Health virus EU politics economy climate energy,FOCUS 8 Nisan 2020 - 13:42

Brussels tries to inoculate EU Green Deal against virus By Marine LAOUCHEZ Brussels, April 8, 2020 (AFP) - Opponents of EU chief Ursula von der Leyen's grand green growth plan may hope coronavirus has knocked it off the agenda, but Brussels insists it can drive the post-pandemic recovery. For some governments, EU efforts to speed the continent's transition to clean energy and mass recycling are an irrelevance, with the epidemic plunging their economies into recession. Von der Leyen's team insist that the European Green Deal, the central organising policy of her five-year mandate, was always intended to be a plan for growth, not just the climate. But with EU member state leaders focused on wrangling over bonds and bail-outs, the scheme is in danger. "They will need to juggle the COVID-19 crisis and the expected economic recession with a well-known yet slower onset one, the climate crisis," said Sofia Lopez Piqueres of the European Policy Centre. "The joint management of both crises will define how they go down in history books," she said, warning that many of the 27 leaders would struggle "to deal with more than one emergency at a time." Some EU leaders have been hostile to the Green Deal strategy from the start, and have seized upon the crunch triggered by the coronavirus epidemic to demand it be put aside. "Europe should forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead," the Czech Republic's billionaire populist premier Andrej Babis declared last month. The European Commission's planned Green Deal did not win over all environmentalists, suspicious of any programme that focuses on new economic growth alongside emissions reduction. Teenage Swedish eco-warrior Greta Thunberg was invited to the European Parliament to hear Brussels' promise to achieve "carbon neutrality" by 2050 -- and dismissed it. The European Union must stop "pretending that you can be a climate leader", she declared. Last week, 33 European parliamentarians -- mainly from conservative and right-wing groups or the coal-hungry east of the bloc -- agreed that Brussels should stop pretending. - 'What's the point?' - But, unlike Thunberg, they want to drop the green part of the deal, not the growth part. "Above all, the commission should radically scale back its pre-crisis regulatory ambition and re-examine its political priorities," they wrote. "Now is the time to put pragmatism first-and to postpone new legislation under initiatives such as the European Green Deal," they argued. But the European Commission was unmoved. "The economic recovery and the transition to a sustainable and climate neutral economy go hand in hand," a spokeswoman insisted. "While our immediate focus is on combating the spread of the coronavirus, our work on delivering the European Green Deal continues. "Green investments will be a key driver of the recovery, not an obstacle to it." Von der Leyen's Commission unveiled the Green Deal package on December 11, immediately after taking office, and has won the cautious support of every EU member state but Poland. A law that would bind the 27 capitals to the deal's ambitious 2050 net zero emissions goal has been on the negotiating table since last month -- and divisions have returned. The debate over the law coincides not just with the first public health and economic onslaught of the epidemic, but with a negotiations on the long-term EU budget. And a public consultation process is under way that should last until June 23 and report back with an impact assessment of at the end of September. At question is whether Europe raises its target for cutting emissions -- which currently stands at 40 percent by 2030 -- to 50 or even 55 percent. But is there any point in continuing the roll out as planned, when the economic forecasts the deal was predicated on have been torn up and the continent is in lockdown? "I cannot see people spending a lot of political capital and time on whether you go to 50, 45 or 55 percent. I mean, what's the point?" asked Christophe Engenhofer of the Centre for European Policy Studies. "You can't have a meaningful impact assessment at the moment. You would just make assumptions, which might be in six weeks completely wrong," he told AFP. "So, let's not overdo it. It may have an impact on the structure and so on... but whether the recovery will be green or not, to a large extent, depends also on how member states will see it." mla/dc/pdw/rl

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