Policy coherence for development (PCD) has guided the actions of the European Union (EU) and its institutions for over two decades. As both a legal obligation enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty (2009) and a policy priority reinforced in the New European Consensus on Development (2017), PCD requires the EU to take into account the development effects of its non-development policies. PCD is an integral part of the EU’s strategy to attain sustainable development in accordance with the United Nations 2030 Agenda and beyond. However, the EU’s strategy for PCD has been widely criticised for its conceptual and methodological uncertainties. The failure to articulate clear definitional boundaries for PCD, coupled with the ambiguous methodological approaches employed to assess and evaluate the development effects of non-development policies, has eroded the effectiveness of policy coherence.
This SMART Report addresses and responds to some of the current challenges facing the realisation of PCD across the EU’s non-development policy initiatives. First, this Report proposes that EU Treaty obligations and policy objectives need to be (re)interpreted within a holistic and evidence-based concept of sustainability, in order to make their achievement possible. The Report advocates for a broader understanding of PCD that understands sustainable development as securing the social foundation for humanity within the planetary boundaries. By reorienting PCD in this conceptual frame, the EU can harness the integrated nature of the SDGs and promote its ‘synergies approach’ to policy coherence more effectively to ensure the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability are attained.
Second, this Report presents twelve Guidelines to make the EU’s strategy for policy coherence for development better fit for purpose. SMART has found that ‘silo-thinking’ continues to dominate the European Commission’s approach to sustainability with the effect that the interconnections between the three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social and environmental – are not adequately captured in the life-cycle of policy-making. With a focus on Impact Assessments (IAs), these Guidelines propose alternative approaches to strengthen the evaluation and monitoring mechanisms for policy coherence. The Guidelines illustrate ways to improve the methodologies and identifies sustainability indicators that enable the interconnections and synergies between the SDGs to be realised through the PCD framework. SMART advocates for inclusive participatory processes that promote the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability as central features of the IA methodology to make policy coherence better fit for purpose.