EU €750 billion Recovery Plan announced to mixed reaction

In a speech before the European Parliament on May 27, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an updated seven-year €1 trillion budget proposal and a €750 billion recovery plan for the European Union, focused on a green and digital economy.  Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the next generation describes the major structure of the plan,  accompanied by  a 5-page Fact Sheet  which highlights “Next Generation EU”, the new recovery instrument.

The EU recovery strategy affirms a commitment to a European Green Deal and promises:

  • “A massive renovation wave of our buildings and infrastructure and a more circular economy, bringing local jobs;
  • Rolling out renewable energy projects, especially wind, solar and kick-starting a clean hydrogen economy in Europe;
  • Cleaner transport and logistics, including the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a boost for rail travel and clean mobility in our cities and regions;
  • Strengthening the Just Transition Fund to support re-skilling, helping businesses create new economic opportunities.
  • Also, recovery goals include a short-term European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme (SURE) will provide €100 billion to support workers and businesses;
  • A Skills Agenda for Europe and a Digital Education Action Plan will ensure digital skills for all EU citizens;
  • Fair minimum wages and binding pay transparency measures will help vulnerable workers, particularly women”;

Some European reactions to the proposals are compiled in the summary article “‘Do no harm’: EU recovery fund has green strings attached ” in Euractiv . More negative views come from  Climate Action Network Europe, which  calls the proposals “greenwashing” and in a more detailed press release  states:  “Despite repeated commitments by the European Commission to make the European Green Deal the blueprint of the recovery, the proposal still allows for money to be spent on supporting fossil fuels and is lifting climate spending targets in regional development funding, while the climate emergency would need a rapid phase-out of these polluting fuels and strong climate earmarking.”  

Friends of the Earth Europe had earlier released their own proposals for a European recovery plan, here ,  and reacted to the EU announcement on May 27 with  EU Recovery Package falls short of Building Back Better – which states:

“today’s package would not prevent investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure nor put conditions on bailing out polluting industries like airlines – leaving a gaping hole in achieving the aims of the European Green Deal. Nor are there conditions related to compliance with human rights, not paying out dividends, or buy-back of shares for companies that receive funding. …… The plan gives significant political support to the development of hydrogen, without stipulating that this comes from renewable electricity alone. This could open the door to more climate-damaging fossil fuels in our energy system. The Commission will direct welcome financial support to renovating buildings, creating jobs and cutting carbon; this will need to be backed by legislation to reduce energy poverty and ensure every home in Europe meets minimum efficiency standards. Friends of the Earth welcomes an increase in funds for the Just Transition Fund, and the focus on jobs and skills.”

In  “’Defining moment’ as EU executive pushes for €500bn in grants (May 27) The Guardian summarizes the proposals and focuses on the political fight ahead amongst EU members: For example, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, (a group called the “frugal four”), who want recovery funding to take the form of loans, not grants.  The potential financial and political wrangling is also the focus of the New York Times article, ” A €750 Billion Virus Recovery Plan Thrusts Europe Into a New Frontier” .  The Energy Mix  reported on North American reaction to a version of the EU proposals leaked by Bloomberg, in “EU’S massive green recovery plan includes 15-GW renewables tender, support for green hydrogen” (May 24).

Is the Just Transition fund in Europe’s Green New Deal funded adequately?

Europe’s landmark Green New Deal was unveiled on December 11 2019, but eu flag heldcriticisms abound over the structure, ambition, and particularly the funding.   “Question marks raised over scale of EU’s new climate fund” in Euractiv (Jan. 14) discusses the Just Transition Mechanism funding, and “Commission warns of Green Deal failure if Transition Fund not well financed” ( February 12) states that the European president warned Members of the European Parliament that “she would ‘not accept’ any result that does not guarantee at least 25% of the budget devoted to the fight against global warming and to proper funding of a just transition for regions and workers.”

A more general criticism comes in “The EU’s green deal is a colossal exercise in greenwashing”, an Opinion piece in The Guardian on February 7.  Authors Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler  compare the €1tn (over 10 years) allocated for the GND with an estimated €4.2tn spent to support the European financial sector after the 2008 recession.  Furthermore, they state that the  €1tn GND money “is mostly smoke and mirrors”…”composed of reshuffled money from existing EU funds and reheated promises to mobilise private-sector capital down the road.”  As for the Just Transition mechanism itself, they state: “the deployment of just transition funding in the green deal is a pork-barrel payoff to rightwing governments that supported Von der Leyen’s election and who she fears might throw a spanner into her signature proposal.”  (Euractiv helps to explain this in “Poland, Germany get largest slices of Just Transition Fund” ).

Yanis Varoufakis and David Adler are part of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025,  a coalition of European scientists, activists and trade unionists. Their Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition  outlines a strategy for a radical, activist  pan-European movement for a Green New Deal: “The climate movement today — whether it takes the form of student strikes, Extinction Rebellion, or the Gilet Jaunes — has articulated a shared enemy: climate and environmental breakdown. But it has yet to come together to articulate a set of shared demands…. It advocates “ channeling the energies of activists across the continent to clash with the institutions that sit at the Belgian capital — through strikes and sit-ins, occupations and demonstrations: the full arsenal of direct action and civil disobedience.”

The Blueprint is built around three major actions: 1. Green Public Works: (“an investment programme to kickstart Europe’s equitable green transition”);  2. an EU Environmental Union: (“a regulatory and legal framework to ensure that the European economy transitions quickly and fairly, without transferring carbon costs onto front-line communities”); and 3). an Environmental Justice Commission: (“an independent body to research and investigate new standards of ‘environmental justice’ across Europe and among the multinationals operating outside its borders”).

Further, with emphasis on the democratic, grass-roots activism demanded:

  …. This Blueprint provides a general framework for Europe’s just transition, but it must be complemented by deliberation at the ground level to decide where the resources raised by the Green Public Works programme will be directed. No campaign, movement, union, NGO, or political party can devise a climate plan on its own; the People’s Assemblies for Environmental Justice offer a common process by which to develop it.

Historic European Green New Deal includes funding for a Just Transition Mechanism

ursala eu green new dealNew European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the European Green Deal on December 11 (here on YouTube ), calling it “Europe’s man on the moon moment”.    The 10  key points are outlined here , with the flagship commitment that the EU will aim to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a goal that will be enshrined in a ‘Climate Law’ to be presented in March 2020.  To achieve net-zero, EU’s ambitions must rise to a 50-55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions, replacing the current 40% objective.

In “Europe’s Green New Deal“,   Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University writes for Project Syndicate that it “ is the first comprehensive plan to achieve sustainable development in any major world region. As such, it becomes a global benchmark – a “how-to” guide for planning  the transformation to a prosperous, socially inclusive, and environmentally sustainable economy.”  Clean Energy Wire compiles reaction from German politicians, NGO’s and think tanks: reactions are mixed – like Sachs, most commend the symbolic and political achievement of the EU statement, while tempering their enthusiasm with concerns for implementation details.  An article in The Guardian also summarizes the deal with some sense of the opposition and difficulties ahead.

The Euractiv summary  quotes EU Commissioner von der Leyen  on the proposal for a Just Transition Mechanism:  “We have the ambition to mobilise €100 billion precisely targeted to the most vulnerable regions and sectors”  and describes the initiative as having  three “legs”: 1. A just transition fund that will mobilise resources from the EU’s regional policy budget; 2. An  “InvestEU” programme, with money coming from the European Investment Bank (EIB); and 3.  EIB funding coming from the EU bank’s own capital.  The EU Commission website provides Details of the Just Transition Mechanism for download.

EU Industry pledges no new coal plants as Australians mobilize to fight the giant Adani coal project

The Union of the Electricity Industry (EURELECTRIC), representing 3500 companies across Europe, released a statement on April 5, pledging that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020.   “The European electricity sector believes that achieving the decarbonisation objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement is essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the global economy. EURELECTRIC’s members are committed to delivering a carbon neutral power supply in Europe by 2050, and to ensuring a competitively priced and reliable electricity supply throughout the integrated European energy market.” Poland and Greece remain outside the agreement, and apparently outside the mainstream.

The Guardian calls the EU position   a “death knell for coal”,    and in a separate piece, summarizes the decline of coal-fired electricity around the world.  “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds”  (March 22)    quotes a new report by Greenpeace  , Sierra Club USA,  and Coalswarm   :  Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline.   Its findings show a 62 percent drop in new construction starts, and an 85 percent decline in new Chinese coal plant permits. A senior Greenpeace official states: “2016 marked a veritable turning point”.  “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”

Stop-Adani-LogoYet in Australia, environmentalists are waging an epic environmental battle against a giant, $16.5-billion coal mine adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, proposed by Indian energy conglomerate Adani. Government supporters, including the Prime Minister and politicians in Queensland, have argued that the mine would bring jobs and would not increase GHG emissions globally because Australian coal is cleaner than any other that India would be able to source from other countries; see an article in Climate Home for the rebuttal to that.  Voices in opposition include Bob Brown, a former Green Party leader, who states  : “This is the environmental issue of our times and, for one, the Great Barrier Reef is at stake. The Adani corporation’s dirty coalmine is an impending disaster with effects which will reach far beyond Australia.”  Or read:   “It’s either Adani or the Great Barrier Reef – are we willing to fight for a Wonder of the World?”   in The Guardian.   Thirteen community groups, claiming to represent 1.5 million Australians have joined the Stop Adani Alliance since its launch in March, and the Australian Conservation Foundation is behind another high-powered campaign . For context, see “The coal war: Inside the fight against Adani’s plans to build Australia’s biggest coal mine” from the Sydney Morning Herald.   For a catalogue of “the ten most-absurd things about the Adani mine ” , see “Australia’s Climate bomb: the senselessness of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine”    in The Conversation (April 12).

UPDATE:  An April 24 analysis  of the bleak prospects of the Carmichael Mine proposed by Adani for Australia  “Adani: Remote Prospect: Carmichael Status Update 2017”  .

Analysis of the Canada – EU Trade Agreement

The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada was announced as a “done deal” in Ottawa on September 26, despite the fact that the text had never been made public till that time.

The agreement abolishes almost all tariffs and reduces many non-tariff barriers, but most controversial is the chapter on investment protection, which includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. The ISDS mechanism gives foreign corporations the ability to sue Canada or a province, if the companies allege that domestic health or environmental policies and regulations interfere with their right to make a profit.

The Council of Canadians has been a vocal opponent of CETA because of these ISDS provisions and released a new book in November. Trading away Democracy (co-published by a number of other organizations, including Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian Union of Public Employees, European Federation of Public Service Unions, Friends of the Earth Europe).
The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in Geneva has published a detailed review which includes a summary of the Environment and Labour chapters of the CETA . The article points out a departure from past trade agreements such as NAFTA: disputes under the Environment or Labour chapters cannot be initiated by civil society, but only by a government- to -government mechanism specifically defined in each chapter. See “Unpacking the EU Canada Free Trade Deal” in Bridges (Nov. 3).

Also see the Government of Canada website relating to CETA, including a link to the text of the agreement (English version / French version).