Europe needs a clear political line and targets to pursue a combination of resource productivity, energy efficiency and renewable energies, said Green MEP Claude Turmes, presenting a new study on how successful the diverse economic crisis-driven stimulus packages have been in promoting low-carbon growth.
The study by the German Wuppertal Institute argues that Europe risks losing global leadership to its market competitors in clean technologies as a result of smaller green spending. It concludes that the Green New Deal – a buzzword for policies that are to tackle the economic crisis while promoting a shift to sustainable production – is up for grabs if the EU shifts its thinking from saving on labour costs to making the most of its resources.
The amount of resources used by European industry costs double the amount of labour, Philipp Schepelmann, lead author of the study, pointed out. "If you want to achieve the target of Lisbon Strategy to become the most competitive economy in the world, you have to increase resource efficiency rather than throw people out," he argued.
But the Greens argued that the EU lacks the leadership and political vision to integrate its economic and environmental agendas. They are pinning their hopes on the incoming Spanish EU Presidency, which is already preparing the Spring summit at which the revision of the Lisbon agenda will come up again.
While European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has picked up all of the right vocabulary, his actions have not convinced, Rebecca Harms, president of the Greens/EFA Group, argued.
"We don't think Mr Barroso would be the person the Greens would trust with the Green New Deal," she said.
Spain urged to take political lead
Turmes pointed out that Spain will be in for a tough task to correct the mistake that the Barroso-Verheugen Commission made in downgrading the environment in the Lisbon Treaty relaunch, focusing on "short-sighted indicators".
He said that although the current Swedish Presidency had done a good job, promoting its signature concept of 'eco-efficiency', this risked being nothing but "nice talk" as important legislation on cutting the energy used by buildings and energy labelling was dragging on.
Moreover, Turmes called for political courage to make better use of EU structural funds to give Eastern and Central European regions tools to benefit from the trinity of research, innovation and smart investment to correct structural inefficiencies.
The Wuppertal study identifies a large gap between EU member states which use resources most efficiently and those - mainly Eastern European ones - that lag behind. If the worst performer Bulgaria were to learn from the UK, which is the top of the class, it could cut its resource use to 1/17, it shows.
In order to promote learning from best practices, the Greens are proposing to establish a European Resource Efficiency Agency. The main function would be to coordinate the work of similar national agencies, raising awareness in member states of the crucial component of a competitive economy, they foresee.
Whether the agency would stand on its own right or be integrated under the framework of the European Environment Agency would have to be decided by the Commission and member states, Turmes said.