When the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced the European Green Deal last year, she said it was the biggest challenge for an entire generation. The unprecedented investment plan was supposed to have been immune to economic fluctuations, but nobody could have predicted the extent to which our lives would be impacted by the coronavirus. Is it still possible to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent? – asks Michał Perzyński, editor at BiznesAlert.pl.
European Green Deal vs. reality
The decision to shoulder such a huge responsibility as achieving climate neutrality by 2050 was made not only to fulfill the provisions of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which said the global temperature growth should be limited by 1.5 degrees Celsius in comparison to the pre-industrial era, but also to put pressure on other world economies, including the United States, China and Russia to follow in Europe’s footsteps.
However, life takes unexpected turns and in this case it did with the coronavirus outbreak, which probably poses the biggest threat to the public health system in generations. This development obviously poses a risk of a serious global recession. EU diplomats quoted by the German Handelsblatt admit that the situation today is upside down and currently Brussels’ goal is to save as many people as possible and then fight the recession and then “everything else”. The “everything else” makes you wonder.
This way of thinking wasn’t left unnoticed by Eurosceptics. The Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš called on the EU to give up on the European Green Deal and focus only on fighting the coronavirus and the recession, representatives of the Polish government expressed the same opinion. Janusz Kowalski, the Deputy Minister of State Assets, said in an interview with BiznesAlert.pl that the European Emissions Trading System should be reformed or shut down and that the Green Deal should be forgotten, “we should forget about Frans Timmermans’s ideological plan to step up climate targets by 2030. Europe will start to forget about the green deal understood as a gigantic regulatory and ideological European idea for pursuing a climate policy that will become a burden on the economy. Coronavirus will eliminate this way of thinking because there will be no money to fund this. Today it is the citizens and the businesses who need the money to handle the impact of the pandemic.”
In a similar vein, Michał Woś, Poland’s Minister of the Environment, said on the Polish Radio “I call on the European Union – the Green Deal cannot be adopted, especially in the first half of this year. This is simply impossible because of the crisis that we will be shortly facing. The people will expect the economy to go back to normal and in this corset, with such strict frameworks and with these propositions that the EC is trying to implement through the Green Deal, it is simply impossible. Many European leaders are already acknowledging this (…).”
Declarations vs. documents
The conclusions of the latest meeting of the European Council had a slightly different tone. The meet-up was remote because of the virus. The leaders of the 27 EU member states, including Poland, agreed that while indeed the coronavirus is currently the Union’s most pressing challenge, the reconstruction of the European economy should be based on very specific rules:
“The urgency is presently on fighting the Coronavirus pandemic and its immediate consequences. We should however start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and economies and to sustainable growth, integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis. This will require a coordinated exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment. We invite the President of the Commission and the President of the European Council, in consultation with other institutions, especially the ECB, to start work on a Roadmap accompanied by an Action Plan to this end,” said the joint statement of the members of the European Council. In EU lingo “the green transition and the digital transformation” means the European Green Deal.
Poland’s signature under such a statement may be slightly embarrassing to some members of the current administration, but even those who keep supporting the EU project are not deluding themselves that it will be implemented without any changes despite the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus in Europe’s economy. Markus Pieper (CDU/EPL), German member of the European Parliament, admitted to Handelsblatt that due to the cost of the pandemic, the European Union won’t be able to introduce e-mobility in line with the original plan.
However, the proponents of the European Green Deal do not believe it is a burden on the economy, rather they claim it’s a solution that will alleviate the approaching economic crisis. According to them, investments in climate policy act as a stability anchor which the EU has been getting ready to adopt for years by introducing regulations and commitments, such as the so-called climate regulations whose goal is to make the 2050 climate neutrality aim irreversible, so that investors from the private sector are confident about it. In an interview with BiznesAlert.pl, German MEP Jutta Paulus (Greens/EFA) said that “Here and there voices are being raised which question the European Green Deal in view of the looming recession. This is a fallacy because it is precisely because of the recession that we need the Green Deal. We need to make our economy fit for the future, and the Green Deal is the only way to do this. We need to invest more in climate protection, especially in renewable energy, in building renovation, in modernizing industry and in circular economy. This is where our opportunities for economic recovery and for employment lie”.
Nobody expects the representatives of the ruling coalition in Poland to make public statements in a similar vein to MEPs from CDU or Germany’s Greens Party. However, the differences between the politicians quoted above and the Minister of Climate Michał Kurtyka, who in a recent letter to the European Commission asked for help to develop Poland’s renewable energy sources instead of abandoning the Green Deal, are visible to the naked eye. He proposed to introduce proper corrective measures, such as ad hoc mechanisms, whose goal would be to secure the ongoing investments in the energy sector against the negative impact of the coronavirus, additional protective measures and incentives to develop the European chain of supply, providing necessary components to projects required for transforming the energy sector and introducing instruments that would facilitate further integration of renewable energy sources, such as energy storage, to improve the integration of the European energy system. These specific propositions have nothing to do with the calls to “forget about the European Green Deal.”
So how did this gap between official political documents, which include Poland’s signature and say that the economy will be saved without neglecting the European Green Deal, and the calls of representatives of the same administration who argue the deal should be “forgotten about” emerge? Probably this is because of the widely reported frictions within the ruling coalition. However, these internal issues do not impact the European strategy to fight against the coronavirus and its economic impact, especially that this time Poland decided not to engage in yet another international dispute. Thus, it looks like in the foreseeable future we may actually be sure about the fate of the European Green Deal, to which the Executive Vice President of the EC is trying to convince us on Twitter by saying “But when the better days come – and they will – we will be more determined than ever to protect our people and planet and enjoy the nature around us.”