Putting people and planet first in the EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Many of the EU's ambitious projects on climate change, poverty and human rights have come to be seen as "red tape", to be cut. This has to change. [DG ECHO/Flickr]

The UK referendum result casts doubt on many of the EU’s values: pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality, and a commitment to sustainable development and poverty eradication worldwide, write Geneviève Pons and Seamus Jeffreson.

Geneviève Pons is the director of the WWF’s European Policy Office and Seamus Jeffreson is the director of CONCORD.

The Brexit vote has sent alarm bells ringing throughout the EU, and a vital debate must now follow on how we can get back to and even strengthen these shared values in the face of rising nationalism, populism and anti-European sentiment. Leaders must now set to work on a new, a positive vision of Europe, in order to regain trust and re-engage with European citizens of all ages, social backgrounds and nations.

We believe it is paramount for this vision to place our planet and people, rather than shareholder value and economic growth, at its core. In fact, this idea is not new: During the Presidency of Jacques Delors in the early 1990s, following the first Rio summit, we were already building a Europe based on the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.

Since 1995, this vision has disappeared over time in favour of a more narrow focus on jobs and growth. As a result, Europe’s  achievements– from our world leading environmental, health and consumer protection standards, to our ambitious efforts to fight climate change, eradicate poverty  and promote human rights – have come to be considered as ‘red tape’ that needs to be cut in the interest of short-term economic gains, rather than being celebrated.

The debate on the future of the EU has now started, and we need to ensure that Europe moves to embrace transformational change, guided by the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris climate agreement. These inspirational commitments, in which people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships play centre stage, now have to result in a decisive shift in political emphasis and direction. At the same time, decision makers, including EU institutions, but equally national ministers and heads of state, need to be held better accountable for their commitments and actions.

At this time of European identity crisis, it is critical for the EU to show that it is not paralysed, but ready to act as a leading force in tackling the global challenges of climate change, growing inequality, ensuring sustainable and inclusive development, advancing human rights and ensuring no one is left behind. All of these challenges are tackled more effectively together rather than through a ‘renationalisation’ of politics.

As civil society, we need to work even harder in making the case for benefits EU policies have brought to our citizens and the values that this Union stands for. We urge everyone not to be spectators in the days and months ahead, but active participants in promoting a collective approach to the challenges that face our continent and our world.

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