On 11 December 2019, as the EU Commission went live with its announcement of the long-awaited (and heavily leaked) European Green Deal, the entire Brussels bubble braced for an intense five-years of advocacy, grand political statements and behind-the-scenes bickering.
The Green Deal is ambitious, comprehensive and – it seems – a genuine leap forward in terms of putting words into action. But is it realistic? Here are three stumbling blocks which policy-makers will need to overcome:
Last week, three major pieces of legislation promised for the Von der Leyen Commission’s first 100 days in office were delayed – the Climate Law pushed to 4 March, while the Circular Economy Action Plan and Industrial Strategy were both pushed to 10 March. With more than 30 proposals due between now and summer 2021, Commission services will have to pull off a quasi-miracle to get everything ready on time (this despite having a head start on several files that have been under evaluation for a while already – e.g. the Waste Shipment Regulation and Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive). Two main issues will arise: on the one hand, the Commission should (in theory) follow Better Regulation due diligence and carry out impact assessments and stakeholder consultations before proposing anything new. This full process usually takes around 2 years to complete – so we are already looking at a restricted timeline. On the other hand, the European Parliament (EP)’s environment committee chair, Pascal Canfin, has stated that ‘the EP will not accept any delay’ in the Commission’s proposed timeline (and the Commission is already running late).
One quick-fix for the Commission to address the timing issue would be to ensure that the revisions are very limited in scope – this is already planned. However, no matter how limited the Commission’s proposal will be, nothing prevents the EP or EU Council from proposing amendments to other articles (not covered in the Commission’s revision proposal). This has happened in the past. For stakeholders, this is a golden opportunity to address any shortcomings of, for instance, the recently adopted Renewable Energy Directive or CO2 for cars Regulation. For policy-makers, this means yet further delays in the adoption of all these files.
Money, money, money
The question of how to finance the sustainable transition is not new. We have seen a lot of movement these past years on sustainable finance, rebranding the European Investment Bank to the EU’s ‘climate bank’, increasing the EU’s budget allocation for climate and of course, the recently launched Just Transition Mechanism and its associated fund. However, money may be the determining factor for whether any deal is reached at all. As a blatant (and classic) example, Poland in December abstained from signing up to the bloc’s 2050 climate-neutrality objective, judging that it was safer to reach net zero “at its own pace”. Fair enough – but since the whole leitmotiv of the Green Deal is committing to legally binding targets across all sectors, this raises the question of whether Poland will accept any deal at all. The Poles’ skill in building coalitions and negotiating compromises will be put to the test to achieve a blocking minority in Council (most files being under Qualified Majority Voting). However, the Poles have also been very clear that additional EU funding for their transitioning industries can go a long way to increasing the country’s leniency to commit to targets. The question is, how much money is the EU prepared – or able – to cough up?
The institutions have a tough road ahead: the Commission is racing against the clock to get all its proposals out on time, the EP flexing its muscles in anticipation of showing just how green it has become, and the EU Council grappling to find consensus among champion and laggard Member States. Reaching an ambitious and comprehensive Green Deal with all parties on board will be no small feat. But policy has to try to push the needle forward if Europe really does want to become the world’s first climate neutral continent.
Qui ne tente rien n’a rien.