UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals should guide the European Recovery

European local and regional leaders are calling for the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (SDGs) to be put back on the top of the European Union’s agenda, asking the EU institutions and member states to ensure their implementation by 2030. In an opinion adopted today by its plenary, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of sustainable development and that SDGs can help move towards a coherent, holistic vision within Next Generation EU. However, a recent CoR study points out a lack of explicit and transparent reference to the UN SDGs in many national recovery and resilience plans.

The ongoing pandemic and its expected economic, social and environmental consequences show a clear urgency to support the “localisation” of the SDGs in order to build back in a fairer way and avoid future health crises. SDGs should help Member States’ economies recover and deliver the digital and green transitions on the ground. However, a recent study commissioned by the CoR sounded the alarm about the lack of involvement of regions and cities in national recovery plans, while in many cases clear references to SDGs are missing, reducing the opportunity for a common understanding of the plans.

Ricardo Rio (PT/EPP), rapporteur and Mayor of Braga, said: “The SDGs almost disappeared from the EU narrative: there is no overarching strategy and no effective mainstreaming or coordination of SDGs in the European Commission’s internal governance. This is all the more striking as in parallel the commitment of local and regional authorities on SDGs kept increasing. The preliminary results of our OECD-CoR survey clearly show that local and regional authorities are well engaged in a sustainable recovery, based on SDGs. 40% of respondents have been using them before the pandemic and now started to use them to address the recovery, while 44% are planning to do so to recover from COVID-19. This is a big opportunity for all policy-makers to come back stronger from this crisis and I will, together with the OECD, actively advocate for it at EU level.”

The OECD estimates that 65% of the 169 targets of the 17 SDGs cannot be reached without involvement of, or coordination with, local and regional authorities. Moreover, the results of a new CoR-OECD joint survey show that 60% of local and regional governments believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more conviction that the SDGs can help take a more holistic approach for recovery. Therefore, the CoR regrets that the SDGs have progressively lost ground in the EU narrative, with a lower profile in EU policy-making jeopardising their chances of implementation by 2030.

CoR members urge European leaders to be ambitious and consistent in their domestic and foreign policy agendas and to declare with one clear purpose that the EU must be a leader and visible champion in the implementation of the SDGs at all governmental levels. The opinion points out that Sustainable Development Goals should provide a coherent framework for all EU policies and help align the priorities of all funding programmes. Nevertheless, sometimes the link between the UN objectives and main European initiatives like the new industrial strategy appear tenuous. Moreover, it calls on the European Commission to use the next Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2022 to formally reintegrate SDGs into the European Semester, better link SDGs and the Recovery and Resilience Facility (the cornerstone of Next Generation EU), and explicitly affirm SDGs as a way for the EU to shape a sustainable recovery.

Local and regional leaders ask the European Commission to renew the SDG multi-stakeholder platform or create another dialogue platform with clout and structured follow-up to foster expertise from all the different stakeholders from public and private institutions regarding the 2030 Agenda and to advise the Commission directly.

The rapporteur Mr Rio delivered the call to prominent EU policy makers already on Tuesday, when he took the floor at the Brussels Economic Forum 2021, the flagship annual economic event of the European Commission, alongside President Von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


The CoR and the OECD jointly carried out a survey between May and Mid-June 2021 on SDGs as a framework for COVID-19 recovery in cities and regions. The survey included 86 responses from municipalities, regions and intermediary entities in 24 EU countries, plus a few other OECD & non-OECD countries. Preliminary findings were presented on Tuesday during the fourth edition of the Cities and Regions for the SDGs roundtable, a two-day online event that focused on the SDGs as a framework for long-term COVID-19 recovery strategies in cities and regions. The document is available here.

The CoR adopted a first opinion on ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): a basis for a long-term EU strategy for a sustainable Europe by 2030’ in 2019 by rapporteur Arnoldas Abramavičius (LT/EPP) Member of Zarasai District Municipal Council.

In November 2020 the European Commission published the staff working document Delivering on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – A comprehensive approach.