The European Green Deal – a common task. Synergies required at every level


The European Green Deal will only become a true success story if the EU functions as a multi-level governing system in the truest sense of the word and the various levels operate at a well-connected interplay.

The impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on our economies, societies, and democracies is immense. The social and economic consequences will be felt deeply everywhere but they vary greatly in their extent. European cohesion will therefore depend on how we all get through and emerge from this crisis. For the first time in its history, the European Union has put together a two-fold, multi-billion economic recovery programme (Recovery Fund) comprising subsidies, on the one hand, and tied to forward-looking investments in climate protection and digitalisation, on the other. As such, it sets itself apart from the emergency loans associated with the debt crisis of the 2010s and the painful fiscal restraints.

Achieving socially-fair and ecologically-sustainable economic recovery within the EU also depends on the EU's ability to act. The socio-ecological transformation is a century-long task. The EU’s “Next Generation EU” recovery fund is a solid starting point for implementing this goal. Accomplishing climate-just infrastructure modernisation and offering everyone a perspective for the future requires sustainable investments. The Recovery Fund is thus a significant means of boosting the European Green Deal set forth by the EU. It counts among the European Union’s priorities and is also a response to the 2019 elections to the European Parliament. In terms of advancing climate protection and social safeguards, the expectations citizens have towards the EU at the moment are at an all-time high.

The texts that have been chosen for our dossier thus aim to underscore the idea that the European Green Deal can only become a vital success, if the EU manages to function as a multi-level system in the truest sense of the word and the various levels manage to operate at a well-connected interplay.

All of the spending at the European level must be more strictly tied to sustainability

The EU must ensure that, step by step, all of the money spent from the EU Funds is tied to criteria of sustainability. Through its investment quotas for climate action and digital infrastructure, the Recovery Fund is an important first step in this direction. Nonetheless, further expansion is required, and it must apply to all investments. Moreover, in the interests of the socio-ecological transformation, a fitting concept of sustainability must not discount the social component – this is of paramount importance, especially for those European regions most affected by the pandemic and the accompanying structural change or by poverty and social division. It is imperative that the European Green Deal be understood as a social pact, the unshakeable aim of which is to imagine all of the policy areas as a collective whole in order to strengthen social cohesion within Europe.

The individual member states must submit ambitious plans

In turn, the nation states have to come up with ambitious plans in a rather short time frame. At the same instant, they should give sustainability the highest priority and should unsolicitously exceed the currently set investment quotas (37 percent for climate action and 20% for digitalisation). That the Recovery Fund toolbox can work, in principle, and trigger new momentum can be seen in the example set by Poland, which has announced its coal phase-out by 2050.

The national plans submitted to the European Commission thus far leave a lot of room for improvement. In one case in point, the German government, by all accounts, wants to pour old wine into new wineskins by looking to fund measures included in the climate and energy package that it adopted last year using now money from the EU Recovery Fund. This would mark a lost opportunity to activate additional investments aimed at accelerating the energy transformation and digitalisation in Germany. However, this wait-and-see stance that has also been adopted by other key member states is eating up valuable time when combating the ever-escalating climate crisis. In order to achieve the declared goal of turning the EU into the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, the member states now have to take decisive action when implementing the European Green Deal.

The European Commission is now vested with the task of critically examining the sustainability element of the national plans and strictly monitoring their implementation. It must not turn a blind eye to this aspect.

Local civil society initiatives as promoters of transformation

In many places, the new sources of hope are the municipalities. Local initiatives are already making a difference in many areas and are seen as potential drivers of socio-ecological transformation. Any effective implementation of the European Green Deal on the ground will require the municipal authorities and local, civil society actors to work in synergy. Local initiatives – ranging from zero waste to transforming urban and rural areas, and to energy cooperatives – can unfold an enormous, transformative power and deserve to be held in the highest regard and promoted by municipal administrations. Such civil society actions and actors are not only of socio-ecological, but also of democratic value as they invigorate democratic practices on the ground and bring citizen participation to life.

If accomplished, the European Green Deal will become the EU’s success story

To ensure that the money from the EU funds reaches the causes on the ground and is put to sustainable use, the local level must be able to rely on their national governments to work with them in close synergy. Only if they can interconnect and work in synergy within the various playing fields the multi-level EU system, can the European Green Deal be turned into a success story. It thus requires a huge collective effort. If accomplished, it will be one of the EU’s most momentous achievements. Realizing this aim of socio-ecological transformation would (once again) boost citizen confidence in the ability of politicians to act, in general, and the EU in particular. As the most populous country, with the strongest economy, Germany will need to play a central role in this huge effort. The EU’s ability to act will, including in the future, greatly depend also on Germany’s willingness to act. The new German government that is elected this autumn will therefore need to assume a more prominently active role.