Exploring the EU model of sustainable development

The second edition of the Global Forum on Sustainable
Development in Paris, looked at the major obstacles hampering the
global drive to reconcile economic growth, social cohesion and
environmental protection.

Most participants insisted that the EU should spearhead efforts
to raise sustainable development standards at the global level,
while adapting its own model to new requirements and challenges (eg
enlargement to the ten new member states, growing competition from
other economic powers etc). 

It was broadly agreed, over the course of various panel sessions
and workshops, that the rest of the world should regard Europe’s
approach to sustainable development as a possible model for
emulation. 

The European Union, said former French Finance
Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is the arena
where sustainable development concerns are most thoroughly - and
most effectively - dealt with. In particular, he said, the process
of European integration has provided EU member states with
collective responses to problems that could no longer be handled at
the national level. 

Indeed, French Environment Minister Serge
Lepeltier
stressed that "pollution does not respect
national borders", which makes it necessary for individual
countries to resort to collaborative action to better stave off
ecological threats. Lepeltier emphasised that the EU provided the
perfect framework for this kind of action, while offering a level
playing field on which all countries have to abide by similar
standards of environmental protection. This last point is crucial,
the minister said, as "no country would ever shoot itself in the
foot" by imposing more stringent environmental standards to its own
businesses, allowing its neighbours to gain a competitive advantage
simply by not following suit.

Some European companies seek to play a positive role by adopting
a proactive stance vis-à-vis environmental legislation. Patrick
Haas, CEO of BP France, said that its firm
had introduced double-hull tankers even before the EU made this
measure mandatory in the aftermath of the Erika oil spill.
Initiatives of that sort show that sustainable development is
gradually becoming an integral part of Corporate Social
Responsibility (CSR), said Haas. 

Several business leaders argued that as
long as investors stick to a short-term approach exclusively based
on maximising revenues and immediate returns on investment,
sustainable development is bound to remain a low priority for
companies. Better engaging the private sector and convincing it to
play an active role in the field of environmental protection should
therefore be a priority of the EU's Sustainable Development
Strategy (SDS). 

Another key "battlefront" is the integration of the new member
states from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), which still have a
lot of ground to catch up in fully applying EU environmental
standards. André Merlin, president of the European
Energy and Transport Forum
, emphasised that the EU needs
to help CEE countries invest in more modern and more eco-friendly
infrastructures, notably by bringing their greenhouse gas emissions
figures closer to the EU average. "1 May 2004 did not mark the end
of the integration process, and this is especially true in the
field of sustainable development," concluded Merlin.

The second edition of the Global Forum on Sustainable
Development, organised by Passages magazine and the think tank
'ADAPes', was held on 12-14 November in Paris. 

Senior politicians, business leaders, academics and NGO
representatives discussed how to tackle the major challenges facing
those decision-makers in charge of striking the right balance
between economic, social and environmental imperatives - both in
Europe and in the rest of the world. 

The forum was established in 2003 under the High patronage of
French President Jacques Chirac and Commission President Romano
Prodi. It meets every year in November.

EURACTIV was a media partner for the forum, during which the EU
model of sustainable development was the focus of much attention
and debate.

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