The new indicators of wealth have emerged in EU policies. What role do they play in EU governance? What challenges do their different uses pose? This analysis is based on a literature review and 12 individual interviews conducted with the different stakeholders involved in the “Beyond GDP” initiative.
- THE EUROPEAN UNION TAKES UP THE DEBATE ON THE NEW INDICATORS OF WEALTH
Since the early 2000s, the debate on the new indicators of wealth has gradually been institutionalised. The European Union is part of this process: EU policies, whether sectoral or general, now use a large number of environmental and social indicators. In 2007, the European Commission launched an initiative known as “Beyond GDP”, with a view to developing new indicators of wealth aimed at improving European governance, not only for policies implemented by the European Union, but also for those of the member states.
- HARMONISATION OF ACCOUNTING AND ALIGNMENT OF INDICATORS
One of the main achievements of this initiative is that it launched a process of harmonising national environmental accounts between member states. However, it failed to prompt any discussions on the alignment of the indicators used by the different EU strategies, or on the articulation of indicators developed at the national, EU and international levels. Absolute harmonisation between the different levels is unrealistic, or even counter-productive, as it would mask the differences between the policy perspectives underlying the ambitions of each country in terms of sustainable development. However, the European Union would benefit from launching discussions on the articulation of its indicators with those chosen by the member states, in order to guarantee a certain degree of comparison between countries.
- NEW INDICATORS WITH NO REAL POLITICAL OR SYMBOLIC IMPORTANCE
Despite the ambitions of the “Beyond GDP” initiative, the European Union has failed to develop a new indicator of wealth capable of complementing GDP. This goal was clearly dependent on the capacity—currently lacking—to develop a common EU approach to “what really matters” in terms of sustainable development. Moreover, the cognitive framework of the European institutions remains focused on economic and financial indicators, as shown by the budget and fiscal coordination mechanisms implemented further to the 2008 financial crisis. The European Union’s conversion to the new indicators of wealth is therefore far from complete, but is certainly underway.