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Europe’s Imperialist Climate Policy

From the series European News

Climate policy is now openly the object of the imperialist contention.

The EU, driven by the German acceleration, has set itself targets that impose a fast pace on continental industry: climate neutrality by 2050 and, as an intermediate step, a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. In July, the Commission presented the Fit for 55 package, which details in legislative proposals the objectives of the Green Deal formulated in 2019.

A decisive decade

The EU plan is initiating a major fight between the powers, the political forces and the large groups. It has set a thirty-year agenda, but the next decade will be crucial, said the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The reform will require a qualified majority in the Council and in the EU Parliament, a process that will probably take two years.

The Financial Times reports that France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Latvia, Ireland and Bulgaria have already raised concerns about the possible social effects. The Eastern states, largely dependent on fossil fuels, are expressing their discontent over a climate agenda tailored to the innovation capabilities of the German industrial power. Ursula von der Leyen herself, before the plan was presented, had to face opposition from at least 7 of her 26 Commissioners. The €72 billion Social Climate Fund is facing resistance from the frugal countries, including the Netherlands.

Risks and opportunities

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) accuses the EU plan of being a regulatory monster, which places no trust in market mechanisms, such as the carbon price, and expects to regulate every detail for the next 30 years through public intervention. But the central issue is that Europe, the first mover in the field of climate standards, will have to face competitive disadvantages and higher costs in the short term. The EU accounts for only 7% of global emissions: will it succeed in setting standards? Will China and the US follow suit?

Europe could be penalised compared to powers that do not adopt equally ambitious climate constraints: How does the EU intend to prevent oil prices, due to the European renunciation of fossil fuels, from falling elsewhere, thereby increasing consumption?. Interviewed by Handelsblatt, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans replied: Much of our oil and from third countries gas comes [i.e., outside the European Economic Area]. Reducing our dependence not only reduces costs, but is a strategic advantage. As for the industry’s concerns, he noted: Many EU regulations have been criticised using competition as an argument. Think of all the regulations and standards that we apply to the chemical industry. In the end, they worked for the EU, because they became global standards. […] I firmly believe that whoever changes first will have an advantage. The economy will change all over the world, but not at the same pace. If Europe leads the way, it will profit from it.

According to Timmermans, we are facing an industrial revolution: For every transformation there are frictions, […] but we have calculated that the new economy has the potential to create two million jobs. Of course, there is also the other side: in some areas, jobs will disappear or change. Our challenge, however, is professional qualification and vocational retraining in order to fill the new jobs. With our demographics, it will already be quite difficult.

The FAZ summarises: The costs and risks are enormous, but so are the opportunities.

A Green Europe that protects

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAS), the Green candidate Annalena Baerbock advocates a new industrial policy towards China: We must ensure that standards are met […] for example through an increase in tariffs for companies that are subsidised on the Chinese market or for which there are no environmental standards, We Europeans need to define key technologies ensure that such and work […] to products can be produced in Europe. The EU will not be able to isolate China, stresses Baerbock, but we must remain sovereign and not surrender completely to an authoritarian regime that also works through unfair economic methods. We need a different policy towards China, a policy which looks at all sensitive economic areas and uses the common strength of the EU.

In the current European line, however, Timmermans underlines that multilateralism prevails: The border adjustment has only one objective, and that is to avoid carbon leakage [i.e., relocating production to other countries with laxer emission constraints]. I am absolutely convinced that we can bring it into line with WTO rules. […] And if other countries pursue climate protection as we do, […] a huge space could emerge, where our Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is not necessary.

In an interview with the French newspaper La Croix, Ursula von der Leyen also locates the ultimate reason for the climate agenda in the global contention: Industry is increasingly our ally in change. European companies are already the engine of the green transition, because it offers them immense opportunities to create sustainable and clean product markets all over the world. They understand that the European Green Deal is their chance to beat the competition at a global level and exploit the advantages of those who ‘come first’.

The European continent, writes Handelsblatt, wants to be a pioneer and to make its economic weight count to affirm global standards: As a result of their union, Europeans have a significantly greater influence than individual member states could have. Others may be militarily superior. But the EU’s soft power is unmatched.

The EU vaccination marathon

The continental approach is also bearing fruit in the pandemic crisis. EU leads vaccine marathon after losing sprint is the headline of an editorial in the Financial Times [August 13th]. The bloc as a whole has overtaken the US in terms of first and second doses per 100 people. It should surpass the UK within a few weeks. […] The EU met its target of administering one jab to 70 per cent of adults by July and should hit its next one of fully vaccinating 70 per cent in the coming seven weeks. […] The vaccination rate in the US and UK is now half of the EU’s. Europeans lost the sprint, now they are well placed in the marathon.

In the face of crises, Angela Merkel pointed to the constant dialectic between efficiency and tolerance with regards to EU diversity, The deficit of centralisation involves laborious and slow syntheses, which are intended to be inclusive and equipped with institutional counterweights. But finally, in this way, European imperialism expresses the strength of its continental weight, as in the case of the production and distribution of vaccines.

The European method

Johannes Leithäuser, in the FAZ, writes that the Merkel method consists of patience and perseverance in the search for the political centre of gravity. Merkel’s many foreign policy successes appear to be the synthesis of many different interests and have the boring aspect of compromise, but this does not mean that they are less relevant. This was already the case in 2007, when in the Treaty of Lisbon she managed to save the European Constitution rejected in 2005. In foreign policy, Merkel indicated that she prefers the term setback to failure. An approach, notes Leithäuser, which has been going on for 7 years in the Ukrainian crisis and for 6 years in an attempt to improve relations with Turkey. However, her entire chancellorship has been a model for European synthesis with which Europe has faced different crises. This European approach means, first and foremost, in the wake of Helmut Kohl, close and strong links with France: at the request of France, the Chancellor sent the Bundeswehr to Africa and, in turn, she brought François Hollande with her to sign the Minsk agreements on the Ukrainian crisis.

Only in the Franco-British military intervention in Libya (in 2011) did Berlin not follow Paris. At the time, Germany’s refusal aroused accusations and suspicions that the Germans were again a taking a special path (Sonderweg) and were not reliable in the Western camp, recalls Leithäuser. Similar accusations had struck the Schröder government in 2003, when in agreement with Paris it opposed the American war in Iraq. But in both cases Berlin’s intention was to build a common EU position. In Libya, an immediate European neighbourhood, France instead forced a unilateral adventure in its historical area of projection.

In January 2020, in Berlin, after nearly a decade of civil war and chaos in Libya, Angela Merkel in Berlin brought her opponents inside and outside Libya, including Russia and Turkey, to an agreement. The process is not progressing smoothly or quickly — acknowledges the FAZ — but so far none of the parties involved has turned back. Assuming this reality principle, writes Leithäuser, Germany has meanwhile become an authority, an arbitral power in the Mediterranean region, recently also in the Turkish-Greek conflict over energy raw materials. And in this role it is even stronger than other European countries can claim for themselves. In short, the strength of Merkel’s Mediterranean policy lies in the weight of the EU.

In this reconstruction, Leithäuser emphasises a German-led initiative in the Mediterranean: after Hollande’s trip to Minsk, part of Germany’s area of projection, this is precisely the situation we indicated as a possible test of the establishment of a real EU foreign policy.

Future developments will betoken a low-profile German influence in Euro-Mediterranean policy.

The Afghan litmus test

As the Afghan crisis shows, however, Europe is paying for its military inferiority. German comments express dismay and frustration at the American withdrawal. The FAZ sees a break for world politics, in the sign of Atlantic decline: Washington is no longer willing to pay the price that is required of a superpower.

One of the most emphasised aspects is the lack of coordination with European partners in the U.S. unilateral decision to leave Afghanistan SO hastily. After the Trump years, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger notes in the FAZ, doubts about America’s reliability persist even under Biden. Emmanuel Macron’s reflection on the brain death of NATO and the lack of a transatlantic directorate recurs.

Thus, by revealing European impotence, the Afghan crisis once again indicates the need to strengthen the European pillar of NATO, in order to increase the EU’s strategic autonomy in the transatlantic framework.

Lotta Comunista, July-August 2021