Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030: an opportunity for EU-wide public engagement

The European Commission published a reflection paper, “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030”, in January 2019. This paper presents the sustainable development challenges and the advantages from having the European Union as whole tackling them. It gives an overview of EU performance in reaching the UN sustainable development goals, of how it has addressed environmental challenges, the policy foundation in Europe for a sustainable future, the concept of a circular economy, how to ensure this transition and what are the possible scenarios for the future.

Public engagement plays a crucial role in this transition towards sustainability, and this is explicitly reflected in the reflection paper:

Empowerment of citizens. The reflection paper underscores the strong democratic culture of the EU and the continuous need to empower citizens in creating the future together. The concept of a circular economy is presented as a backbone strategy for EU industry to achieve sustainable economic, energy and environmental goals. To do so, we must empower citizens and engage them in the market as proactive consumers and even prosumers in new sustainable business models. The reflection paper points out that there is strong public support for these types of policies. One of the most important examples of a circular economy is the EU plastics strategy, which is a new legislation regarding single-use plastic. The implementation of this policy shows the public’s increasing understanding of paths to sustainability.

No one left behind. The reflection paper highlights that inclusiveness is needed to ensure a sustainable transition and that this should be one of its fundamental principles. All members of society should be given equal opportunities to contribute to a sustainable European future and to benefit from the transition. One example of this is the Coal Regions in Transition initiative, which helps develop strategies and projects for viable social, economic and technological transformation in certain regions in the EU, and which will be extended to carbon intensive regions. Such early initiatives that anticipate transition challenges should be reinforced and multiplied to other sectors where transformation is needed. Recently, for the occasion of the ESPON seminar held in Iasi, on 19-20 June 2019, the Romanian Presidency of the EU coined an even stronger concept: “no one kept behind”, meaning that the EU cohesion policy agenda should definitively help to overcome the obstacles that keep some member states and regions structurally at the periphery of EU development.

Women’s empowerment. Policies and measures to encourage more female participation in the labour market are summarized in the reflection paper. These include Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016-2019, The European Pillar of Social Rights, and The EU’s gender action plan 2016-2020, which form the EU’s framework for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Youth engagement. The new framework, “Engaging, connecting and empowering young people” for cooperation on youth 2019-2027, aims to bring the EU closer to young people and to help address issues of concern to them. The reflection paper focuses on the importance of young people’s participation in civic and democratic life, their solidarity and intercultural understanding, and their leading role in innovation.

Equipping the public with necessary skills and knowledge. It is reflected in the paper that in order to put our society on a sustainable path, we must ensure that our policies help all Europeans make this change. To do this, it is necessary to equip them with the necessary skills. Further focus should be on informing European citizens about the finance system, so they are more aware of the corporate activity they are funding and of how to hold fund managers to account in case their money is not managed sustainably.

A truly collaborative economy. Nowadays most of the so-called sharing economy companies (AirBnB, Uber, Lyft etc.) are merely service aggregators. They aggregate the willingness of suppliers to sell their excess capacities (cars, equipment, spare rooms, handyman skills) through a centralised platform and then resell them, all while collecting valuable (big) data for further commercial exploitation. Many of these companies have indeed globalised the merchandising of traditional local, small-scale services – like bed-and-breakfasts, taxis and handypersons. However, blockchain technology potentially provides suppliers of these services a new means to collaborate that delivers a greater share of the value to them, adopting a cooperative way to work together (the “blockchain cooperatives” business model). Blockchain technology can also take us beyond the “sharing economy” into a “metering economy” where we can rent out and meter the use of our individual excess capacity (the most prominent example of this is trading electricity power produced in excess by energy prosumers – e.g. homes equipped with solar panels – in a peer-to-peer micro-grid).

This reflection paper “is intended to inform a debate among citizens, stakeholders, governments and institutions in the months ahead”, which is also an efficient way of building public engagement and sharing the knowledge needed to prepare the public to become actively involved in policy making for sustainability. To ignite the debate, the paper presents three scenarios for the future of the EU, aiming to feed the discussion among citizens, stakeholders, governments and institutions on how the implementation of the SDGs could best be achieved and what would be the most effective division of roles (the aim is to inspire the preparation of the EU Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 and the priority setting of the next President of the European Commission). The three scenarios are:

Scenario 1: An overarching EU SDG strategy to guide the actions of the EU and its Member States.

Scenario 2: Continued mainstreaming of the SDGs in all relevant EU policies by the Commission, but without enforcing Member States’ action.

Scenario 3: Putting an enhanced focus on external action while consolidating current sustainability ambition at the EU level.

Table 1. Scenarios for the future of the EU

Source: “Reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030”, 2019


More information on Public Participation in the Sustainability Transition is available in the article “Reflection paper “Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030” seen in the angle of public engagement” Link: