheres mentioned.

4.3   ‘Management of natural resources’

4.3.1

The key actions for natural resources also sound rather non-committal or downright impracticable. Thus the Commission writes: ‘The EU and Member States should ensure sufficient funding and management of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, and better integrate biodiversity concerns into internal and external policies to halt the loss of biodiversity’. Given the financial decisions taken by the EU Council in December 2005, which cut funding precisely in this sector, it will be immediately obvious to the general public just how much aspirations differ from reality in EU policy.

4.3.2

The ‘Operational objectives and targets’ for ‘Better management of natural resources’ set out in Annex 2 merely repeat already familiar and adopted policies, such as the target published in a 1997 (!) White Paper (24) of achieving a 12 % share of renewable energy sources in the energy mix by 2010, but which the Commission itself in its communication of 26 May 2004 (25) assumes it will probably not meet using current measures. But no new measures are proposed and no analysis is made of the reasons for the likely failure.

4.3.3

Here too, the EESC believes that setting out ambitious and forward-looking goals — like Sweden for example at the beginning of February 2006 — would give the sustainability strategy greater impact, attention and support than these vague declarations of intent that are neither new nor appropriate to the current situation. Sweden has famously set itself the objective of replacing fossil fuels and abandoning nuclear energy in the long term.

4.3.4

In addition, an objective could be set for energy saving and efficiency that would both go down well with the general public and be forward-looking and encouraging of innovation, e.g. that all new constructions in the European Union should by 2020 be ‘zero-energy buildings’ which need no extra energy input.

4.4   ‘Sustainable transport’

4.4.1

First, ‘current trends’ in transport are described as ‘unsustainable’.

4.4.2

The Commission then states: ‘The benefits of mobility can be provided with much lower economic, social and environmental impacts. This can be done by reducing the need for transport (e.g. by changing land-use, promoting telecommuting and videoconferencing), making better use of infrastructure and of vehicles, changing modes, for example to use rail instead of road, cycling and walking for short distances and developing public transport, using cleaner vehicles and developing alternatives to oil such as bio-fuels and hydrogen powered vehicles.’ This is consistent with the EESC's opinion on ‘Preparing transport infrastructure for the future: planning and neighbouring countries — sustainable mobility — financing’ (26). The Commission also says that ‘the benefits of more sustainable transport are wide ranging and significant’.

4.4.3

The EESC in principle welcomes these statements and references to the ‘win-win’ situation. Why then, we wonder, despite all these advantages and opportunities, does the Commission constantly refer to negative trends, e.g. in transport?

4.4.4

There must be reasons that people and businesses invest in and prefer non-sustainable transport despite all the advantages of sustainable transport described by the Commission. These motives are not analysed, but no proper counter-strategies can be developed unless they are.

4.4.5

The Commission mentions three key actions in relation to transport:

‘The EU and its Member States should focus on making alternatives to road transport a more attractive option for freight and passengers, … .’ (The EESC notes that the Commission does not promise to stop investing money in non-sustainable options.)

‘The European Commission will continue to examine the use of infrastructure charging in the EU, … .’(The EESC notes that the Commission does not say it will introduce full charging for infrastructure and the additional external costs.)

‘The Commission will propose a package of measures to improve the environmental performance of cars by promoting clean and energy efficient vehicles … .’ (The EESC welcomes this.)

4.4.6

The EESC is very doubtful that these key actions will enable the EU to control the rising transport congestion that the sustainable development strategy (27) laments, so that traffic can be adequately reduced. The demands and statements set out in the key actions are far less radical than those contained in earlier EU documents, e.g. the ‘Citizens' Network’ Green Paper or in the White Paper on transport policy (28).

4.4.7

Setting an objective, for example, of Europe approving only emission-free cars by the year 2020 or 2025 would present the sustainability strategy to the general public in a much more appealing way, and is much more ambitious and likely to succeed. This would create strong incentives for research and development, accelerate technological innovation and increase the competitiveness of European cars, which in turn would benefit Europe's economic development. It is also a technological approach that could help prevent the rise in transport levels in certain developing countries towards the levels of the industrialised world from leading to environmental and climate collapse.

4.4.8

Such strategic goal-setting in transport, and implementation of EESC calls for sustainable transport development (29), would be worthy of a European strategy for sustainable development, and would allow the ‘win-win’ effects that are often evoked to become a reality.

4.5   ‘Global poverty and development challenges’

4.5.1

The communication must be criticised for more or less recycling demands that the EU has been making for years, but which have not been implemented. One example of this is the key action of the sixth priority, global challenges, whereby ‘The EU and its Member States should increase their volume of aid to 0.7 % of Gross National Income (GNI) in 2015 achieving an intermediate target of 0.56 % in 2010 with individual objectives of 0.51 % for the EU-15 and 0.17 % for the EU-10.’ The EESC does not in any way question the legitimacy of this demand (30). But it notes that the industrialised nations already promised at the UN General Assembly meeting of 24 October 1970 — over 35 years ago — to commit 0.7 % of their GDP to development aid (which obviously was not enough to solve all the problems). Constantly repeating promises that are not kept does not exactly make politics more credible.

4.5.2

The Committee obviously commends all the measures announced to combat global poverty. The Commission undertakes to step up its efforts to ensure that international trade is used as an instrument for promoting truly sustainable development. This is undoubtedly an extremely important approach, perhaps the decisive one from a global perspective. The WTO agreement is a trade agreement and therefore contains no sustainability criteria, although global trade has crucial effects on sustainability trends. The Council and the Commission should therefore highlight this important point, while at the same time outlining how the principle is to be put into practice.

4.5.3

This is also important in terms of making the general public aware that this is not a mere declaration of intent. It is clear to the EESC that financial support alone will not sustainably improve the living and working conditions of people in developing countries.

The Committee also recalls that the EU Council Conclusions on the Social Dimension of Globalisation (March 2005) placed the concept of ‘decent work’ at the heart of EU external policy. The Committee is not prepared to accept that certain countries should enjoy a competitive advantage by flouting ILO or environmental standards. These standards are not a protectionist ploy on the part of the rich countries; they help to guarantee human dignity, social progress and justice. The EU should take steps to monitor progress in these areas and launch trade sanctions — if possible in conjunction with the trading partners recognised by the ILO in the countries concerned (or the recognised civil society organisations operating in those countries) — if evaluation shows that the situation has deteriorated. It is regrettable that the Commission does not refer to this in the present communication.

4.6

At a general level, the Committee calls on the Commission and the Member States to show their trading partners that sustainable development must not be seen as a cost factor, but rather as a wealth generator both for their economies, where they aspire to a higher standard of living, and for the planet as a whole.

Brussels, 17 May 2006

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  COM(2005) 658 final.

(2)  OJ C 117 of 30.4.2004, p. 22.

(3)  OJ C 267 of 27.10.2005, p. 22.

(4)  COM(2005) 37 final of 9.2.2005.

(5)  

1)

COM(2005) 658, Communication on the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy – A platform for action (13.12.2005) (http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/lex/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2005/com2005_0658en01.pdf).

2)

EUROSTAT report: Measuring progress towards a more sustainable Europe – Sustainable development indicators for the European Union – Data 1990-2005 (13.12.2005).

3)

Presidency conclusions of the European Council on Guiding Principles for Sustainable Development (16-17.6.2005). (http://ue.eu.int/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/ec/85349.pdf).

4)

COM(2005) 37: The 2005 Review of the European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development: Initial Stocktaking and Future Orientations (9.2.2005) (http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/lex/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2005/com2005_0037en01.pdf).

5)

Commission Staff Working Document, SEC(2005) 225.

(6)  OJ C 117 of 30.4.2004, p. 22.

(7)  OJ C 325 of 24.12.2002, p. 5.

(8)  http://www.cpi.cam.ac.uk/bep/downloads/CLG_pressrelease_letter.pdf.

(9)  In particular the following:

 

‘The effects of environmental policy on European business and its competitiveness: a framework for analysis’, SEC(2004) 769.

 

‘Commission staff working document on the links between employment policies and environment policies’, SEC(2005) 1530.

 

‘Employment and productivity and their contribution to economic growth’, SEC(2004) 690.

(10)  cf. EESC opinion on The Proposal for a Council Regulation on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), OJ C 234 of 22.9.2005, p. 32; and its exploratory opinion on The role of sustainable development within the forthcoming financial perspectives, OJ C 267 of 27.10.2005, p. 22.

(11)  cf. Speech given on 12 January 2006 by the Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, at the International Green Week.

(12)  COM(2005) 658, Annex 2, p. 30.

(13)  That communication envisaged some very broad objectives, such as the need for long-term CO2 reductions of 70 % (COM(2003) 745 final/2.

(14)  OJ C 117 of 30.4.2004, p. 22, point 2.2.7.

(15)  See point 1.3 of the EESC's own-initiative opinion on Renewable energy sources, adopted on 15 December 2005, OJ C 65 of 17.03.2006, p. 105

(16)  SEC(1999) 1942 of 24.11.1999, p. 14.

(17)  See Commission communication on assessing adminstrative costs, COM(2005) 518.

(18)  See exploratory opinion on The role of sustainable development within the forthcoming financial perspectives, OJ C 267 of 27.10.2005, p. 22.

(19)  See Annex I of the Conclusions of the European Council of 16 and 17 June 2005, ‘Declaration on Guiding Principles for Sustainable Development’.

(20)  ‘Implementing a Community Lisbon Programme: A policy framework to strengthen EU manufacturing – towards a more integrated approach for industrial policy’, COM(2005) 474.

(21)  See press release IP/06/2006.

(22)  Intrinsic job quality: skills, lifelong learning and career development; gender equality; health and safety at work; flexibility and security; inclusion and access to the labour market; work organisation and work-life balance; social dialogue and worker involvement; diversity and non-discrimination; overall work performance.

(23)  Cf. ‘Improving quality in work: a review of recent progress’, COM(2003) 728.

(24)  COM(1997) 599 final.

(25)  COM(2004) 366 final.

(26)  OJ C 108 of 30.4.2004, p. 35.

(27)  COM(2001) 264.

(28)  White Paper on ‘European Transport Policy for 2010: time to decide’, 2001.

(29)  cf. EESC own-initiative opinion on Preparing transport infrastructure for the future: planning and neighbouring countries – sustainable mobility – financing, which also contains a discussion about possible fiscal instruments, OJ C 108 of 30.4.2004, p. 35

(30)  See EESC opinion on Integrating environment and sustainable development into economic and development cooperation policy, OJ C 14 of 16.1.2001, p. 87.