The European Union and Sustainable Development

Internal and External Dimensions
Albena Azmanova
Marc Pallemaerts

Since the Treaty of Amsterdam, sustainable development is legally enshrined among the fundamental objectives of European integration as laid down in article 2 of the EC Treaty. In 2001, this objective became the focus of political attention at the highest level. The European Council agreed on a ‘European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development’ and also referred to sustainable development in its Laeken Declaration on the future of the EU, among the values defining the identity and role of the EU in the world. Five years later, the EU Sustainable Development Strategy is undergoing a review process culminating at the June 2006 European Council.

“Has the European Union addressed the issue of sustainable development and what is the place and function of this relatively recent objective in the political discourse of European integration?” “Beyond discourse, has the Sustainable development Strategy had any real impact on policy-making processes and on the substantive content of EU policies?” “What is its relationship with other strategic orientations of EU policy, such as those of the Lisbon Strategy focusing on growth, jobs and competitiveness?” “Do the EU’s external policies effectively contribute to ‘the sustainable development of the Earth’, as the Constitutional Treaty solemnly proclaims?” “Have Member States, industry and civil society taken new action to promote sustainability in response to the Sustainable Development Strategy?” “Is sustainable development a truly innovative policy paradigm which will revolutionize the way Europe approaches economic, social and environmental issues, or is it little more than a fashionable but vacuous political buzzword?”

These are some of the questions addressed by the contributors to this volume, who bring a diversity of perspectives to bear on both the internal and external dimensions of the EU’s ambiguous relationship with sustainable development. The diversity of views reflected in this book testifies to the politically sensitive, essentially contested nature of the concept. But it cannot be denied that sustainable development policies have become institutionalized in the EU and its Member States and, as such, constitute an important new subject of inquiry and debate for all those interested in the fate of the European project.

Marc Pallemaerts was Senior Research Fellow of the Institute for European Studies and now is Senior Fellow of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, an independent research centre with offices in London and Brussels. He also teaches international and European environmental law at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Dr. Albena Azmanova is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Kent's Brussels School of International Studies, and Director of its Master's Programme in International Political Economy. She has been working as policy analyst for the European Commission and the European Parliament.