In a recent open letter to President Santer and Mrs. Bjerregaard, Commissioner responsible for the environment, the General Consultative Forum on the Environment set out the principles for sustainable development against which it believes EU policies and initiatives should be tested. The main purpose of the General Consultative Forum on the Environment, which was set up by a Commission Decision in December 1992, is to assist the Commission in implementing the Fifth Action Programme on the Environment by providing advice and views on key strategic issues relating to environment and sustainable policy issues, and on sustainable development itself. The principles address a wide variety of issues ranging from the global agenda, limits to traditional growth patterns, equity and cost internalization, shared responsibility, and the challenges ahead. They establish a framework to test the sustainability of existing and new policies, the evaluation of progress towards goals set out in the Fifth Action Programme as well as a basis for the Forum's ongoing work. The 12 principles are: - Sustainable development cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the world. Policies for trade, economic and social development aid and environmental protection should be considered in the context of the international implications for both Europe and developing countries; - Policies and patterns of development, production and consumption should recognize the population issue, in Europe as well as the rest of the world, and move towards being sustainable in the light of the projections for growth in population worldwide; - The integrity of natural systems - soil, water, air and biological diversity - should be preserved, and where possible, restored; - Economic and social development should respect the physical limits that exist for resource use and regeneration; - The benefits and burdens of policies should be shared equitably by all segments of society. Where serious inequalities are unavoidable, some form of compensation should be considered; - Policies should have clear objectives and be based on detailed assessment of the issues and related risks, assessment of the impact, sound science and sensible balance between costs and benefits leading to full internalization of all costs; - Economic and social development, environmental protection and social equity are interdependent and all policies should be tested for their impact on each area and not considered in isolation; - Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing precautionary, "no regrets" measures which are cost effective and which have merits in their own right; - Decisions affecting sustainable development are a shared responsibility. They should be open and based on informed participation by affected and interested parties. A personal sense of responsibility and involvement should be promoted amongst all sectors of society. This requires a knowledgeable public, a free flow of information and fair and equitable opportunities for review and redress; - In addition to appropriate regulatory measures, a mix of market-based instruments, including fiscal and economic incentives and a flexible approach should be used to harness private energies and capital to promote sustainable development. The contribution which individuals and society as a whole can make on a voluntary basis should be encouraged; - A willingness to experiment.Accepted practices should be introduced on a phased basis, to minimize the inequalities between winners and losers; - The central challenge for Europe will be to maintain international competitiveness during the transition towards a more environment-friendly and sustainable economy.