The road to Europe: the green alternative

Repeated institutional failures of the European Union are before us. Against current neoliberal ideology, the Green New Deal for Europe is a practical, viable and urgent alternative. The challenge is to achieve a political majority for this change.

In her article The road to Europe: questions on the Union that opened up discussion in il Manifesto, Sbilanciamoci and openDemocracy, Rossana Rossanda says she “would like to be proven wrong. To be shown that it is not Europe’s fault, that the Union has no other choice.” It is impossible to show that it is not ‘Europe’s fault’, as in the EU around 80% of the decisions national parliaments discuss are taken by the European Council, Commission and Parliament. “Or is another choice possible?”, Rossanda asks. Yes, alternatives have been and are being proposed: so that, albeit with little imagination and decade-long delays, we are now hearing the EU non-leaders talking about the Tobin tax, a European rating agency and the greening of the economy. But with no consequent political actions. 

The missing actions are yet more proof, not of the impossibility of another Europe, but of how unfit the heads of the current EU Commission and Council are to address the two primary challenges of the 21st century: to reconcile development with the physical limitations of our planet - including climate change and depletion of resources - and to ensure social justice within our societies and between them. Failing which, Europe risks not only being unable to guarantee quality of life and social justice to its citizens but also becoming irrelevant as a global player. 

Europe is not just the euro. After centuries of destruction on this continent and carried to the rest of the world, Europe also means decades without war, as well as the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol with the Prodi Commission spurring ‘glocal’ awareness about climate change risks. Not all European Commissions are the same and, in order to avoid falling into the European anti-politics trap, differentiated evaluations should be made: we too are Europe and it would be misleading to think we are somewhere else. Another Europe is a matter of political will. It requires decisions different from those taken (or avoided) in recent years.

Looking back, it is useful to understand how we have arrived at this point. Two examples suffice to illustrate the inability of EU institutions to rise to the expectations created, to foresee and adapt to external developments and to find solutions to problems. 

1. The Euromediterranean partnership. Unanimously adopted at the 27-28 November 1995 Barcelona Conference by the then fifteen EU member states and by twelve third countries: Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the partnership was organised into three main dimensions:

  • “Political and Security Dialogue, aimed at creating a common area of peace and stability underpinned by sustainable development, rule of law, democracy and human rights”.
  • “Economic and Financial Partnership, including the gradual establishment of a free-trade area aimed at promoting shared economic opportunity through sustainable and balanced socio-economic development”.
  • “Social, Cultural and Human Partnership, aimed at promoting understanding and intercultural dialogue between cultures, religions and people, and facilitating exchanges between civil society and ordinary citizens, particularly women and young people”.

The Euromediterranean free-trade area had 2010 as a target date for its gradual establishment. 

2. The Lisbon strategy. Approved by the European Council extraordinary session held on 23 and 24 March 2000:

The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. Achieving this goal requires an overall strategy aimed at:

  • preparing the transition to a knowledge-based economy and society by better policies for the information society and R&D, as well as by stepping up the process of structural reform for competitiveness and innovation and by completing the internal market;
  • modernising the European social model, investing in people and combating social exclusion;
  • sustaining the healthy economic outlook and favourable growth prospects by applying an appropriate macro-economic policy mix”.

Reality confronts us. These two major institutional failures have not been followed by an analysis of what went wrong. No lessons have been learned ensuring that the same mistakes are avoided in the future. There is no accountability visible to European and Mediterranean citizens, whom EU leaders are supposed to serve. 

We are now facing a dramatic economic crisis, and a similar institutional failure is again before us. Yet, alternative solutions do exist, and may come from the green economy and from the so-called Green New Deal. 

The Green New Deal

Global scenarios have been prepared for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 Summit, scheduled to take place in Brazil on June 4-6, 2012, by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Last February, UNEP published the report, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, analyzing ten sectors of the world economy - agriculture, buildings, energy, fisheries, forests, manufacturing, tourism, transport, water and waste management, and showing that:

  • The move towards a green economy is happening on a scale and at a speed never seen before. For 2010, new investment in clean energy has reached a record high of US$ 180-200 billions, up from US $162 billion in 2009 and US $173 billion in 2008. Growth is increasingly driven by non-OECD countries, whose share of global investment in renewables rose from 29% in 2007 to 40% in 2008, with Brazil, China, and India accounting for most of it.
  • A transition to a green economy is possible by investing 2% of global GDP per year between now and 2050 with the creation of millions of new jobs, while at the same time avoiding environmental damage and the increasing gap between rich and poor of a business-as-usual approach.
  • Green economy not only generates growth, and in particular gains in natural capital, but it also produces a higher growth in GDP and GDP per capita, with new employment created, which - particularly in the agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry and transport sectors - over time exceeds the losses in brown economy jobs. 

It is worth reminding ourselves that the global gap between North and South is widening, with the wealth of the 200 richest people in the world equalling the income of the two billion poorest people. Meanwhile, climate change becomes more of a threat, and competition to exploit non-renewable energy sources is at the centre of international politics, posing dangers to international peace. Entire regions are exposed to rising sea levels, and while climate is the most visible example of environmental deterioration, crises also include the loss of biodiversity, excessive waste, deforestation, chemical contamination, noise, soil damage, electronic and water pollution. The 2006 Stern Review on the costs of climate change has described the challenge very clearly: with no investments of 1 to 2% of the global GDP in order to fight climate change, the environmental and economical consequences and costs will be unprecedented and irreversible, up to 20 % of the world's GDP within a few decades. 

For the EU, the 2009 Wuppertal Institut study, A Green New Deal for Europe. Towards a green modernization in the face of crisis, commissioned by the Greens in the European Parliament, shows the green economy potential for Europe, and the need for a strong European governance of this transition. As alternatives to the neoliberal ideological bias of the Commission and Council decisions, European Greens have proposed: 

1. A comprehensive tax convergence pact comprised of:

- an EU financial transaction tax (FTT);

- an EU climate/energy contribution;

-  a common consolidated corporate tax base associated with a minimal effective taxation rate so as to ensure a fair contribution by the corporate sector;

- an EU tax disarmament treaty whereby Member States would dismantle the tax heavens built into their own legislations. 

2.  A more ambitious EU budget, funded by EU resources flowing from the FTT and climate/energy contribution, enabling the partial relief of member-state contributions, the budget being then complemented by project bonds to finance projects of general interest. 

3. The introduction of economically-relevant social and environmental indicators in the macroeconomic surveillance pillar, such as income inequalities, education expenditures, ecological footprint or resource productivity. 

4. The establishment of a European Monetary Fund, including a permanent crisis response mechanism and the ability to issue Eurobonds. 

5. The adoption of a comprehensive, far reaching and coordinated action plan aiming at achieving two main objectives: restructuring the public debt of EU member-states whose debt position is unsustainable, regardless of any actual or possible corrective measure and simultaneously restructuring and deleveraging the European banking sector. 

6. A build-up and implementation of the EU economic governance conference, on the model of the EU Convention, composed of representatives of regional, national and EU parliaments as well as of social partners and civil society, to advise EU institutions, thereby strengthening  its democratic basis. It could pave the way for medium-term substantial Treaty changes to provide the legal basis for a truly Common Economic Policy, subject to the ordinary legislative procedure, including the field of taxation. This process could play a crucial role, as demonstrated in Iceland with the new Constitution composed from citizens’ electronic contributions, an inspiring piece of good practice proving how far the political will for real change may go.

We should not only aspire to be correct in our approach, but also to win. Therefore, we need to address the question of how to become social and political majorities. We have done this before, with the movements for European Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s, and more recently with the broad mobilisation which led, for the second time in twenty-four years, to a confirmation of Italy’s ban on nuclear energy through the referendum held in June 12-13, 2011. 

About the author

Sergio Andreis, a former Italian MP for the Greens, is Director of the Kyoto Club, www.kyotoclub.org, a non-profit Italian organisation founded in February 1999; its members are 240 business companies, associations and local municipalities engaged in reaching the greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.