Director at CONCORD Europe
Yesterday, the European Parliament approved the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen as the new President of the European Commission. The President provides political guidance and shapes the priorities of the EU for the next 5 years. As such, this leading role is of utmost importance for the future of Europe. Ms. Von der Leyen takes on the mantle at a critical time for Europe, for sustainable development and for respect for the rule of law both within Europe and beyond its borders. It is also a critical time from a geopolitical perspective.
Ms. von der Leyen set out her ideas for her mandate in a speech to the European Parliament. Naturally, she covered a wide range of important issues for the future of Europe. Among these, she highlighted her belief that “[i]t’s not people that serve the economy. It’s the economy that serves our people”, with which CONCORD could not agree more. Reorienting the economy is absolutely key to achieving the SDGs and to solving many of the challenges which we face today whether they be soaring inequalities and social unrest, climate change and environmental degradation or the tensions between respecting European values while supporting European interests.
However, at the High Level Political Forum which reviews the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, one of the key messages from civil society is that we must not simply speed up progress if we are on the wrong path – that would be a recipe for disaster. We need a radical change of course to ensure a transformative approach to achieving well-being for all people within planetary boundaries. This is a challenge that Ms. von der Leyen must put front and centre of all her plans for the European Commission over the coming years.
We need a radical change of course to ensure a transformative approach to achieving well-being for all people within planetary boundaries.
In our quest to achieve a sustainable world, we must not ignore how inequality has now reached unprecedented levels and wealth gaps keep increasing, especially within countries. This is a result of the current economic system. The disparities in income, access to health, education and public goods and in capacities and power between people are major obstacles to prosperity, in Europe and beyond. Yet, we did not hear the newly appointed President sharing a similar concern. We hope that she will, together with the other EU leaders, ensure that Europe plays a positive role in addressing inequalities globally.
“Our most pressing challenge is keeping our planet healthy” she said yesterday to MEPs. CONCORD concurs. So do the thousands of people who have been marching over recent months throughout Europe to demand climate justice. But despite this, the EU Members States could still not agree on an EU climate deal. The sense of urgency which is required to tackle resource scarcity and environmental degradation is not there. Charles Michel, the newly selected President of the Council, will need to support Ms. von der Leyen in ensuring that climate change and respect for all planetary boundaries is at the top of the EU’s agenda. Otherwise, the well-being of people and planet will remain in the realm of ideals and dreams.
These are tremendous challenges. So are the geopolitical trends which Ms. von der Leyen alluded to. Building strong partnerships, including with the EU’s partner countries, will be ever more important in shaping a world which respects people’s human rights and promotes values and the interests of all over the interests of the privileged few. No one could claim these issues will be solved by the EU institutions alone. Yet, they should play a leading role. We rely on the new Commission President to “blaze the trail” towards a better world as the EU Reflection Paper on creating a Sustainable Europe proposed. The EU must start by demonstrating an ambitious and clear political vision.
CONCORD hopes that all EU leaders will do their utmost to make the well-being of people and planet a reality through all Europe’s actions and we stand ready to support the EU institutions if they choose to follow such a path.