EU leads vision on Sustainable Development Goals – but will this translate into reality?

Posted 30 Nov 2016 by Libby Smith

The EU has announced its proposed Consensus for Development. Libby Smith, WaterAid UK’s Advocacy Officer, discusses the opportunities not to be missed in this chance to lead the world on turning Agenda 2030 into action.

The EU and its 28 member states make up the world’s largest aid donor. They contribute more than 50% of the world’s overseas development assistance and collectively donate the most to the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector.

Woman collecting water from a new water source.
A woman collecting clean water at Kiomboi hospital in Tanzania.

Last week, the EU announced that it will be the first to keep its promise and turn the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into actions – one year after the agenda was adopted.

The European Commission has released a set of proposals laying out the priorities that will shape both the EU institution’s and member states’ international development policies up to 2030.

New consensus a decade on

The world is a very different place from ten years ago, when the EU last created a Consensus for Development, and the new Consensus reflects this. The need to tackle the world’s biggest challenges is a running theme, through topics from climate change and demographic shifts to newly emerged fragile states and migration. Although it is crucial that the global community addresses these challenges, it is also vital that the Consensus isn’t too focussed on immediate security concerns, and that the primary focus remains on long-term sustainable development.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace and security, but nor can peace and security be achieved without tackling the root causes of these global challenges.

Poverty alleviation must therefore remain at the heart of the EU’s Agenda 2030 implementation strategy. We know from our own history in the UK that access to safe water and sanitation, combined with adequate hygiene, are fundamental to a country’s development and poverty alleviation. The EU is a global sector leader, and has rightly acknowledged in the revised Consensus that ‘Safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic service and a pre-requisite for health, growth and productivity’.

Turning commitments into actions

Although we strongly welcome the commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals that the proposed Consensus represents, we look forward to seeing the joint working document in the first half of 2017.

We call on the EU to not simply pay lip service to the vital link between access to WASH and poverty alleviation, but to make the vision a reality by integrating WASH into new policies, strategies, and plans on global health, nutrition, gender, and climate, including specific targets and indicators to incentivise progress.

Efficient investment

Another theme of the proposed Consensus is the need to ensure the EU invests its official development assistance as efficiently as possible by making use of new investment tools at our disposal, such as joint programming, blending, and pooling resources.

The proposal also includes a reprisal of the pledge by member states and EU institutions to spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid – something initially pledged 45 years ago in a 1970 General Assembly resolution. We welcome this leading, albeit overdue, pledge. Given that the EU prides itself on being a global leader in international development, we call on it to raise its ambition and ensure that EU institutions deliver the 0.7% as soon as possible rather than by 2030 – 60 years after the original commitment was made.

Leading through policy and action

It is great to see the EU taking a lead, committing to the delivery of the sustainable development goals, and putting poverty eradication at the centre. The importance of this, at a time when global development budgets are under increasing pressures and many member states are shifting their development focus elsewhere, cannot be understated.

However, although we praise the EU for this admirable vision, it must now translate it into reality through legally binding policies and instruments. And when the proposed Consensus goes through the Council and European Parliament it is crucial that they do not water down the plans.

History has shown that when the EU moves on global development the world follows. The implementation of Agenda 2030 provides the ideal opportunity for the EU to demonstrate its leadership once more.

The EU can, and must, continue to lead on promoting long-term sustainable development policies, setting the precedent not only for member states but also for the rest of the world looking to the Brussels-based institutions to lead the global fight against poverty.

Libby Smith is Advocacy Officer at WaterAid UK. She tweets as @libbysmith17 and you can read more of her blogs here.

1European Commission (2016), Proposal for a new European Consensus on Development – Our World, our Dignity, our Future. Available at (accessed 30 November 2016).


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