Remarks by Commissioner Gentiloni at the ENVI-DEVE European Parliament committees’ hearing on the Sustainable Development Goals

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear Chair,

The last few years have been marked by two great crises, which have impacted our social and geopolitical fabric. In overcoming them, we need to be vigilant and determined not to return to the business as usual, but improve the EU’s economic model and overall resilience. In this, the UN Sustainable Development Goals remain our compass.

Since the beginning of our mandate, we have been committed to integrating the SDGs into the European Semester. And of course we did it with a European Semester influenced by the two crises that we had.

You know that the European Semester is a unique process of policy coordination and integration. It provides an opportunity for taking a comprehensive look at progress towards EU targets and we do so along the four dimensions of competitive sustainability, meaning we look beyond macroeconomic stability to aspects of environmental sustainability, productivity and fairness. And we look at each country individually, in the annual country reports, and assess policy developments within a multilateral surveillance setting.

In the 2020 cycle of the Semester, the country reports for the first time included a chapter on environmental sustainability. The reports also referenced the SDGs where relevant and there was a dedicated annex reporting on Member States’ overall SDG performance.

In the 2022 cycle, which has been adapted to accommodate the implementation of the RRF, country reports will be published simultaneously with proposals for Country Specific Recommendations as part of the Spring Package this month.

These country reports will summarise the progress of each Member State towards the achievement of the SDGs, and will include a detailed annex, based on the invaluable monitoring carried out by Eurostat.

The country reports will also make reference to the Recovery and Resilience Plans for those (24) Member States with an adopted Council Implementing Decision on their plans. The support provided under the RRF includes significant number of reforms and investments that are expected to help Member States make further progress toward the SDGs.

While economic activity in the EU has rebounded after the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and related effects will have a negative impact on the recovery in the EU.

Moreover, persistent logistic and supply bottlenecks, including shortages of raw material, have weighed on production, as have the elevated prices of energy and labour shortages in many EU countries. Inflationary pressures, which have been stronger than for many years, have started to curtail households’ purchasing power.

At the same time, we must not lose sight of our medium term goals in this difficult environment – and our commitment to green and digital transition.

Indeed, in some areas, the current crisis only reinforces the need for us to move more quickly. So collectively we need to continue to address structural challenges effectively, boost sustainable development and resilience and make further progress towards the SDGs.

In order to deliver on the SDGs, we need reliable and objective data to monitor progress. And this is why we rely on Eurostat – and let me seize this opportunity to thank Eurostat, because of course we need for the SDGs also to update our statistics and make them more frequent in some sectors, and this is a big commitment for Eurostat.

They are currently finalising the 2022 edition of the SDG monitoring report, which will be published on the same day as the European Semester spring package. This I think is also important to give a message, a signal.

We see that over the last five years the EU has made progress towards most of the SDGs. Nevertheless, we will need to make further efforts to achieve the Goals, in particular in the environmental area.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected all three dimensions of the 2030 Agenda – social, economic and environmental -.

I am very pleased that the labour market in the EU has already recovered. In 2021, the employment rate stood at 73.1%, which is even higher than before the pandemic. Well, we know that this is not without problems from an equality point of view in the labour market, but overall figures are positive.

Economic indicators also bounced back to almost pre-pandemic levels. For example, after a 6.0% contraction in 2020, real GDP per capita increased by 5.4 % in 2021. But of course this was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On the environmental side, the COVID-19 related lockdown measures resulted in short-term improvements. Restrictions on many social and economic activities led to a drop in energy consumption in 2020. Electricity consumption decreased by 12.8 % in April 2020 compared with April 2019. However, by 2021 it was almost back to pre-pandemic levels.

Similarly, greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 18.9 % in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same quarter of 2019. In the three first quarters of 2021, these emissions in the EU were still lower than before the pandemic. This indicates that the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions continue their long-term reduction trend despite the economic rebound. Nevertheless, we will need further progress to reach SDG 13, combatting climate change and its impacts.

So we will continue to monitor the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the impact of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, on our trajectory towards the SDGs.

Let me now conclude touching briefly on the draft parliamentary report on the implementation of the SDGs.

I want to focus on an important item in the draft report. The Commission welcomes in particular the calls for an EU voluntary review. The Commission is indeed looking into this direction, together with the Council. This institutional convergence – Parliament, Commission, Council – can be a strength in promoting the EU voice at UN level.

We therefore plan to work on an EU review ahead of the 2023 UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. This will also put the EU in a strong position at the SDG summit in September 2023. And the Parliament is right in aiming at a comprehensive EU Voluntary Review, covering internal and external actions.

The EU Voluntary Review will be an occasion to visibly put together  all key EU commitments, targets and initiatives that take the SDGs further, and to consult with stakeholders. This is where we will concentrate our efforts.

So I am looking forward to the European Parliament report and to your questions on the SDGs. Thank you.

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