Barroso promises more ambitious sustainable development strategy

Impact assessment and sustainable energy policy are the key priorities for a revived EU sustainable development strategy, according to a stakeholder conference held in Brussels.

The conference did not follow the usual format of most Brussel’s stakeholder meetings, but used an ‘open space’ format, leading to more involvement and creativity from the participants of the conference. In more than 35 working groups, proposed by the participants themselves, priorities and actions were defined for the EU’s review of the Sustainable Development Strategy. 

Main messages and priorities defined by the conference:

The Lisbon agenda and the Sustainable Development Strategy  mutually reinforce each other. The SDS is the more long-term, overarching principle of all EU policies: 

  • Integrated impact assessments (IAs) should be used as a tool for sustainable development. These assessments should measure the economic, social and environmental impact of EU proposals at the earliest stages of policy preparation;  
  • The EU needs a more ambitious long term strategy for sustainable energy;
  • There is a lack of social objectives in the SDS: themes like poverty, social exclusion and ageing society are too absent in the debate;
  • The EU has to do more for the sustainable use of natural resources (IPP, decoupling, ecolabeling, shifting taxation from labour to non-renewable resources); 
  • More debate is needed on the relationship between WTO trade liberalisation and sustainable development; 
  • The local and regional levels need more support from the EU’s SD strategy: stiff sustainability requirements are needed for actions taken as part of Structural Funds programmes;  

Some other specific recommendations that were proposed in the working groups:

  • There is a need for an EU white paper on a new European social and cultural model
  • The EU should set up an action programme for the communication and education of sustainable development, with a budget of between 20 and 30 million euros.  
  • Institutional: more horizontality is needed in the functioning of the Commission’s services to break with the sectoral departmentalisation of the DGs; a sustainability monitoring body (ECOSOC?) could be set up to evaluate the EU’s policies against the objectives of the sustainable development strategy.

Some participants of the conference questioned whether having two different strategies (Lisbon and Gothenburg) with two different stakeholder audiences, is not structurally damaging for both strategies. According to some, this dual strategy reinforces the  highly ideological debate about the equality of the three pillars (economic, social, environmental) of both strategies.

Several participants from business organisations criticized the lack of a strong economic pillar in the current sustainable development strategy.

In a speech to the conference, Commission President Barroso expressed his full support for the review of the sustainable development strategy. "I will [...] make sure that the complementary nature of our work on sustainable development and on the Lisbon strategy is brought to the fore. [...] the Lisbon and Sustainable Development Strategies mutually reinforce each other. Both contribute to the goal of improving welfare and living conditions in a sustainable way for present and future generations," said Mr Barroso.

The Commission President promised a reviewed strategy with "clearer objectives and targets", new "innovative instruments" to deliver, clearer governance and better monitoring.


Representatives from EU institutions, business, NGOs and think tanks took part in an innovative conference on the review of the EU’s sustainable development strategy (SDS). The conference was organised from 14-15 April by the Economic and Social Committee and the European Commission. 

The EU defined its strategy on sustainable development during the Gothenburg summit of June 2001. The Commission is in the process of reviewing the strategy before the end of 2005. The sustainable development strategy has been eclipsed by the EU’s economic reform agenda for competitiveness, jobs and growth, which was first defined by the 2000 Lisbon European Council. 


  • In June, the Commission will present a declaration on guiding principles for sustainable development; 
  • Later in the year (autumn), the Commission will present the actual review of the SDS. 

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