Towards a sustainable future: Time for bold and courageous political leadership

Statement on the European Elections 2019 by the SDG Watch Europe

Citizens of the European Union have voted for a new political leadership, and the turnout was higher than at any time in the past 25 years. This high turnout and the overwhelming support for strongly pro-European and progressive parties shows that the people of Europe value the unity and peace that come with a strong European Parliament and desire European policies with climate change, environmental protection and overcoming inequalities at their heart. The results clearly show that voters wish to shift the focus away from the economy-only approach of the previous Commission to the rapid implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN’s 2030 Agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

The elections also show that despite worrying projections in many countries, the far-right there was not able to gain additional support or even lost voters compared to previous national elections. However, in some other countries anti-European, right-wing parties are celebrating victories, a trend we are deeply concerned about and urge European policymakers to address.

SDG Watch Europe and civil society across the EU working to Make Europe Sustainable For All call on the newly elected Members of the European Parliament and the future political leadership in the Commission to refocus on the core European values – democracy and transparency, social and environmental justice, human rights, the rule of law, equality, and solidarity. All European policies and rules need to be guided by the overarching objective of ensuring well-being and health within planetary boundaries, of enhancing equality, of upholding safety and freedom for people and protecting the climate and the environment to serve present and future generations in and outside Europe.

While the out-going European Commission has failed to put Sustainable Development at the top of its political priorities, the new Commission needs to show bold and courageous political leadership. It needs to answer to both a growing number of people across the Union expressing their concern about the state of the planet and our societies, but also to re-build the lost trust in the EU and its institutions.

We call on the new European Commission to start working immediately on an overarching Sustainable Development Strategy which will act as the compass for all European policies, to present an action plan with clear timelines and targets to implement the SDGs, and to make the new European budget fully sustainability-proof.

“The voters – especially the young – expressed their concern that humanity and life on Earth face existential threats through the climate crisis and the rapid loss of biodiversity. People understand that our growing hunger for resources and the increasing amounts of waste and plastic choking our planet are not sustainable,” says Patrizia Heidegger, Steering Group member for the European Environmental Bureau, Europe’s largest network of environmental citizens’ organisations, with 150 members in more than 30 countries. “We ask for bold steps to be taken towards the urgently needed economic transition to reduce our environmental footprint at home and globally. Young people in particular no longer believe in GDP as the indicator for the progress of a society.”

“The new Commission needs to address the unacceptable fact that inequalities persist across the EU, one of the world’s wealthiest regions. While the international community has promised in the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind, the EU is likely to fail to achieve SDG 10, the global Goal to reduce inequality,” points out Barbara Caracciolo, who is a member of the Steering Group on behalf of Solidar, a European network of civil society organisations working to advance social justice in Europe and worldwide. “To ensure social peace and to strengthen trust in the EU, it is crucial to take the right decisions now to ensure social and ecological progress for a just transition.”

“The new European leaders need to push back against the recent attacks on women’s rights that we have witnessed globally and in a number of EU Member States. Gender equality is one of the core values of the EU – and we cannot afford another decade without progress – or even worse, roll-back,” insists Sascha Gabizon from SDG Watch Europe member Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), an international network of over 150 women’s and civil society organisations focusing on gender equality and sustainability.

“Civil society has been increasingly under attack globally – but also within the European Union. European democracy needs independent voices, and its credibility depends on improving transparency and limiting the power of lobbyists representing particular interests rather than working towards the common good,” added Steering Group Member Julie Rosenkilde from Nyt Europa.

Already in the autumn of 2018, SDG Watch, together with a broad coalition of civil society organisations, put forward a Manifesto for a Sustainable Europe for Its Citizens, which urges the new EU decision-makers, both the incoming Parliament and Commission, to build a Europe for all Europeans, both present and future generations, founded on sustainability and justice.

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