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28th Oct 2021

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How to make 'Fit for 55' fit for citizens

The European Union has finalised its master plan against greenhouse-gas emissions, Fit for 55. By 2030, it already wants to reduce those emissions by a further 31 percent. That is a very ambitious target and there will be a lot of negotiation over the next two years before the package comes into effect.

The new regulations are an opportunity to start a new industrial revolution. But then Europe must dare to take the step towards a green power politics. The Technocrats have done their job; now it's getting serious.

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  • In the coming years, there will be a lot of lobbying for exceptions and subsidies. We must ensure that the final package does not become a measure for nothing

This power politics starts in Brussels itself.

In the coming years, there will be a lot of lobbying for exceptions and subsidies. We must ensure that the final package does not become a measure for nothing.

Politics is the art of the achievable, but that achievable must remain meaningful.

Despite numerous working groups and the various vice-presidents, there is also a need for better coordination between commission departments. Now it is time to use the energy often put into internal power games to act collectively towards opponents outside the Union.

Anyway, the first battle has to be fought on the home front. Europe will also have to win the battle for the hearts and minds of citizens, mindful of the protests of the 'gilets jaunes' [yellow vests].

A large part of the population may be concerned about global warming; In the coming years, the changes in daily life and in the household budget will become increasingly tangible. The current minority of environmental sceptics could then gain ground very quickly.

More than ever, the institutions will have to explain that Europe's prosperity is under threat and that to win the battle, we will all have to contribute. The accompanying measures for the weakest will have to be concrete.

But don't let that communication become another torrent of slogans and artificial autocue speeches. The single-most important lever in winning hearts and minds remains the success of the policy: new jobs, new perspectives in education, room for new entrepreneurs, gaining ground on foreign competitors and - above all - a new sense of pride that we can do something beautiful.

Build for generations to come

This can be taken almost literally: it is not only about little concrete CO2 emissions.

The change must be visible and beautiful, visible in the architecture, the cities, design, more trees, forests to exercise in. The industrial revolution that peaked in the nineteenth century was a burst of pride. This revolution must be that again. In the battle for hearts and minds, the heart is equally important.

A third layer of power politics concerns the external dimension of the plan.

The carbon border adjustment, the levy on greenhouse gases at the border, remains the most important means of ensuring that our own entrepreneurs are less harassed by dumping from outside.

The current tax remains very limited, perhaps too limited, but it is a first step. Europe is already under threat from all sides. China, Russia and the United States are suspicious of the measure. We heard from the International Monetary Fund that if Europe subsidises its own companies in addition to the tax at the border, that would be protectionism.

However, the essence of the border tax remains that the standards apply to all companies, European and non-European. There is therefore no question of discriminatory protectionism.

And let's not be naive. The other major players have been discriminating for decades. China, with its tough industrial policy, is the best example. But the US also focuses its energy policy on favouring its own industry – although Europe still has a trade surplus with the US, unlike China. Large European companies will be intimidated even more, especially in China, and that will lead to painful situations.

However, this is above all a confirmation that the European internal market, still the third largest in the world, must remain a safe haven for those companies that help to realise the European ideals.

The more of that market we give up to ecological dumpers like China, the more pressure the remaining companies will be to seek refuge elsewhere.

It will be a fight, but that vicious circle will be broken. Openness is a must, but at the end of the day, history tells us, the big players choose their own interests. Europe should not give in to the openness argument if it is put forward by countries that protect their own companies subtly and less subtly.

Author bio

Jonathan Holslag teaches international politics at the Free University Brussels and guest lectures at the NATO Defense College. His latest book is World Politics since 1989 (Polity, September 2021).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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