Towards a “Sustainable Development Union”: why the EU must do more to implement the 2030 Agenda

Hackenesch, Christine / Adolf Kloke-Lesch / Svea Koch / Ingeborg Niestroy / Imme Scholz
Briefing Paper (6/2016)

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

The European Union (EU) is in crisis mode. Its capacity to implement domestic reforms and its position as a global power are being severely undermined by centrifugal forces within Europe and the risk that the EU will disintegrate. Euroscepticism and populism abound; the reactions to the refugee crisis suggest that solidarity among member states is weak; the Euro crisis has exacerbated social tensions and economic power disparities throughout the continent; while persistent environmental problems such as the ongoing loss of biodiversity have no easy solutions.
Europe is in dire need of a new and positive narrative for its future development that resonates with European citizens and presents Europe as a constructive force for sustainable domestic and global development.
This is even more urgent in light of the increasingly blurred boundaries between domestic and external agendas. Europe’s sustainable development cannot be promoted nor its own interests protected in isolation from the EU’s response to the aspirations of emerging and developing countries and global public goods challenges. The refugee and migration crisis as well as the terrorist attacks in Paris show that the lack of sustainable development and peace in other parts of the world also threaten Europe at home. Moreover, because of the size of its market and its economy, Europe’s domestic development pathway considerably impacts both its external legitimacy and sustainable development in third countries, for better or worse.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) puts the interdependence of domestic and external policy-making center stage. The 2030 Agenda is an action plan for people, planet, peace and prosperity that reflects core European values and interests: It is crucial for Europe and the rest of the world.
Given the scope and universal nature of the 2030 Agenda, its implementation requires a new quality of cooperation with greater inter-departmental work and whole-of-government approaches that encompass all dimensions of EU internal and external policies.
Linking the core ongoing European strategy processes – including the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (the EU Global Strategy) and the revision of the Europe 2020 Strategy (the New Approach beyond 2020) – to the 2030 Agenda can help to create more coherent policies. This could also address frictions and trade-offs between individual policy fields. Progress on the SDGs in Europe and abroad will foster the success of both domestic and foreign policies.
We recommend that

  • EU heads of state and government jointly commit to implementing the 2030 Agenda across internal and external fields of action ahead of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development scheduled for July 2016,
  • the New Approach beyond 2020 and the EU Global Strategy should serve as umbrella documents for domestic and external  implementation of the 2030 Agenda, linking both dimensions under the leadership of Vice-Presidents Timmermans and Mogherini.

About the authors

Scholz, Imme



Hackenesch, Christine

Political Science


Koch, Svea

Social Science


Kloke-Lesch, Adolf

Urban and regional planning


Further experts

Baumann, Max-Otto

Political Science 

Baydag, Melis

Political Science 

Bergmann, Julian

Political Science 

Dang, Vy

Political Science 

Erforth, Benedikt

Political Science 

Friesen, Ina

Political Science 

Furness, Mark

Political Science 

Grimm, Sven

Political Science 

Götze, Jacqueline

Political Scientist 

Janus, Heiner

Political Science 

Keijzer, Niels

Social Science 

Löpelt, Sarah

International relations and Sustainability policy 

Mathis, Okka Lou

Political Scientist 

Schwachula, Anna


Srigiri, Srinivasa Reddy

Agricultural Economist 

Vogel, Johanna

International Cultural Economy 

von Haaren, Paula

Development Economics