There is a growing political debate on how to better measure societal progresses, and the limitations of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of well-being are widely recognised. Ahead of the adoption of her opinion on 'Indicators for territorial development – GDP and beyond ' by the CoR February plenary session, we spoke to CoR rapporteur Catiuscia Marini, President of Umbria region (PES/Italy), to learn more about her proposals for a multi-dimensional approach for measuring progress.
In your draft opinion, you advocate a multi-dimensional approach including economic, social and environmental aspects to measure quality of life in Europe's cities and regions. How could this approach, also in view of the next Structural Funds programming period, strengthen social cohesion across Europe's regions?
Quality of life and well-being are clearly concepts that pervade many aspects of life and there are other factors besides the ones traditionally taken into account. The multi-dimensional approach advocated in the opinion is to continue to take advantage of GDP as a simple, straightforward and linear indicator of economic well-being, but also to improve its accuracy by incorporating other aspects of well-being. Our suggestion is to launch a wide-ranging debate in Europe that taps into existing models and studies in order to develop a method for measuring well-being that combines GDP with other dimensions. The methods used to complement GDP should include other economic aspects such as productivity, innovation and exports, and labour (for instance, employment and unemployment rates), environmental aspects such as the energy intensity of the economy, the share of renewable energy, CO2 emissions and aspects of social inclusion (including but not limited to at-risk-of-poverty or at-risk-of-social-exclusion figures and income distribution).
The theory underpinning this choice is rooted in the conclusions of leading scientific and academic experts on the real nature of well-being, but it is not just a matter of academic theory. It is above all a policy choice that permeates our vision for Europe's development and economic and social cohesion. The opinion advocates launching a debate on these issues between all levels of government in the European Union in order to identify benchmarks and then establish policy measures that culminate in the use of additional indicators to complement GDP at regional level in order to measure territorial disparities and the shortfall against EU policy objectives. Moreover, there is a model, which still needs work and fine-tuning, which has already been tried, for instance through the Europe 2020 targets.
At a later stage, these methods could also be applied to future post-2020 programming guidelines. More specifically, a multi-dimensional approach that highlights specific key aspects of well-being and existing disparities between European regions might facilitate the selection of issues and policy objectives to be met. Furthermore, and always as an adjunct to the methodologies used so far, it could also be applied to decisions on the allocation of funds. It is an issue that also feeds into our ideas about Europe's future. It is a choice that can help make cohesion policies more effective, with input from all the relevant institutions, including Eurostat and the local authorities more in touch than ever with Europe's people and places.