The EU's Fifth Project: Transitional Governance in the Service of Sustainable Societies

39 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2014

Date Written: May 8, 2014


This framing paper for the Francqui International Conference of 8-9 May 2014 suggests that the transition towards sustainable societies in the European Union will require the introduction of new forms of governance, encouraging social innovations and participatory democracy at all levels, combined with improved multi-level coordination to facilitate local experimentation. It refers to this as the EU's "Fifth Project", after the internal market, the economic and monetary union, the area of freedom, security and justice, and the Lisbon strategy (renewed as "Europe 2020").

The framing paper first provides an overview of the main challenges facing the European Union. It discusses how the financial and economic crisis of 2008-2010, which snowballed into a crisis of public debt in the eurozone after 2009, was addressed (section 1). It summarizes the debate on the redefinition of social protection, which now increasingly aims at encouraging investment in human capital and at "activating" both beneficiaries of social protection and social services themselves (section 2). It briefly addresses how the ecological is addressed at the current juncture (section 3). The paper suggests that meeting the various challenges outlined requires a number of changes to the current governance of the EU. In particular, it suggests the need to reconcile the different timeframes mentioned above (section 4.1); to choose indicators of progress that escape the fiction represented by GDP growth (section 4.2); to include the reduction of inequalities a priority, as a substitute for "growth" alone (section 4.3); and to invest more on social innovations (section 4.4).

Section 5 develops further the importance of supporting social innovations that can accelerate the social and ecological transition that our present circumstances calls for. Such social innovations are often territory-based. They rely on hybrid forms of governance, in which public authorities, private enterprises and the "third sector" join forces to support initiatives that are often led by citizens at a local level. They lead to the invention of solutions that are suitable for the particular context in which they emerge. Section 5 puts forward four propositions illustrating why social innovations matter, and why they could play a key role in the future in supporting the transition towards sustainable societies. The paper closes in section 6 with a brief discussion of the implications, for the understanding of governance in the EU, of paying greater attention to such social innovations.

Keywords: European Union, Governance, Sustainability, Social Innovations.

Suggested Citation

De Schutter, Olivier, The EU's Fifth Project: Transitional Governance in the Service of Sustainable Societies (May 8, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Olivier De Schutter (Contact Author)

University of Louvain (Belgium) ( email )

Place Montesquieu, 3
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348

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