Green Deal: can the Commission actually fulfil its expensive promises?

11 December 2019

The “Green Deal” is the showpiece bar none of the new von der Leyen Commission. Today, the Commission explained its plans in the European Parliament. “There is a broad consensus on the need for a sustainable transformation and the great urgency of the climate challenges. What we need now is concrete, workable and affordable solutions. They will come from innovation, and the government must play a stimulating role in this regard,” says MEP Johan Van Overtveldt in an initial reaction. “But the numbers and the foundation are missing in the proposal.”

Innovation, climate and entrepreneurship

Van Overtveldt sees positive points in the proposal. “The Commission is proposing an integrated plan of approach, with a calendar. That is positive, because the fight against climate change does indeed require a global approach in which innovation, climate and entrepreneurship join forces. The emphasis must be on progressive thinking, clean technology and innovation. No doomsaying, but belief in our researchers and entrepreneurs. Also the choice for a more circular economy is logical, given that over half of CO2 emissions are linked to material use. In this regard we also see a great many opportunities for Flanders as a pioneer of the circular economy.”

Inland navigation and railways

“The focus on shifting transport towards inland navigation and the railway also shows the right emphasis and highlights the importance of the Seine-Scheldt project that connects Paris with Antwerp. Also, a breakthrough regarding the Iron Rhine that connects the port of Antwerp with the Ruhr Valley deserves the EU’s full support. Specifically, the EU must set greater store by cross-border, sustainable connections, namely the railway and inland navigation,” says N-VA delegation leader Geert Bourgeois.

Man with a plan (but one without numbers)

Nevertheless, the N-VA also sees serious holes in the plan. “What is currently missing is the numbers. Timmermans is a man with a plan, but we would like to see a plan with numbers and with a foundation, and also an assessment of the impact. The Commission thinks that it needs hundreds of billions of euros a year. Those are gigantic investments. All of this is a determining aspect for the new financial multiannual plan. A plan that brims with ambition, but which has no foundation and carries the risk of missing the goals and also losing the support of the European citizen.”

Paying via Transfers The money flows from Flanders to Brussels and Wallonia are called transfers. The transfers from the federal budget, the Financing Law and social security amount to between 6 and 7 billion euros per year, and 11 billion euros if debt repayments are included. The size of the transfers is always contested by the French-speaking side or they are just referred to as normal solidarity contributions. A study by Vives (KU Leuven) revealed that the transfers did not serve solidarity, but had a paralysing effect on the growth of both the Walloon and Flemish economies. transfers

The proposal of the “Fair Transition Fund”, which is intended to let regions that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels make the energy transition, has been postponed to January. “We support the principle of a fair transition, but it must not become a mechanism in which the support of the Eastern European member states is paid for via massive transfers,” Johan Van Overtveldt emphasises.

Plea for a sense of reality

At the same time, Johan Van Overtveldt is insisting on concrete, workable and affordable measures: “Just last week, a report by the European Environment Agency showed that there was an enormous gap between plans and achievements. Europe is putting forward a great many goals, but not achieving them. The von der Leyen Commission has sworn an expensive green oath, but risks not achieving the goals. We are therefore advocating that there should be an adequate sense of reality, monitoring and high-priority actions in those areas in which the EU makes the biggest difference also globally, in particular for new technologies such as hydrogen, battery storage and carbon as a raw material. In this regard, the EU can play a pioneering role and export to the rest of the world. We are saying yes to system change, but always within a framework of economic growth, market processes and with the necessary flexibility for the member states.”

Setting the right example ourselves

“Furthermore, we also see quick wins that the EU can do itself and right away, such as stopping the monthly decamping to Strasbourg. The European apparatus can and also must itself set the right example. Also, bringing about the unified European air space that can deliver a reduction in emissions of 6 to 10 percent is something we can do right away.”

Geopolitical impact

The N-VA delegation also thinks that the European Commission must not lose sight of the bigger picture. Geert Bourgeois: “Although the EU represents less than 10 percent of worldwide emissions, it can play a pioneering role. But if this ‘geopolitical’ Commission wants to have a greater impact, the EU must ensure that the other trade blocks also shoulder their responsibilities.”

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