The module on “European Union Law and Sustainable Development” (EULawSD) seeks to explore the ever-expanding corpus of European Union Law relating to sustainable development. The module consists of an annual 40-hour course primarily aimed at students of the Single Cycle Degree Programme in Law at the University of Siena, but also open to students from the Political Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences departments. The course is complemented by a series of keynote lectures, a final expert roundtable, a dedicated website, and a series of webinars. It expands on the basic EU Law course offered by the Department of Law to introduce a highly-innovative angle in EU legal studies, promote excellence in the teaching of advanced EU issues, and ultimately equip students with in-depth knowledge of the critical role of the EU legal system in shaping the response of the European Union to the challenges of sustainable development.
As recently stated by the European Commission, “sustainable development has since long been at the heart of the European project” (COM(2016) 793 final (p.2)). Not only do the EU Treaties recognize sustainable development as one of the overarching goals of the Union, but the Commission has also constantly sought to design adequate policy frameworks for translating this objective into secondary legislation, thereby ensuring consistency between the EU’s internal policies and between these, the EU’s external action, and the policies of its Member States.
Ever since the first European Union Sustainable Development Strategy, formulated in 2001, SD has therefore become an inescapable lens for the analysis of EU law. However, it appears that an integrated approach to the study of EU sectoral strategies, policies and programmes is still lacking in academic circles. More specifically, EU legal studies will require an increasing degree of interdisciplinarity and a cross-cutting assessment of the synergies and tensions between EU policies across the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, to reflect their growing complexity and interdependence.
Advancing such an integrated approach to the study of EU law is especially critical in the light of the recent adoption by the UN General Assembly of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Res. 70/1), whose 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets will represent the constant reference point for the design and implementation of the module. As the European Union moves towards the implementation of the Agenda, a process in which it intends to act as a ‘frontrunner’ (COM(2016) 739 final, p. 3), EU legal studies need to incorporate the Goals into their core activities, using them as both a research blueprint and a tool to promote knowledge and foster debate around legal solutions for sustainable development.
Against this background, the EULawSD module does not only provide students with notions about the emergence and evolution of the principle of SD in international and EU law, but specifically analyses EU internal and external policies through the lens of the SDGs and the wider post-2015 framework. In doing so, it bridges the gap between theory and practice by: (i) discussing concrete sustainability-related cases and issues in class; (ii) engaging with experts and practitioners through open roundtable discussions; and (iii) launching a dedicated website, as well as a series of webinars that will facilitate the dissemination of teaching activities and promote dialogue with civil society, in collaboration with the Mediterranean branch of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) hosted at the University of Siena.
In conclusion, the EULawSD module promotes the diversification of EU studies at the host institution, a diversification that is much needed and requested by the students, who are increasingly eager to attend courses devoted to specific issues of EU law, where they can maximize the learning outcomes achieved through attendance of the basic EU law course.