Despite EU claims that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are well integrated into Europe’s governance architecture and that Europe is making sufficient progress, the recently published EU Voluntary Review reveals participatory and transformative change is still out of reach. It will be the task of the next Commission to make this change a reality – while the clock is ticking to meet the Goals by 2030.
The first ever European Voluntary Review of the Sustainable Development Goals (EU VR) has the potential to spark a bold political reset of the SDG Agenda. However, the stocktaking report presented by the European Commission on Monday does not go far enough in its content or process, with civil society organisations and citizens side-lined in its drafting and development.
Despite the EU’s commendable leadership on the world’s only globally agreed framework for sustainable development, implementation of the SDGs has been lagging behind. In key areas such as reducing poverty, tackling inequalities, and addressing the triple crises of climate, biodiversity and pollution, progress is even going backwards, according to SDG Watch Europe. The Voluntary Review, which merely assesses what the EU has done so far and promotes its flagship policies, lacks any real vision for structural changes and is not linked to any EU-level action plan to address gaps and challenges on SDG implementation.
“The EU VR process should be an honest and forward-looking stock-taking exercise, as well as a steppingstone to an overarching strategy on the SDGs, complete with a fully financed action plan. As of now, it is not clear how Europe intends to make structural changes in areas where the data shows regression, and particularly where we see negative external impacts of Europe’s policies on the rest of the world,” commented Jeffrey Moxom, SDG Watch Europe Coordinator, EEB.
A key demand of civil society organisations was that the European Voluntary Review be an inclusive best practice in participatory governance. Many EU Member States sought to open to civil society and citizens when conducting their own Voluntary Reviews. Despite an effort from the European Economic and Social Committee to lead a late-in-the-day stakeholder consultation, the EU did not succeed in properly consulting citizens, nor did it reach out to NGOs beyond European networks.
“There is a clear need to shift from a tick box exercise to the creation of real opportunities for citizens’ and civil society participation to engage the whole of society for sustainable development and for the SDGs” said Manuela Gervasi, Senior Policy Officer for Public Participation and Sustainable Development, EEB and SDG Watch Europe Steering Group Member.
As governments ramp up preparations for the High-Level Political Forum in July in New York and the SDG Summit taking place in September, Europe now needs to show real leadership on SDGs on the world stage. With many countries engulfed by stubborn inflationary economic crises and global shocks that risk erasing vital SDG progress, the EU will need to revive a spirit of multilateral cooperation and foster the political will required to achieve the sustainability commitments made in 2015. Above all, the EU will need to take measures to reverse the negative trends highlighted in the EU Voluntary Review.
“With only seven years left to achieve the SDGs, the role of the incoming European Commission in 2024 will be instrumental to ensure the EU’s delivery of the 2030 Agenda. The EU VR provides a first step, but what we need is an overarching European Strategy on Sustainable Development that guides all policies and measures with clear timelines and targets around all SDGs. Such a strategy also needs to ensure the meaningful participation of civil society participation and citizens,” stated Patrizia Heidegger, Deputy Secretary General and Director for EU Governance, Sustainability and Global Policies, EEB. “In 2024, we need a European Pact for Our Common Future, a European Green Deal 2 if you want, but one addressing the full spectrum of sustainable development as the main instrument to achieve our objectives for 2030”.
The European Voluntary Review can be accessed here.