EU Science Hub

A sustainable recovery for the EU


The EU Recovery Plan represents a unique window of opportunity to restart the socioeconomic system after the Covid-19 crisis, fostering a shift towards sustainable development. The UN Agenda 2030, with its 17 goals and 169 targets, provides a compass to orientate the recovery in a sustainable way, considering together the economic, social and environmental dimensions. The political guidelines for European Commission 2020-2025 attribute a central role to the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs and frame sustainable development as the cornerstone of the national and European policies. Within this context, this report contributes to a better understanding of how the EU Recovery Plan relates to the SDG framework by applying a text mining approach that automatically maps key documents of the plan with the UN goals and targets. This textual analysis has been applied to a collection of documents publicly available up until July 2020, and provides a preliminary screening of SDGs and their targets in the Recovery Plan. The Recovery Plan is indeed in continuous evolution, with new legislative and non-legislative acts being drafted and adopted; therefore, these results represent a snapshot that may eventually change over time. However, identifying the link between the proposed Recovery Plan and SDGs upstream in early phase of the negotiations, can help to highlight areas that may boost SDG implementation along with areas that deserve more attention; further, it may also facilitate SDG mainstreaming in the implementation phase or monitoring changes in SDGs coverage during the implementation process (e.g. through a subsequent analysis of the Member States National Recovery and Resilience Plans, currently under preparation). Summarizing the results at the goal level, the Plan as a whole predominantly addresses SDG 3 on health and SDG 8 on economic growth and employment, but many others are identified. Overall, the Plan addresses all the 17 Goals, though some SDGs like SDG 6 on water resources are only marginally addressed. At target level, the text analysis detected 88 targets, described in detail in chapter 4. The distribution of SDGs and targets in the Plan shows a great variety. The first pillar (“Support Member States in Recovering”) pays particular attention to SDG 8, addressing many of its targets. This pillar has the largest financial allocation (about 90% of all funds of the Plan), and this is reflected by the broader coverage of all SDGs and their targets, compared to the other pillars. The second pillar (“Kick-start the economy and help private investment”) has also a relatively broad coverage of SDGs, and is mainly focused on SDG 9, regarding sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. The textual analysis of the third pillar (“Learning the lessons from the crisis”) evidenced that it focuses on fewer SDGs compared to the previous two, with a strong emphasis on SDG 3. The main target is 3.d, to strengthen the capacity for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks. The SDGs are a roadmap for sustainable development and should remain a framework for recovery in all countries. The mapping of SDGs in the proposed EU Recovery Plan carried out with our text mining technique provides a tool for tracking the implementation of the SDGs in the Plan, providing information on how specific initiatives included in the Plan address goals and related targets. Furthermore, potential policy gaps in SDGs coverage could be identified to allow policymakers to find adequate responses that can fill those gaps. A sustainable recovery should embrace as much as possible the principles of the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs, putting the EU in the right track to long-term sustainable growth. Our assessment of the recovery plan indicates that the Commissions is a frontrunner in pursuing the goals, and the Plan can further accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable, fair, just, and resilient EU.