Verbatim report of proceedings: Sitting of Wednesday 14th March 2001
Preparatory work for the Stockholm European Council (23/24 March 2001)
Mr President, we welcome the Lisbon Summit’s emphasis on dealing with social exclusion. That emphasis recognises what is already clear. Despite the gradual increase in economic growth within the Union over the years, there are still millions of people who have not benefited. Indeed in some Member States, such as my own, which have tended to follow the American model, the gap between rich and poor has been widening. We are also seeing significant numbers of working poor, those who have jobs but cannot afford to live on their wages. There is a still a huge gap between the incomes of men and women, which continues into old age and must be an important issue in the discussion on pensions. Growth alone is not the solution to social deprivation and it never has been. Distribution and equality of opportunity are also important. Hence the need to include social criteria alongside the economic goals and the use of appropriate indicators to look at the combined effect.
As we have heard, however, Stockholm will not just deal with the Lisbon follow-up. It will be a first step towards explaining how the European Union is going to deliver on sustainable development. It is obvious to us that unless we factor the environment into our economic thinking there will no chance of having a sustainable economy. We have to find an economic path that does not strip the world of its natural resources and produce toxic or greenhouse emissions. That means we have to look at the quality of the economic growth we seek and not just the amount. If 3% growth depends on depleting fish stocks, increasing car travel or cleaning up after crime, it is not the sort of growth that improves the quality of life or quality of the environment for anyone. It is not sustainable and that is why we have urged the use of appropriate environmental indicators alongside the social and economic ones. We can then adopt a coherent approach to sustainable development and see if we really are achieving the results we want.