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Remarks by Commissioner Gentiloni on EU progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op maandag 22 juni 2020.

Good morning. We are presenting this 2020 report on the progress to the Sustainable Development Goals in the EU. It is particularly important this year because we are beginning, as you know, to integrate the SDGs in the EU economic policy coordination framework, the European Semester.

First of all, I am pleased to thank Eurostat for their innovative effort to find a solid statistical basis for this effort to integrate SDGs in the Semester.

We are living in difficult times. Perhaps this crisis has showed us more than ever the importance of interdependence and the need to link our economic, social and environmental efforts. This is exactly what the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals aims to achieve.

At the Commission, we are fully aware of the necessity to implement these goals in their entirety, which is why in this college of Commissioners we are all responsible for implementing SDGs in our respective fields.

The European Green Deal makes clear our ambition to build a modern, resource-efficient, competitive economy where climate and environmental challenges are addressed and turned into opportunities, while making the transition just and inclusive for all. This ambition lies at the heart of our recovery plan.

This is why, as I have mentioned before, we have also begun to integrate the SDGs into our economic policy coordination framework with its new leitmotiv of competitive sustainability.

This year's country reports feature a new chapter on environmental sustainability and an annex tracking each Member State's progress toward SDGs.

Delivering on these commitments requires impartial and objective statistical information, and for that we rely on Eurostat, the guarantor of high quality and independent statistics for Europe. The report published this morning charts the European Union's progress towards the goals agreed at UN level.

The report is, of course, based on data referring to the time before the crisis. Next year will have different findings. The 2020 report shows that the EU has made progress towards a large number of the SDGs over the past five years, 2015 to 2019.

Most progress was achieved towards goal 16, ‘Peace, justice and strong institutions'.

Life in the EU has become safer, as deaths due to homicide or assault have decreased and fewer Europeans report crime, violence and vandalism in their area.

We have also made considerable progress towards goal 1, ‘No poverty' and goal 3, ‘Good health and well-being', followed by goal 2, ‘Zero hunger' and goal 8, ‘Decent work and economic growth'.

Let me give you a few examples of the statistics underlying these conclusions.

Since 2013, the EU has managed to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 12.5 million. In particular, fewer people faced problems related to their living conditions, such as overcrowding or lack of sanitary facilities.

As regards health and well-being, life expectancy in the EU was still increasing - reaching 81 - and more Europeans considered themselves to be in good or very good health in 2018. We live in different times now, but it is important to note what we have achieved in the last five years. Fewer people are smoking and the number of fatal work accidents went down.

Real GDP per capita has increased considerably over the past five years; the employment rate increased from 68% to 73%; and long-term unemployment decreased from 5.5% to 2.8% between 2014 and 2019.

In parallel, agricultural production in the EU has become more sustainable - organic farming is on the rise across the EU and its share of total agricultural area grew from 5.9% in 2013 to 8 % in 2018.

These positive developments over the past five years are of course strongly challenged now. Thanks to these efforts the EU is in a better position to face the current health and economic crisis. We will collectively need more sustainable and resilient societies. This is a lesson of the past months. The progress achieved so far is important, but only a starting point.

Let me turn to the overall overall assessment towards goal 13. On ‘Climate action' progress has been made in some areas while there are still challenges. The EU has already reached its 20% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020. If we follow this path, and the planned measures contained in national energy and climate plans, we are projected to meet our 2030 greenhouse gas target.

And today's report again lays bare why that matters. Despite these efforts, EU countries are increasingly facing the impacts of global climate change. The surface temperature in Europe between 2009 and 2018 was already 1.6 °C above pre-industrial times, an increase of 0.2 °C on the preceding decade.

As regards goal 5, ‘Gender equality', assessed as equality between men and women, the EU has unfortunately moved away from the sustainable development objectives.

Women are still less likely to be employed than men. Caring responsibilities are the main reason why women are not part of the labour force.

At the same time, men continue to fall behind women in relation to early school leaving and tertiary education.

It is encouraging to see the progress in female representation in national parliaments - from a little over 20% at the turn of the Millennium to 32.1% last year - but clearly there is still a long way to go.

For eight goals, the EU made moderate progress over the past five years: ‘Sustainable cities and communities', ‘Quality education', ‘Partnership for the goals', ‘Responsible consumption and production', ‘Affordable and clean energy', ‘Reduced inequalities', ‘Life on land' ‘Industry, innovation and infrastructure'.

In addition to this assessment at EU level, which Eurostat has been preparing over the last number of years, this year's report introduces a new chapter on the status and overall progress of each Member State towards the SDGs.

In a visual presentation you can see where a country stands relative to the worst and the best performing country in the EU and whether it has progressed over the last five years.

It is encouraging to see that overall, the EU Member States are making progress towards the SDGs.

For example, countries like Latvia and Romania are still in many areas towards the lower range in the EU but they are catching up.

Other countries like Luxembourg and Sweden, have already reached a high status but are moving away from the SDG in areas like the reduction of poverty and inequalities.

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