“Europe’s Man on the Moon Moment” – The European Green Deal
The spring of 2019 brought an unexpected turn into European Politics. As it seems the public of Europe have finally understood they cannot procrastinate further to take responsibility for their own future. This ambition reflects not just in the body of the new European Parliament but in the direction of the new European Commission as well. This represents the signs of the new times and has made green ideas as the new mainstream of European Politics.
The Commission’s proposal named the European Green Deal was born in the spirit of these ideas and was introduced to the European Parliament by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen last December. This proposal is a roadmap divided into 10 chapters that outline a growth strategy for the EU through 47 different actions and its final goal is to make the EU climate neutral by 2050.
The core strategy is to launch environmentally friendly modernization programmes through investments that wouldn’t only make European economic development sustainable, but it would instigate others to renew their economies as well. Until 2030, this comprehensive strategy would reform all sectors of the EU’s economy – among others, affect both of the energy and the industrial sectors, the reform of transport and housing, circular economy and catering, the necessity of toxic-free environment preserving biodiversity, and the current challenges of the research and innovation sectors as well as commerce and competitiveness.
With the Green Deal EU finally has a strategy that could give a new run not just for her economy, but for the whole integration itself. This very ambitious programme would launch a multiplication effect. It could create not just new workplaces but it could also rev up the research and innovation sector, as well as produce competitive products that would be highly demanded both in internal and external markets as well. This turn is also a geopolitical interest of the Integration, because through this process, at the end of 2050, the EU, which is always in short supply in oil and gas, would not be dependent on external contractors anymore.
Besides environmental protection, the Green Deal could protect European products as well because of the newly introduced taxes that are willing to penalize imports from countries with looser emissions controls. As its aim is not discriminating directly foreign products but protecting the environment, that could inspire other regions as well to modernize their systems in order to make their products environmentally-friendly. It could also give the moral high ground for the EU to represent its Green Diplomacy in different international stages (such as UN, G7, and G20) and in her neighbouring regions (Balkan and Africa) authentically in order to lead others’ future transitions.
It demonstrates the resolve of the Commission that within 100 days, by March of 2020 they want to present a proposal that would enshrine the 2050 target date of the climate neutrality into law. Besides this, the Commission is ready to draft a realistic schedule about the steps by 2050 and if it is essential, to aggravate the previous 2030’s emission goals from 40% to the necessary 50-55% of the 1990’s carbon level. Further plans also contain the launch of the European Climate Pact that would allow residents, decision-makers, and other actors to participate in the process of drafting new actions within a frame of a 2 years debate series.
However, to achieve the desired aims by 2030 and 2050 it is essential to establish the financial background of funding. In light of the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan – which is the foundation of all these aspirations – 25% of the EU’s long term budget has to be spent on climate objectives. Future contributions will be provided by the European Investment Bank that will technically be transformed into Europe’s climate bank and thus terminates the finance of those projects which are based on fossil fuel energy. These resources are essentials, as 260 billion euros worth of extra investment will be required only for reaching the 2030 goals, not to mention that according to the framework of the Just Transition Mechanism, those regions that are dependent from the most carbon-intensive industrial sectors will be subsidized with 100 billion euros within the next 7 years. That means support and requalification programmes for new job opportunities to those citizens who will be most affected by the negative consequences of the transition. This is wished to be covered through the European Investment Bank and the European Regional Development Fund, as well as by the subsidies of the European Social Fund Plus, together with the involvement of market operators and Member States’ contributions, so only 6-8 billion euros have to be added by the general budget of the EU.
Although most people welcomed that the EU has finally become aware of the necessity of acting, the initiative received many critiques as well. According to environmental protectionists and climate activists, the Green Deal is not ambitious enough. From their point of view, in order to avoid 2 degrees Celsius increase of temperature, carbon emissions must be reduced to a minimum of 65% instead of 55% by 2030. Moreover, they argue that the Commission’s initiative does not contain any concrete proposals except its roadmap. In addition, the EU would afford 25% of its resources for climate protection in vain, if the other 75% would be spent on financing those kinds of projects that will contribute to the further increase of temperature. They expressed their concerns about whether these subsidies would really be received by those who truly need them – of course in terms if anything would finally come true about the package of proposals, and would not lose its essence on its way through the bureaucratic labyrinths of the EU legislative process.
At the same time, the President of the Federation of German Industries Dieter Kempf, and both the representatives of the leading European airlines and many agricultural holdings also stood firmly against the Green Deal but led by directly the opposite interests as environmentalists. To them, the initiative is too ambitious and it would deter long term investments by causing very serious socio-economic consequences. Such rapid and unilateral restructurings would eliminate internal combustion engines, whose consequences would crush both the German car industry and its subcontractors as well-argued Volkmar Denner, Chairman of the Bosch Group’s Board of Management.
The initiative also evoked the protests of those Member States whose products are deeply rooted in carbon applications such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Estonia. Finally, after long and hard negotiations, with the exception of Poland (although the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, didn’t vote in favour of the Green Deal in the European Council, finally he didn’t vote against it as well.) The above-mentioned Member States also voted for the Green Deal in exchange for the 100 billion euros compensation and for taking into consideration the possibility of ensuring more transfers for these Member States from the following budgetary cycle. Considering Brexit has brought both the reduction of the cohesion funds and also the increase of the expenditures, the acquisition of these resources is one of the most important political priorities for these Member States.
Green Deal + New Deal = Green New Deal?
Of course, the EU is not the only actor who has understood that they cannot wait longer for taking serious steps towards the climate issue. We can witness the appearance of similar tendencies also in the United States, where the politicians of the Democratic Party are experimenting with similar plans, called the Green New Deal. But the main difference between these conceptions is simply that the European Green Deal can be achieved, while the American ones cannot.
Although both initiatives have in common the desire to keep the global temperature under a 1,5 degrees Celsius increase, the American versions want to achieve carbon neutrality in the USA immediately in the following 10 years, which is basically impracticable. Their European equivalent plans to achieve this goal for 30 years, through lesser but firmer steps, continuously switching to the new, environmentally friendly technologies. The weakness of the US’s conceptions is that they are focusing much more on finance and contain many other dividing issues that are not connected deeply to climate change – this is the reason their rival, the Republican Party, would immediately brush off these initiatives. On the other hand, the success of the European Green Deal is rooted in the fact that although it outlines a comprehensive growth strategy that has effects on every sector of the economy, it can put its focus on the question of climate and introduce an action plan that is attached to concrete dates.
It also makes a significant difference between these ideas, as according to the American plans the energy mix of 2030 can only be covered by renewable energy resources. In the European initiative, after harsh debates, Member States finally concluded that they could choose their own energy mix freely (including nuclear energy) not to mention the serious compensation of those who would be affected negatively by the transition. Besides the European societies’ undisputedly greater awareness regarding the climate issues, this much more flexible leeway and inclusivity provided to stakeholders is one of the main reason that the European conception could win the support of her Member States, institutions, parties, and even its greatest private firms, which represents a serious achievement even on its own.
All in all, the main argument in favour of the European Green Deal is that it can maintain the growth of the economy while preserving nature. Through the successful decarbonisation of the world’s second-largest economy, it could not just provide an example to others, but it also makes the switch to environmentally friendly technologies much cheaper for them. Although the EU is responsible for “only” 10% of the global emission of harmful air pollutants, the Green Deal seems like a “little step” from the global view. But if the Green Deal launches, and its example will be followed by others, there is a chance that this “little step” will be considered one day as one giant leap in the History of Mankind.
The author of this article was András Mikó, International Relations Content Creator and post-graduate student at the Corvinus University of Budapest.
This article was originally published at timesinternational.net.