Johanna Lehne / Oct 2019
Frans Timmermans, European Commission Vice-President designate for the European Green Deal. Photo: Shutterstock
Adopting a European Green Deal is the new Commission’s best chance to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 if the deal covers the whole government and goes beyond the typical environment and climate policies.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President-elect, wants Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. She has promised to adopt a set of far-reaching measures under a European Green Deal within her first 100 days in office to deliver that goal. The European Green Deal should mean moving away from fine-tuning isolated climate policies, and adopting a mission-oriented, comprehensive and consistent policy framework. But why do we need a whole-of-government approach? And what does it look like in practice?
Climate change is an all-encompassing issue. All sectors of the economy contribute to the problem and all sectors are affected, from harvest failures and flooded ports to damaged industrial infrastructure and productivity losses from heatwaves. Meeting this challenge will require a plan for the economy as a whole.
The Juncker Commission’s push for an Energy Union was the first step in the right direction. The Energy Union strengthened the link between European climate and energy policies. The Commission actively promoted a better integration of these policies by requesting joint planning.
The European Green Deal will have to be the Energy Union on steroids. Executive VP Frans Timmermans should request that all economic sectors, Directorate-Generals and domestic and external policies significantly contribute to cutting emissions, shifting funding flows and increasing resilience.
The first step is to improve the governance structure. For instance, most of the European budget is spent in member states and used as an investment budget. A fifth of the current budget (and possibly a quarter from 2021) must be invested in climate-related activities. The European Court of Auditors has however advised that the methodology used to track spending must be improved. All European policies are going to require better systems for monitoring their effectiveness and the degree to which they contribute to delivering climate-neutrality. One remedy could be to create a Clean Economy Observatory to ensure all EU policies align with this overarching goal. Mr. Timmermans, how will you guarantee that every policy is scrutinised against the climate-neutrality goal?
The second step is to think through the politics. Transitioning to a zero-carbon economy will have profound impacts across manufacturing and services sectors throughout the EU, for the people who work in these sectors and the people who consume these products and services. Not least because this will be key to getting a broader coalition - both across society and across member states - behind climate ambition. Bundling climate policy with existing policy priorities in other sectors and highlighting co-benefits, e.g. the enormous health gains from electrified transportation, provides the EU with a way of managing the political risk of speeding up the climate-neutral transition. Bringing together different policy domains offers a wider scope for negotiation with member states on how to achieve that transition. Mr. Timmermans, how will you manage the transition for all Europeans?
The third step is to collaborate. President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has constructed an elaborate system of overlapping briefs with clusters of departments working on overarching priorities. One difficulty with a cross-cutting approach is that no one feels that they truly own it. In this case, Frans Timmermans is ‘the architect’ of the European Green Deal. But his co-Executive VPs, Vestager and Dombrovskis should also feel responsible for delivering the European Green Deal. It is not obvious how this will work as the currently proposed structure might lead to the creation of three competing “policy empires” led by dynamic figures. Mr. Timmermans, how will you work with your colleagues to align their portfolios with the European Green Deal?
The European Green Deal has the potential to be a powerful political project. However, if the Commission does not revise its way of working, it might just end up being a fancy name for business as usual.