IEEP’s 3 takeaways from the “Building a Paris-compatible future for the European Union” debate

Author: Kamila Paquel

The Future of Europe is everyone’s business and so is the impact of climate action over the decades to come.

When discussing its future set up, the EU has to make sure it is able to tackle the biggest and longest-lasting policy challenge it faces. Instead of a theoretical binary debate about more or less Europe, it is time to ask what sort of Europe can achieve long-term decarbonisation, in line with the goals of the Paris agreement. IEEP, E3G and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation have recently joined forces to make sure climate policy gets THE attention it deserves as part of the Future of Europe debate launched by the Commission. 

The 2016 vote on Brexit by the UK citizens added to the questions about the EU’s identity and legitimacy. In 2015 the Paris Agreement displayed the EU’s leadership in global climate action. Both events triggered discussions about the future of EU, and the future of its climate policy. These questions have been addressed by IEEP and E3G in a new paper “The Future of Europe and the Future of Climate Action”, which makes the following recommendations:

  • Establish climate as a common objective and set a collective long-term goal 
  • Enhance the EU’s international influence on climate 
  • Integrate a social dimension into climate policy – and integrate climate further into regional development policy 
  • Integrate climate more directly with finance 
  • Manage climate risks 
  • Empower cities and non-state actors, and harness their commitment to drive deeper EU-wide decarbonisation 
  • Reform the EU budget 
  • Recast the role of the EU as accelerating, and managing, the transition 

The key findings from the paper were a starting point to a lively panel discussion at the European Parliament, featuring Elina Bardram, from the European Commission (DG CLIMA);  Marcin Korolec from the Baltic Development Forum, former Polish Secretary of State for Climate; Monica Frassoni, from the EU Alliance for Saving Energy (EU-ASE); Benedek Jávor, MEP, Greens/EFA; and hosted by Seb Dance, MEP S&D.

Here are our three takeaways from the debate:

  1. Many of the doubts cast on the legitimacy of EU efforts to drive ambitious policies at national level can be addressed by more emphasis on the EU’s democratic decision-making and by measures to enhance trust. Two examples of how to strengthen the democratic dimension of the EU are: better involvement of EU’s regions in the EU policy making, and more support to civil society in the Member States to make sure its views can influence policy at EU and national level. Member States’ trust in multilateral policy making could be encouraged by (i) conciliating national interests through bilateral discussions, and (ii) facilitating multilateral agreements, (iii) managing the EU policy cycle so that all can be involved and (iv) helping to make sure that no one is “left behind” by assisting those in difficult transition towards the common objectives. This last point also links to our second takeaway.

    “Climate policy will occupy us in everything we do, for a long time; so EU institutions need to change. Taking decisions in European Council by unanimity won’t work; Commission needs to be less focused on the Member States as interlocutor and the European Parliament needs to fully co-decide all aspects of EU decision making.” – Monica Frassoni, EU Alliance for Saving Energy (EU-ASE).
  2. To stand up to its multiple challenges, EU’s climate policy should better address its social dimension. The low-carbon transition is one among a range of challenges affecting the European economy, such as automation, digitalisation, and globalisation. All of these affect the quality and distribution of jobs in the EU. Whilst the low-carbon transition creates opportunities for employment in new sectors, and for regions and companies to occupy new economic niches, some carbon intensive jobs will be lost; and the costs and benefits of decarbonisation policies will affect different generations unequally. The fear of losing out in this transition should be addressed through EU and national policies (e.g. energy efficiency policies and EU cohesion policy) in line with the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations in 2015.
  3. Finally, climate action can and should be a common project of the EU that demonstrates a clear shared purpose, and helps address the key societal challenges: jobs, health, and security. Coal and steel were at the heart of European integration in the midst of the last century. Energy resources remain vital to the economies of the EU Member States – by sharing them and framing their use together, the Member States have an opportunity to reinforce the EU not only as a political union based on the principle of sustainable development, but also as a global actor and leader in low-carbon technologies. That external sense of purpose could be complemented by securing greater public support and understanding for the decarbonisation agenda, and thus greater enthusiasm for Europe’s role as its enabler. Telling the truth about the opportunities of the low-carbon transition in terms of values close to all of us (such as health and security) has the potential to convince the unconvinced about the EU’s role in global climate action, and ensure even wider support to a more ambitious climate policy agenda driving Europe towards a sustainable future.

“Environment and climate can become a new engine for European integration; electrification of sectors like transport provides a clear economic benefit, and avoids the risks associated with oil imports.” – Marcin Korolec, Baltic Development Forum.

The debate took place on 22 November 2017 in Brussels. It was co-hosted by Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation and Seb Dance, MEP from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament.

Contact Martin Nesbit for more information.

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