9th Feb 2023


For EU Green Deal to go global, you need delicate diplomacy

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Russia's war in Ukraine means the EU should "move into renewables at lightning speed," says Frans Timmermans, the EU's lead Green Deal-maker.

Trying to keep the EU's green transition on track during the conflict is one important task. The other one is to convince other countries to embrace the Green Deal.

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  • As war rages in Ukraine, Europe cannot afford to spark further misunderstandings. The Green Deal should bring countries together, not create more global divides

It is not proving easy.

That's because in order to be more effective, EU climate diplomacy needs to become less Eurocentric and more sensitive to other countries' concerns and priorities.

Pushing the Green Deal on to the international agenda and in bilateral relations through trade and development, as well as foreign and security policy and initiatives is not enough — and can be seen as intrusive.

Stirring feel-good speeches and much-publicised, promise-heavy green partnerships may grab the headlines but they are also not enough.

The reason is simple: actions speak louder than words.

What the EU does at home in terms of taxonomy, boosting European energy production from renewables, EU farm policies and other green measures influence global perceptions of the bloc's credentials.

If the EU has one method of dealing with the domestic European challenges but another for tackling what happens in other countries, it opens itself up to loss of influence and to accusations of double standards.

Additionally, in order to become more effective, successful and inspiring Green advocates, Europe's "climate diplomats" must also listen carefully to others' concerns.

This means combining self-confidence and assertiveness with humility. It also means consultation and collaboration, not lectures and "Europe knows best" proselytizing.

Lessons from the 1990s

For those willing to learn, lessons from the 1990s and Europe's drive to create a single market could prove useful.

The EU's transformational single-market plan certainly made the world sit up and take notice. It also triggered a wave of anxiety as policymakers outside the EU fretted about the plan's external ramifications. There were fears that the EU was turning into an inward-looking and protectionist Fortress Europe which would put internal trade goals ahead of its international trade commitments.

It all worked out in the end. Europe did not stop trading with countries and in fact foreign investors and exporters grew to love the EU's large border-free market.

But the global concern was telling.

EU officials who had prepared the single market plan had paid scant attention to its impact on the outside world. And they had — at least initially — done little to allay other countries' fears.

Today, once again, the world is watching the EU's Green Deal with interest and trepidation. Once again, there are fears of the initiative's global fallout — both intentional or inadvertent. And once again, EU leaders appear too focused on the complex internal machinations of the project to pay adequate heed to outside perceptions.

That's a mistake. If Europe plays its cards right, the EU blueprint for pursuing climate neutrality by 2050 could become a truly-inspirational manual for other countries and regions.

This will, however, require practicing at home what the EU preaches abroad. It will mean consistency in domestic policy-making and messaging and crafting a Global Green Deal narrative, which, while focused on Europe's complex domestic trajectory and challenges, is also sensitive to the world's concerns.

A key EU priority must be to make sure that the Green Deal does not become another excuse for protectionism. The EU will lose all legitimacy — and the Green Deal will have no credibility — if Europeans succumb to the short-term temptation of using the climate crisis to protect and shelter some sectors of European agriculture and industry.

Second, keep an eye on geopolitics. For years, relations with southeast Asian countries were soured over the European Parliament's 2018 restriction on the use of palm oil in biofuels by excluding it from renewable energy targets — a move which many Asians believe reflects the power of Europe's rival oilseed growers, rather than any scientific or environmental impact assessment of the crop.

Third, be transparent about plans such as the introduction of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). Countries outside the EU are still struggling to understand how the tax will be implemented and the extent to which the levy will impact their trade with the EU.

Fourth, the EU certainly has the economic weight to shape international standards in line with its environmental and climate ambitions. But European climate diplomats must resist the temptation of using a sledgehammer to achieve their goals.

Countries are more likely to fall in line with EU demands if they are offered cooperation and collaboration rather subjected to tough pre-conditions and restrictions.

All this will require sensitivity and a move away from Eurocentric mindsets and approaches. It will demand more readiness to make use of the EU's aid budget, investments, technical assistance and capacity-building programmes.

As war rages in Ukraine, Europe cannot afford to spark further misunderstandings. The Green Deal should bring countries together, not create more global divides.

Author bio

Shada Islam is an independent EU analyst and commentator who runs her own strategy and advisory company New Horizons Project. She is also the new editor of the EUobserver magazine.


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


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