Civil Society on the Reflection Paper on a Sustainable Europe by 2030: Drastic Changes Are Needed, Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Slow Food Europe believes food-related issues should have been more broadly addressed in the European Commission’s Reflection Paper on a Sustainable Europe by 2030 since food can be a way to help achieve each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. Meanwhile, in a public debate held at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on February 12, civil society groups criticized the European Commission for portraying the European Union as a frontrunner in sustainable development. The Reflection Paper, published at the end of January, focuses on the key policy foundations for the transition towards a sustainable Europe, including the aim of correcting the imbalances in our food system.


    Source: United Nations

Food Should Be Used as a Tool to Achieve all SDGs

The sixth Reflection Paper on a Sustainable Europe by 2030 focuses on four key goals: moving from a linear to a circular economy; creating a sustainable food system; searching for new solutions for increased usage of energy, building and mobility; and ensuring a socially fair transition to sustainability.

Slow Food Europe welcomes that the Paper recognizes the importance of having a comprehensive approach to the food system. However, even though the Commission draws a clear connection between all SDGs and food in the Reflection Paper, to date, in practice it has only addressed food in 4 of the 17 SDGs (#2 Zero Hunger, #12 Responsible Production and Consumption, #14 Life Below Water, and #15 Life on Land). Slow Food Europe encourages the Commission to go further and take into consideration that food plays a crucial role in all SDGs.

The Commission’s Paper presents the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as the main tool for achieving sustainability in farming and food. Slow Food Europe argues that the CAP has an underlying productivist approach which cannot be considered sustainable. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the CAP does not adequately address the SDGs and the current structure will not deliver for the SDGs in the future. There is ample evidence that the CAP has not helped solve current social, economic, and environmental issues, the most glaring being the disappearance of farms in Europe, a constant crisis on agricultural markets, a continuous decline in the state of natural resources, failures in delivering on animal welfare, negative public health outcomes, and severe negative impacts beyond Europe’s borders. In some cases, the CAP has instead exacerbated these problems. The new CAP Proposal, though referring to these challenges, does not provide effective mechanisms to address them effectively either.

Criticism from Civil Society in the First Public Debate

On February 12, after the long-awaited publication of the Reflection Paper, the EESC held a first public debate on concrete next steps to achieve the SDGs in the EU within the eleven years that are left. Civil society groups unanimously criticized the Commission for positioning the EU as a world leader in sustainable development.

“Claiming that sustainability is in the DNA of Europe, that we are global frontrunners in sustainable development, is factually wrong. On too many SDGs the EU can only demonstrate insufficient success,” said Leida Rijnhout from the SDG Watch Europe, adding that the EU has one of the world’s worst ecological footprints and CO2 emissions per capita.

Rijnhout also noted that the EU is not on track to achieve environmental sustainability, offering examples of biodiversity loss, polluted air posing risks to health, dangerous chemicals not yet banned and still in production, and unsustainable farming practices leading to groundwater pollution and soil degradation across Europe.

Conny Reuter, from the Independent Commission for Sustainable Equality, urged EU decision-makers to shift from having good intentions to really working towards change.

“We need to get out of this comfort zone and redistribute wealth at all levels. If this SDG agenda is only for the rich and the middle class, it will be lost. The sustainable and technological transition must take everyone on board.”

EESC Member Cillian Lohan drew attention to a lack of understanding of the real meaning of sustainable development which expects society to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

“We do not see that understanding of sustainability in a lot of sustainability initiatives,” Lohan said arguing that in many cases initiatives on sustainable finances “are not about looking to balancing environmental, social and economic elements, but looking to one element only – economic.”

On 25 September 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda, the “2030 Agenda”. Each of the 17 goals has specific targets (169 targets in total) to be achieved by 2030. The EU was one of the leading forces behind the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food Europe

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