Prodi Articulates Sustainable Development Strategy for Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 16, 2001 (ENS) - The European Commission has issued its long awaited road map towards sustainable development for the 15 nation European Union, to be submitted to heads of state at next month's Gothenburg summit. Introducing the plan Tuesday, Commission President Romano Prodi said the strategy would need "initial sacrifices" but would reap "major benefits in the longer run." The position statement has received a generally warm response.

The strategy targets six areas where the threat to European Union sustainability is the greatest. The final strategy swings strongly to the environmental pillar of sustainability by focusing on four areas: climate change, public health, resource management and transport congestion and pollution. In the other two areas, poverty, and an aging population, the Commission says recent EU summits have already adopted measures to deal with these issues.


European Commission President Romano Prodi of Italy (Photo courtesy European Commission)
To tackle the four environmental areas Prodi proposes a series of "cross-cutting" principles. Forthcoming major reviews of European Union transport, agriculture and fishery policies will adopt the principles, the strategy states.

All policies should have sustainable development as their "core concern," with the "spillovers" of sectoral measures into other policy areas identified and taken into account. Subsidies encouraging wasteful resource use should be abolished.

Turning to the specific problem areas, the strategy "builds on but goes beyond" the Sixth Environmental Action Programme by proposing a large number of concrete objectives and targets.

Officials admit that many of these targets have already been announced previously, but among the new ones are:

Prodi explained that the strategy would be reviewed by EU leaders annually and at broader stakeholder forums every two years, on the basis of "synthesis reports" containing a small number of "headline indicators." A round table of 10 independent sustainability experts would help the Commission draw up these reports.

"Sustainable development can only come about if people and firms make the right investment decisions," the Commission says. It is proposing more stakeholder consultation in policymaking and has "invited" all publicly quoted companies with at least 500 staff invited to publish "triple bottom line" sustainability reports.

For the Swedish Presidency, which has made sustainability a pivotal issue during its tenure, Environment Minister Kjell Larsson welcomed the document as "a good start," but said EU leaders would have to be "more ambitious when it comes to the key issues."

de Roo

Dutch Green MEP Alexander de Roo is vice chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy. (Photo courtesy European Parliament)
Environmentalists have been largely won over. Alexander de Roo, Dutch Green Member of the European Parliament, is vice chairman of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy. He views the strategy as a "good initiative" which would "send the EU down a sustainable path."

Speaking for the European Environmental Bureau which represents 134 member organizations in 25 countries, John Hontelez said the strategy is "a real attempt to describe a long term vision - much stronger than we expected."

"We do want to discuss specific elements that are not always ambitious enough," said Hontelez, "and we hope the strategy can be improved further by the European Council in Gothenburg."

A big omission, according to the European Environmental Bureau, is the absence of any deadline for abolishing those agricultural subsidies that lead to environmental degradation.

Daniel Cloquet of the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe was cautious, welcoming the document but reserving judgment until the "hows" of reaching the objectives have been worked out. A stronger process to improve innovation and business competitiveness would be needed to generate the resources to implement the objectives, he said.


{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email:}