Sustainable Development Goals and the EU: uncovering the nexus between external and internal policies

Being one of the wealthiest regions in the world, the EU has a lot to give when it comes to the delivery of SDGs in the global context. However, as one of the world’s biggest consumers and trading blocs it also has a lot to answer. This is especially the case with trade being a key vehicle for the accumulation of wealth across the EU. 

However, the EU is currently missing out on the opportunity to take a leadership role in the implementation of SDGs domestically and globally. A multitude of EU internal policies can result in spillover impacts outside the EU borders, with potential negative – or indeed positive – impacts on other countries’ endeavours to achieve SDGs. These include a range of EU policies that govern the production and consumption of goods and services in the Union. In the external context, the vehicles for SDG delivery outside the EU borders consist of policies for external action and trade

While the positive impacts of EU trade on the economic dimension of the 2030 Agenda seem clear, the picture is much more mixed when it comes to the role EU trade plays in social and environmental sustainability. For example, Europe is one of the top importers of commodities associated with or containing a significant risk of deforestation, including palm oil, soy, rubber, beef, maize, cocoa, and coffee. The EU is also the largest exporter of non-hazardous waste – exporting more of such waste than both the US and China – accompanied with accusations of exporting a variety of environmental problems along the way.

Building on the insights and analysis highlighted in this paper, a range of recommendations for EU policy action to improve its delivery of SDGs in the global context are identified with a view to: 1) improve EU level monitoring for policy coherence and spillovers effects, 2) improve EU’s internal policy performance vis-à-vis external impacts, 3) ensure that EU trade delivers for all dimensions of sustainability, with strong safeguards in place and 4) boost EU’s development cooperation and related financing. These recommendations involve around identifying and adopting a set of EU level indicators for global spillover effects linked to SDG delivery, systematically ‘SDG-proofing’ of EU’s internal and external policies (e.g. trade), and making the 0.7% target mark for the Official Development Assistance (ODA) across the EU a political priority with an improved monitoring framework in order to assess progress of the efforts made to reach this target.


Product details
Date of Publication
December 2018
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union, IEEP
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