A progressive Agenda to revitalise Europe


Picture of Deirdre de Burca
Deirdre de Burca

Deirdre de Burca is Director of Advocacy & Justice for Children at World Vision

The ‘European project’ has weathered many storms. Confronted with a range of serious challenges, the EU has demonstrated what systems theorists describe as the “essential adaptive capacities” of complex self-regulating systems. Successive stages of political integration have helped to address legitimate sources of popular criticism that could otherwise have jeopardised the project’s future.

But this crisis is like no other. And to survive, the EU’s adaptations have to go beyond the gradual or incremental. The UK’s Brexit vote was a partly symptom of public concern about “liberal” EU migration policies. Illiberal and openly Eurosceptic governments have sprung up in many parts of Europe. Popular resentment over EU-led austerity policies continues. As a result, there is an increased possibility of the Union breaking up in the medium to long term.

So where does the EU look for inspiration?

One source could be the United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, signed a year ago by 193 UN member states. Agenda 2030 represents an important global paradigm around which the EU and its member states could mobilise, renew their political mission, and align their strategic positioning in a wider global context.

By aligning its policies with Agenda 2030, the EU could renew its own mission and vision, and strengthen the case for political and economic cooperation

Agenda 2030 addresses a wide range of issues – poverty, education, healthcare and gender equality; sustainable production and consumption, climate change and industrial development; peaceful societies, good governance and global partnership.
By aligning its policies with this new global framework, the EU could seize the opportunity to renew its own overarching mission and political vision and even strengthen the case for continued European political and economic cooperation. It could develop a new and compelling European narrative that may help citizens to engage more fully with the European project.

The implementation of this new global framework in Europe has the potential to kick-start a green industrial revolution across EU member states. The EU can position itself as a leader in many areas where its policy-making is more advanced than that of other regions: social policy, the environment and climate change, to give three examples.

Agenda 2030 also allows the EU to shift its focus from economic policy to a broader emphasis on promoting prosperity and well-being. There will be considerable opportunities for the EU to take a global lead in developing and legitimising alternative measures of economic progress when evaluating its implementation of Agenda 2030. These alternative measures of economic progress (such as the Human Development Index and the OECD Better Life Index) could serve as important benchmarks in an era when economic growth indicators are static or falling (and they could be very valuable in developing countries, where growth in GDP often masks a rise in inequality).

Implementation of Agenda 2030 is likely to promote and strengthen the EU’s external trade. Other countries and regions need the technical and industrial experience of the Union and its member states to guide them towards more sustainable development. There is a significant opportunity for private companies, professional bodies and non-governmental organisations in Europe to provide technical advice, policy support and training to their counterparts in other regions of the world. The prospects for maintaining free and open global trading systems between the EU and the rest of the world are greatly enhanced if all countries are collaborating technically and financially in the implementation of a comprehensive, measurable, sustainable development agenda such as Agenda 2030.

International financial changes would not be risk-free, but the alternative – ignoring economic and political stability and the possible decline and eventual collapse of the EU – is riskier

But this comprehensive and ambitious global agenda needs resources – both non-financial and financial. Deflationary trends are long-standing and could continue indefinitely. So now is a good opportunity for international political and economic leaders to convene a Bretton Woods II summit to agree levels of innovative, debt-free, public finance that are sufficient to implement Agenda 2030 globally. It would be an unprecedented but timely act; a judicious policy response in the face of continuing deflation in the global economy.

While such international action would not be risk-free, the alternative – continuing to ignore the threats to global economic and political stability, including the possible decline and eventual collapse of the EU – is riskier. And if future migratory flows to the EU and other parts of the Global North are to be mitigated, there must be a comprehensive development plan for poorer and more conflict-prone countries. Agenda 2030 is a key part of that plan.

Given the many daunting challenges that face the EU, the institutions and the member states need to take bold action. Full implementation of Agenda 2030 in the Union’s internal and external policies, with innovative financing agreed internationally, is the kind of action that is required. Otherwise, Europe is likely to continue the gradual political decline that may even lead to the demise of the European project.

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