First glance

Procrastination not dismantlement now threatens the European Green Deal

The temptation to water-down the European Green Deal under pressure from the far-right must be avoided to keep the EU's green trajectory

Publishing date
11 June 2024
a picture of people protesting for climate in Brussels

In the run up to the 6-9 June European elections, there was much speculation about the future of the European Green Deal, the European Union’s overall plan for net-zero emissions by 2050. There were fears it could be dismantled in a scenario of surging far-right parties. But the surge didn’t happen: the pro-European centre has retained the majority of seats in the European Parliament, indicating that Europe is not going to reverse course on the green transition.

However, swings to the right in Germany and France, and President Macron’s decision, in response, to call snap parliamentary elections suggest unease among voters about climate policy that must be taken seriously. Two major risks for the European Green Deal can be identified.

The first is procrastination in the new European Parliament. With increased pressure from the right, the mainstream centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) might be tempted to push for postponements or watering-down some of the most controversial provisions of the Green Deal. This could be done by taking advantage of revision clauses in Green Deal laws, as for example with the ban on sales of new internal combustion engine cars from 2035.

This temptation must be avoided. Reopening files agreed after years of negotiations would disrupt confidence in Europe’s green trajectory, harming European industry and leading to postponed green investments. This would raise costs for those who already embarked on the transition, investing in clean tech, from energy-efficient industrial processes to electric cars, leaving them feeling betrayed. In other words, a credible climate policy framework is key to sustain private sector green investment in the coming years.

The second risk is inaction by national governments. As the Green Deal moves into its implementation phase after five years of policy design and law-making, getting things done at national level is what will really make or break Europe’s green ambitions. In the next five years, decarbonisation will have to accelerate sharply if the EU is to meet its climate goals. More is needed at national level to decarbonise sectors such as buildings and transport, via which climate policy enters the daily lives of citizens. Germany, France, Italy and other large countries are expected to do the heavy lifting, but what if their governments do not deliver? The reality is that the EU has limited tools to push governments to act. 

To head off this crucial risk, an EU green investment strategy should now be launched as a matter or urgency. This could entail different measures, including making a better use of the EU budget, providing greater firepower to the European Investment Bank for financing the green transition, and establishing a new EU Green Fund to be funded by new EU joint debt. The latter would be fully justified as it would be about one-off financing for a transition that is extraordinary, temporary and beneficial for future generations.

The radical Green Deal transformation raises tough questions about who will pay. If those costs end up falling disproportionately on ordinary workers – let alone the poorest and most vulnerable communities – the transformation will worsen inequality and become socially and politically unviable. That is not an option.

Fortunately, properly designed climate policies can prevent that outcome and instead lead to greater social equality. The Green Deal already encompasses the Just Transition Fund and the new Social Climate Fund, and thus has an excellent basis for a new green social contract. The EU should now streamline and simplify funding instruments to deliver even more decisive support for the most vulnerable, and also for the middle class, who need support to take up green alternatives, from electric vehicles to green home-heating systems.

The EU must also turn decarbonisation into a real economic opportunity by developing a solid green industrial policy. This will require, first and foremost, revitalising the ‘boring' single-market agenda to leverage the EU’s huge shared market for goods, financial services, energy, workers and ideas to incentivise new clean-tech investment. Interventions in specific technologies will also be needed.

For this, rather than mimicking the subsidies of the US Inflation Reduction Act, the EU should give targeted support in areas where it already has a solid comparative advantage. While some incumbent industries might need support as they decarbonise, supporting breakthrough innovation should be the primary goal. Green industrialisation has not been at the core of the first phase of the Green Deal. It must now be put at the forefront.

The European elections must thus mark a new beginning for the Green Deal, rather than its disassembly. Decarbonisation is the only route for Europe to resilience and competitiveness. The new European Parliament has the responsibility to keep moving, and must avoid futile diversions.

About the authors

  • Simone Tagliapietra

    Simone Tagliapietra is a Senior fellow at Bruegel. He is also a Professor of EU Energy and Climate Policy at The Johns Hopkins University - School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Europe.

    His research focuses on the EU climate and energy policy and on the political economy of global decarbonisation. With a record of numerous policy and scientific publications, also in leading journals such as Nature and Science, he is the author of Global Energy Fundamentals (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and co-author of The Macroeconomics of Decarbonisation (Cambridge University Press, 2024).

    His columns and policy work are widely published and cited in leading international media such as the BBC, CNN, Financial Times, The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Corriere della Sera, Le Monde, El Pais, and several others.

    Simone also is a Member of the Board of Directors of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). He holds a PhD in Institutions and Policies from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Born in the Dolomites in 1988, he speaks Italian, English and French.

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