Sumario: September 12, 2002: Speech by Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, on "The EU approach to sustainable development" at the Stakeholder Forum on Sustainable Development in the EU (Brussels)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am here to speak to you one week after the Johannesburg Summit.
I know the Summit's conclusions do not satisfy everyone. But I believe all in all that the outcome is positive, and above all that it is a step in the right direction.
A final document was agreed, not without effort. It lays out the path for all governments to follow. It lacks some binding commitments, but it is a good basis.
The EU has garnered good results.
We achieved significant political agreements on water and access to energy for the poor and we launched major partnership initiatives on these points.
We built a "coalition of the willing" for renewable energy sources.
We launched a North-South pact that encompasses the results of Doha and Monterrey.
Above all, we were the only party capable of mediating between other groupings of countries; their positions would otherwise have remained irreconcilable.
At Johannesburg the international community found ground for common understanding and showed it could tackle problems multilaterally.
Multilateral action is crucial at this difficult historical juncture. Only yesterday we commemorated the first anniversary of the dreadful events of the 11th of September.
Those atrocities last year reminded us that we must never let our guard down in the battle to defend peace, security and democracy.
Terrorism cannot be defeated by force of arms alone. We must tackle its deeper causes: poverty, discrimination and exclusion.
The Action Plan agreed at Johannesburg is a step in that direction. We made further progress in the fight against poverty and its many causes. And we strengthened our defences against environmental degradation on a world scale.
This battle can only be won through international cooperation. Within their limits, world summits have stressed the need for multilateral action. Since Doha and Monterrey the trend is clear for all. At Johannesburg we took up the results of those summits and carried them forward.
It is now up to the international community to keep its commitments and deliver. And that means us too.
Europe has a guiding role to play in sustainable development and we must bolster that role. Sustainable development is one of the major priorities of the Commission I lead, together with enlargement, and stability and security.
At Johannesburg we were able to play a leading role because we could show we were keeping the commitments set out in our internal strategy for sustainable development.
The external dimension agreed at Johannesburg should be seen as an integral part of the EU's overall strategy for sustainable development.
At Gothenburg last year we extended the Lisbon economic and social agenda to include environmental issues and we turned it into a coherent strategy. We are now getting down to the nuts and bolts. But our strategy does not just involve the institutions. Its success depends on the involvement and backing of civil society.
This Forum shows our determination to bring you all into the process, with the varied interests you represent.
Here I must pay tribute to the Economic and Social Committee for helping to forge links between the EU institutions and civil society. My warm thanks go to the Committee for agreeing to organize this event jointly with us.
The agenda adopted at the Gothenburg European Council sets out a series of practical, coherent steps. One year on, the overall result is positive.
A quick check shows that around half the agenda's objectives have been turned into concrete proposals by the Commission. This should spur us to do more and do it better, and to put our backs into implementing the remaining objectives.
Our measures and legislative proposals are making good our commitment to ensure all our policies are sustainable, thus striking a balance between the economic, social and environmental objectives of society.
Our strategy to safeguard the environment is among the world's most advanced. I am thinking of the simultaneous ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the EU and its Member States at the end of May.
As you know, climate change was an important chapter at Johannesburg. China, South Africa and Poland announced they will be ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and positive signs came from Canada too.
I have made a strong personal appeal to President Putin to bring Russia in. With Russia's ratification the Protocol will finally come into force.
I am also confident that with time, the gap between the United States and the rest of the international community will narrow.
On the Commission's achievements, let me recap our proposals for combating climate change, such as the one on emissions trading.
Another ambitious proposal of ours involves reforming the common agricultural policy.
Agricultural policy is a huge and delicate subject. With the reform, the agriculture we want to promote will be both competitive and environmentally friendly.
To achieve that aim, we intend giving impetus to sustainable farming, offering consumers wholesome, quality food and ensuring farmers have a fair income.
The agriculture we want must preserve the diversity and vitality of rural areas for the future.
Let us not overlook the proposal to reform the common fisheries policy, which is equally important.
We have also made proposals on transport and energy, others on consumer protection, and still others on research programmes.
The list is a long one, but I will stop there. These topics will come up for discussion in the course of these two days.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you can see, we have laid sound foundations. Now we need to look at the challenges that await us.
Sustainable development involves identifying economic activities that benefit all, particularly the most vulnerable sections of the community. Here I must stress the importance of the European social model -- a unique model that sets the EU apart.
Our social model comprises structured dialogue between the groups that make up society, as well as social welfare and pension arrangements. Of course, the model needs to be brought up to date to take account of changes. But we must be careful not to void it of its substance because it is the best defence we have against social exclusion.
Our sustainable development strategy comprises a set of practical measures. But partial successes are not enough, however significant they may be.
Sustainable development springs from an awareness of the overall problem. It involves a host of complex issues that are closely interconnected. Sector-specific approaches that overlook such complexity are doomed to failure.
The topics on the table at this Forum affect various interests -- all of them legitimate -- and we are here to listen. A willingness to listen is now a tradition of ours. But this year we have set our sights higher.
First, we have opened up and systematized the way the stakeholders, both interest groups and individuals, are consulted.
We have also introduced new impact analysis methods. We want to avoid overlooking any consequences of our policies -- economic, social or environmental. Which is why we are developing more powerful methods for analyzing and quantifying the impact of all our proposals.
Lastly, an active policy to encourage sustainable development calls for strong Community institutions. Its success depends primarily on the existence of an independent Commission that can rise above sectoral and national interests. This is the only way to support development that can benefit all citizens in the European Union, today and in the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Forums of this sort are very important and I can assure you that we shall take account of them when we work out our policies. The Forum that starts today is one step along this road.
At Johannesburg we established excellent working relations with the representatives of business and non-profit-making organizations. We set great store by that for our work in the future. It will help us give substance to the global partnership for sustainable development.
Thank you for your attention. I wish you two days of fruitful and constructive discussion.