Sustainability discourses and narratives in the European Union

Open for submissions 1st September 2024

Rationale, research questions and status

The European Union (EU) has been an advocate of sustainability goals for many decades, reaching relative success in protecting and preserving natural habitats, reducing greenhouse gases, and promoting renewable energies. Launched in 2019, the European Green Deal (EGD) is the last in a long list of EU flagship initiatives, in alignment with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Its progress, however, has been put under threat by the economic hardship created by the Covid19 pandemic first and, more recently, by the breakdown of energy and food supply chains caused by the war in Ukraine. The combination of the two created a cost-of-living crisis across EU Member States and worldwide.

In such context, calls have been made to abandon environmental targets and relax environmental rules (for instance, in the Common Agricultural Policy), to better address and focus on immediate economic needs. This crisis significantly challenges the commitment of the EU and its institutions towards a more sustainable, low carbon future. Equally, the crisis cast doubts about the meaning and understanding of sustainable development and sustainability transitions across EU Member States’ institutions, actors, and policies.

The existing literature on sustainability and sustainable development is somehow polarised in its answer to the above proposed questions, although attention to specific institutions and institutional contexts remain somehow under-researched. The response to the Covid19 pandemic has been to advance EU climate policy instead of setting it aside (Dupont, Oberthür and von Homeyer, 2020). As such, the EGD can be perceived as a paradigm shift about environmental sustainability, as well as a transformative policy change, spurring policy innovation (Schunz, 2022; Kreienkamp et al., 2022). Likewise, the sustainability discourse has been used to endorse the political and institutional power of the EU Commission (Eckert and Kovalevska, 2021), and commitments to sustainable policies and practices have been influenced by different level of economic integration across the EU, which in turn can affect the efficacy of individual EU Member States in delivering sustainability towards their own institutions (Camilleri, 2015; Bruszt and Camps, 2019). Some recent studies question the efficacy of the monitoring schemes used by the EGD (Schoenfeld, 2021); while others present the EGD as a building block for a European economic model that is sustainable beyond an exit strategy from the pandemic, hence prioritising an economic trajectory (Bongardt and Torres, 2022). Moreover, the EGD can represent a potential complement to an already ‘thickened’ climate governance, but may lose effectiveness in terms of putting into practice major policy initiatives (Oberthür and von Homeyer, 2023), with possibly negative implications for transition economies (Wanchek, 2009).

This special issue seeks to explore and examine current plans, actions, and practices about different elements of sustainability to further knowledge and debates about likely future sustainability pathways among EU institutions. The issue addresses the following research questions: How is sustainable development perceived, interpreted, and understood across the EU institutions and individual Member States? Does the EU follow a weak or strong sustainability approach? Is any of the three pillars of sustainability - economic, social and environmental – predominant in the sustainability narrative among EU institutions, or do they all enjoy a balanced consideration in view of institutional approaches as well as policymaking? And, can the recent crises effectively derail the sustainability commitment of the EU and its associated accountability issues, or can they provide an opportunity for their reinforcement?

The Guest Editors aims at attracting contributions addressing these research questions and related debates through a multidisciplinary approach (e.g. EU Politics and Organisations, EU International Relations, Economics and Management, Law, Environmental Sciences). The objective is to increase the participation of scholars from all disciplines and schools of thought in view of advancing knowledge about multiple sustainability features in real world economic institutions and organisations.



The proposed special issue seeks contributions from academics, researchers, and practitioners at different stages of their careers and from different geographical areas. Submissions can include theoretical and empirical studies, using quantitative and qualitative methods, conceptual papers or literature reviews that advance the knowledge related to sustainability themes, issues, narratives, and debates within the EU, across its member states and institutions, and beyond. Research questions and topics investigated could address, but are not limited to, the following aspects:


  • Sustainability: mapping narratives and discourses in the EU.
  • Addressing Sustainable Development Goals within the EU and across individual member states.
  • The European Green Deal and its impact on EU policies, industries, and businesses.
  • Impact of EU sustainable policies, regulation, and practices within and outside the EU.
  • Examining EU political debates, policies and practices aimed at achieving sustainable development.
  • Understanding and measuring sustainability in the EU.
  • The relationship between sustainability and energy in the European continent.
  • Sustainability, safety, and security in time of crisis.


Submission and review process

Submissions open: September 1st, 2024

Submissions close: October 31st, 2024

Potential authors and contributors are invited to submit their manuscripts for the special issue; all submissions received will be processed by the Guest Editors on behalf of the journal and subject to the referee process. All submissions should be made through the journal's ScholarOne system: Submissions must adhere to the format and style guidelines of the Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, details of which can be found at



Bongardt, A. & Torres, F. (2022) The European Green Deal: More than an Exit Strategy to the Pandemic Crisis, a Building Block of a Sustainable European Economic Model, Journal of Common Market Studies, 60 (1), 170-185, DOI: 10.1111/jcms.13264

Bruszt, L. & Campos, N.F. (2019) Economic integration and state capacity, Journal of Institutional Economics, 15(3), 449-468

Camilleri, M.A. (2015), "Environmental, social and governance disclosures in Europe", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 6(2), 224-242.

Dupont, C., Oberthür, S. & von Homeyer, I. (2020) The Covid-19 crisis: a critical juncture for EU climate policy development? Journal of European Integration, 42 (8), 1095-1110, DOI: 10.1080/07036337.2020.1853117

Eckert, E. & Kovalevska, O. (2021) Sustainability in the European Union: Analyzing the Discourse of the European Green Deal, Journal of Risk and Financial Management, 14:80,

Kreienkamp, J., Pegram, T. & Coen, D. (2022) Explaining transformative change in EU climate policy: multilevel problems, policies, and politics, Journal of European Integration, 44 (5), 731-748, DOI: 10.1080/07036337.2022.2072838

Oberthür, S. & von Homeyer, I. (2023) From emissions trading to the European Green Deal: the evolution of the climate policy mix and climate policy integration in the EU, Journal of European Public Policy, 30 (3), 445-468, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2022.2120528

Schoenfeld, J. J. (2021). The European Green Deal: What prospects for governing climate change with policy monitoring? Politics and Governance, 9 (3), 370–379.

Schunz, S. (2022) The ‘European Green Deal’ – a paradigm shift? Transformations in the European Union’s sustainability meta-discourse, Political Research Exchange, 4 (1), 2085121, DOI: 10.1080/2474736X.2022.2085121

Wanchek, T. (2009) Exports and legal institutions: exploring the connection in transition economies. Journal of Institutional Economics, 5 (1), 89-115