Europe: reconciling the Green Deal and social justice

More than half of the package of 75 legislative measures remains to be negotiated. Economic uncertainties and the fear of protests will weigh heavily, but it would be irresponsible to lose sight of the vital issue: the fight against global warming.

Will the anti-ecology wind blowing across the European political landscape get the better of the European Commission’s climate ambitions? The question is legitimate in the face of growing criticism of the Brussels Green Deal, one year before the elections to the European Parliament.

The State of the Union address delivered by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (September 13) reflected the impact of this dynamic. A package of seventy-five legislative measures presented since 2019 to prepare the European Union for carbon neutrality in 2050, the Green Deal is the totem of the mandate of the Commission chaired by Ms. von der Leyen. She made it a priority.

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But as the effects of the war in Ukraine and inflation were felt on member states’ economies, pressure from their leaders and some political parties, including the Commission president’s own family , the conservative group of the European People’s Party (EPP), has stepped up to reduce the scope of this legislative package.

Calls for a climate policy that better takes into account the concerns of SMEs and citizens are increasing. The German Finance Minister, the liberal Christian Lindner, described Tuesday, in an interview with Politico, as “extremely dangerous” the European plan for compulsory thermal renovation of housing, because it risks threatening “social peace”.

The “yellow vest” movement in France in 2019 showed the volatility of opinion in the face of measures to combat climate change that directly affect household living standards. Other political developments since then in Europe have confirmed that this is an underlying trend.

In the Netherlands, the meteoric rise of the Farmer-Citizen Movement (the BBB party) was based on farmers’ resistance to the government’s “nitrogen plan”, a project aimed at reducing toxic emissions from the agricultural sector and severely limiting the livestock. Starting from nowhere, the BBB managed to destabilize the Dutch political landscape. In France, anti-environmentalism has become one of the characteristics of the National Rally.

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Obviously, Ursula von der Leyen, who is believed to intend to obtain a second mandate, has not remained deaf to these warnings. She recognized the “increasing effect” of climate demands on “farmers’ work and income,” pledged to “protect industry,” ease administrative requirements, and gave in to France’s demand for open an investigation into Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles exported en masse to Europe. The initiative could pave the way for anti-dumping duties; it illustrates the pressure exerted on the Commission, which must reconcile the pursuit of an ambitious climate agenda while preserving the interests and competitiveness of European industry.

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More than half of the Green Deal measures remain to be negotiated. Economic uncertainties and the fear of protest from far-right movements will obviously weigh. However, it would be irresponsible to lose sight of the vital issue of these measures, that of the fight against global warming whose visible effects are increasingly violent. Succeeding in combining environmental imperatives and social justice must remain the major challenge for the Commission and the governments of the Member States.

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