While attention continues to focus on the urgent health aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak, EU leaders have called on the European Commission to start preparing “a comprehensive recovery plan” that integrates green and digital aspects.
Amid divisions on ways to address the economic fallout of the crisis, EU heads of states concluded an EU summit on Thursday evening (26 March) with a call to prepare the post-crisis period.
EU institutions should “start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and economies,” said the final communiqué adopted by the 27 EU leaders after a video conference call.
Such measures should promote “sustainable growth,” the statement added, “integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis.”
A previous version of the summit’s final statement, seen by EURACTIV, did not mention the green transition.
The endorsement of green policies as part of the EU’s post-pandemic response was hailed as a victory by environmental groups after Poland and the Czech Republic earlier called for suspending or even ditching the European Green Deal in order to focus all efforts on the health crisis.
“People’s welfare in the longer term is inextricably linked to the health of our environment and climate,” said Ester Asin, the director of the WWF’s European Policy Office.
“A truly ambitious, people-centred European Green Deal must be part of the response and will leave Europe better equipped to tackle the ongoing climate and biodiversity emergencies,” she added.
The irony is not lost on me that the noises from 🇵🇱 and 🇨🇿 are probably the origin story of today’s explicit reference to “green transition” in the #EUCO text.
— Quentin Genard (@QuentinGenard) March 26, 2020
Leaders call for ‘comprehensive recovery plan’
In their final summit statement, EU leaders called for “a coordinated exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment” to restart the economy after the pandemic is brought under control.
“We invite the president of the Commission and the president of the European Council, in consultation with other institutions, especially the ECB, to start work on a roadmap accompanied by an action plan to this end,” the statement says.
The European Commission on Friday (27 March) said it will start working “immediately” on the EU recovery plan but added it was too early to “talk about when it will be presented or indeed the specific elements of this roadmap”.
At the same time, “the Commission stands firmly behind its political guidelines,” said Eric Mamer, the chief spokesperson of the EU executive, underlining that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen considers the European Green Deal as “Europe’s growth strategy”.
Activists call for green recovery
In an open letter sent to the presidents of EU institutions, WWF and other environmental groups called for the recovery plan to be future-proof and drawn up in a transparent way.
“Business as usual is not an option, and economy-wide untargeted measures would risk putting on life-support obsolete and polluting industries” which “have no future in tomorrow’s economy,” the letter says.
“Instead, the stimulus packages must support ‘future-proofing’ companies through a rapid shift of their business models towards sustainability,” the letter adds, calling for public support to be made conditional on consistency with the EU’s net-zero emissions target for 2050, which is the cornerstone of the European Green Deal.
WWF’s Asin said the EU must “stick to the course it has committed to for the sake of our future health, livelihoods and wellbeing”.
Frans Timmermans, the EU Commission vice-president in charge of the Green Deal, seemed to back those calls last week, saying the EU had “the ability to manage both” the short-term coronavirus crisis and the long-term climate emergency.
“When better days come – and they will – we will be more determined than ever to protect our people and planet,” he said on Twitter.
But while the clamour for a green stimulus has already begun, analysts say it will take a few months before governments can genuinely start focusing on anything else than keeping people safe, fed and housed.
“As soon as the immediate crisis has passed, however, and attention moves to reflating economies, that is the time to ensure that clean energy, transport and smart infrastructure is at the heart of any longer-term stimulus,” says Michael Liebreich, founder and senior contributor at BloombergNEF, a research firm.
Taking the car industry as an example, Liebreich advises against bailing out car companies with cash. Rather, he says carmakers would be better supported with measures to boost demand for electric vehicles by requiring food delivery and online shopping companies to invest in an accelerated switch to electric mobility.
“No bailout should benefit industries or business models that are not viable in the coming low-carbon world – such as low-cost airlines, coal-fired power generation, or uneconomic operations in shale oil and gas, oil sands and deep offshore oil,” Liebreich wrote in a blog post.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]