Opinion

Von der Leyen’s Green Deal isn’t just a plan for the environment

Ursula von der Leyen's proposal of a European Green Deal is ambitious and urgent. Not only does it aim to reduce the continent's emissions, but it also has the potential to grow the EU's economy and transform the bloc's politics.

By: and Date: July 18, 2019 Topic: Energy & Climate

This week, as part of her impassioned pitch to MEPs, Ursula von der Leyen established climate change as the priority for her prospective European Commission, promising to deliver a European Green Deal –in her first 100 days–able to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. But can a deal be agreed? And what’s stopped Europe acting until now?

The deal is good for Europe, and for the world.

It is good for Europe because deep decarbonisation represents a historical occasion to modernise its economy, revitalise its industry and ensure long-term growth and jobs.

It is good for the world, because it shows that pursuing climate neutrality by 2050 is not only technically and economically possible, but also politically rewarding. And this is of paramount importance, as scientists have shown that achieving climate neutrality within that time frame is the only sensible way to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and therefore to protect the world from the more dramatic impacts of climate change.

Von der Leyen’s plan does not lack ambition. It already contains about 20 different policy proposals, spanning from the creation of a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, to the introduction of a carbon border tax as well as the partial transformation of the European Investment Bank into a climate bank and the adoption of a new industrial policy for Europe.

The Green Deal represents an unprecedented opportunity for Europe to move away from fragmented policymaking

If structured and implemented with pragmatism, a Green Deal has – due to its comprehensive nature – the potential to unleash Europe’s deep decarbonisation, and therefore to profoundly reshape the continent’s economy. Just look at the European industrial sector. In a climate neutral scenario, all industries built on burning fossil fuels will have to transform or vanish within three decades; this will affect the regions that generate a large share of wealth from these industries; and ultimately the people that work in these industries, live in these regions and consume these products. It is clear that only a comprehensive policy – encompassing climate, energy, environmental, industrial, economic and social aspects – could face such a challenge.

As the EU cannot act without the approval of national governments, the key challenge facing Brussels’ decarbonisation initiatives has traditionally been surviving the same member states’ crossed vetoes. Different countries have different interests in different areas and different blocking/weakening minorities have often emerged in different decarbonisation initiatives, further exacerbating the challenge. The comprehensive nature of a Green Deal can help overcoming this challenge, as it opens multiple fronts at the same time, providing wider scope for negotiation, and thus allowing member states to compensate eventual losses in certain fields with gains in others.

For example, the recent EU failure in adopting a 2050 climate neutrality target was due to the opposition of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland, which seek accompanying compensation packages to modernise their industrial sectors that were not even subject of discussion in that context. Had the discussion had been broader, the result might have been different.

The European Green Deal thus represents an unprecedented opportunity for Europe to move away from fragmented policymaking in the field, made up of stand-alone decarbonisation initiatives exposed to member states’ blocking/weakening minority. What follows could be a truly comprehensive and consistent policy framework capable of intelligently promoting deep decarbonisation by seizing the economic and industrial opportunities it offers, and by ensuring its social inclusiveness.

The EU has both the institutional and financial potential to make a European Green Deal work. What it needs is a strong sense of direction and an industrious pragmatism to pursue it, which is precisely what Von der Leyen promised in the European Parliament. Now she has to deliver, with audacity and determination. Should her project work, the Europe she leaves behind will be cleaner, richer and more functional than the one she inherited.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read article More by this author
 

Opinion

Why China should fear the EU's carbon border tax

Expect Beijing to soon start lobbying against the proposal.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: July 26, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

External Publication

A Safety Net for the Green Economy

How to protect workers hurt by the fight against climate change.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 20, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

The European Union’s carbon border mechanism and the WTO

To avoid any backlash, the European Union should work with other World Trade Organisation members to define basic principles of carbon border adjustment mechanisms.

By: André Sapir Topic: Energy & Climate, Global Economics & Governance Date: July 19, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Making sure green household investment pays off

Policies are needed to support green fuel switching by households; support should be phased out as the carbon price rises.

By: Ben McWilliams and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 19, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Sep
2
10:15

The role of the state in providing infrastructure for decarbonisation

Bruegel Annual Meetings, Day 2 - Who should be responsible for providing crucial infrastructure for decarbonisation and how should it be managed?

Speakers: Jean-Bernard Lévy, Diederik Samsom, Simone Tagliapietra, Laurence Tubiana and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Palais des Academies, Rue Ducale 1
Read about event
 

Upcoming Event

Sep
3
10:15

Sustainable finance

Bruegel Annual Meetings, Day 3 - In this session on the final day of the Meetings, our panelists will discuss the future of finance and its sustainability.

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Alberto De Paoli, Pierre Heilbronn and Alexandra Jour-Schroeder Topic: Energy & Climate, Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Palais des Académies, Rue Ducale 1, Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

A fitting plan for the European Green Deal?

How does the world's first roadmap for meeting climate goals stack up?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 15, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

External Publication

Building the Road to Greener Pastures

How the G20 can support the recovery with sustainable local infrastructure investment.

By: Mia Hoffmann, Ben McWilliams and Niclas Poitiers Topic: Global Economics & Governance, Testimonies Date: July 15, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

‘Fit-for-55’ package: Squaring the circle

The European Union finds itself at the centre of a three-dimensional puzzle. Burdens need to be shared between 450 million citizens, 25 million businesses and EU countries in a way that is acceptable to enough of them.

By: Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 15, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

Fit for 55 marks Europe’s climate moment of truth

With Fit for 55, Europe is the global first mover in turning a long-term net-zero goal into real-world policies, marking the entry of climate policy into the daily life of all citizens and businesses.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 14, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

The EU green bond standard: sensible implementation could define a new asset class

The proposed EU green bond standard will be less prone to ‘greenwashing’, and the widest possible set of issuers and jurisdictions should be encouraged to use the standard.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: July 13, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

A breakdown of EU countries’ post-pandemic green spending plans

An analysis of European Union countries’ recovery plans shows widely differing green spending priorities.

By: Klaas Lenaerts and Simone Tagliapietra Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 8, 2021
Load more posts