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A European Agenda To Navigate Uncertain Times – How to steer the EU towards wellbeing for all now and in the future

These are uncertain times. Geopolitical tensions and armed conflicts, rising costs of living, growing multidimensional inequalities, accelerating climate and biodiversity crises, security risks, pandemics, rapid development of AI systems, risk of disinformation, political polarisation, migration and an ageing society are causing uncertainty among the peoples, governments, and businesses of Europe. These problems make people insecure about their own future and that of the next generations. The European Commission (EC) urgently needs a policy agenda that tackles these challenges and uncertainties.

The Need to Change

What the science says. The contribution of economic growth to wellbeing is decreasing and the benefits are not being shared equitably. Humanity is transgressing six out of nine planetary boundaries, thereby disrupting natural systems and causing significant damage to the economy and future wellbeing. In addition, other challenges, such as an ageing society, also threaten the future wellbeing. These interconnected problems should be tackled simultaneously.

What people want. People across Europe feel uncertain about the future and a majority support reforms of the economic model. There is also specific support for actions on climate change, creation of quality jobs, public spending on social policies, poverty and social exclusion, public health, and investments in future generations.

What businesses need. European companies know that change is coming. In fact, US and Chinese green programs (e.g. the Inflation Reduction Act) are leading to competitive pressures for European business. Companies need a long-term consistent EU vision to stimulate sustainable and competitive business models. This would help multinationals as well as small and medium-sized enterprises innovate and invest while navigating geopolitical uncertainty.

The Change we Need

Define the goal. Article 3 of the Treaty of Europe states that “The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.” Globally, there is also scientific and institutional convergence towards wellbeing as an overarching policy goal. There are three elements: ensuring current wellbeing (e.g. health, education, peace and security, air quality, quality employment, economic prosperity, social relationships, etc.), ensuring future wellbeing (mitigating climate change, biodiversity loss, resolving conflicts, dealing with ageing society, boosting innovation and competitiveness, etc.), as well as limiting wellbeing inequalities for current and future generations (gender inequality, income/wealth inequality, risk of poverty, social exclusion, discrimination etc.). These elements are strongly interconnected and overlap in some cases. Together the goals it to achieve Sustainable and Inclusive Wellbeing: Wellbeing for all, now and in the future.

Overcome barriers and enabling change. To create policies for sustainable and inclusive wellbeing, it is important to identify vested interests, fear of change and resistance that hinders reforms and systemic change. Simultaneously, these policies should recognise the uncertainties people and businesses face. The policy agenda should be holistic and cross-cutting, and policy-silos need to be overcome.

European leadership. This policy shift requires institutional leadership and effort to ensure the horizontal coordination of policies. One of the ways this could be achieved is by appointing an Executive Vice-President (EVP) for Wellbeing and Future Generations to lay the groundworks for and oversee the implementation of this policy agenda.

No need to start from scratch. This policy agenda should build on the many initiatives, policies, legislation and governance processes which the EC (and Member States) has already put in place. It should also take into account academic and policy debates from around the world. This provides an indispensable foundation to develop the required policy agenda.

This joint paper co-issued by the SPES, WISE Horizons, ToBe, WISER, and MERGE projects proposes a policy agenda for the new European Commission to ensure sustainable and inclusive wellbeing. It calls for integrated public and stakeholder support to develop policies that address immediate concerns and secure the future wellbeing of all, aiming for a secure, prosperous, and equitable Europe through forward-thinking policymaking. The paper puts forward concrete suggestions on how the European Commission can advance sustainable and inclusive wellbeing in times of polycrisis. These include strengthening the science-based policy toolkit, reforming the European semester process, as well as implementing policies for 5 societal transformations and 13 policy areas.

Read the full paper below.

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