Europe’s Indispensable Green and Global Roadmap

Flavio Brugnoli
Director of Centro Studi sul Federalismo 

Nathalie Tocci
A Green and Global Europe
Polity, 2022

The pandemic crisis and the Russian aggression against Ukraine have shown how interdependent and fragile the current global (dis)order is. But no crisis is more global and “existential” than the climate crisis. The European Union (EU) has always been at the forefront in the fight against climate change. It can now play a global role thanks to the European Green Deal (EGD), the backbone of the European “green transition”, launched by the von der Leyen Commission at the end of 2019.  A new book by Nathalie Tocci, A Green and Global Europe, gives us an excellent overview of the opportunities and the risks ahead.

Nathalie Tocci is ideally placed to master this complex and multifaceted topic. She is the current Director of Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in Rome, one of the leading European think-tanks, and Honorary Professor at the University of Tübingen. She has been Advisor to the High Representatives, Federica Mogherini and later Josep Borrell – with the former she drafted the European Global Strategy, launched in 2016. She also has an insider’s knowledge of the energy sector, having been an independent non-executive Board Member of Edison, Eni and (currently) Acea. The book was partly written during her time as the Pierre Keller Visiting Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The author places the EGD at the centre of the EU’s relaunch, as it is considered the best lever for the EU to effectively assume a global role. The EGD as a “normative, strategic, economic and political project” covers multiple dimensions of a “green Europe”. For a European Union that has “progressively lost its narrative”, with its lack of coherent responses to the economic and financial crises and the migration crisis, its decarbonisation strategy presents a unique opportunity to improve its image, above all in the eyes of the younger generations.

Tocci’s analysis focuses on three levels, as it covers the challenges and the impact of a green Europe: within the Union, in the context of a reflection on “the future of liberal democracy”; at a regional level, “in a troubled neighborhood” (east and south); globally, “amidst global rivalry”. At all levels we should be aware that the green/energy transition is bound to have (indeed, it is already having) massive social, economic, political and geopolitical consequences, both for millions of citizens and for different territories.

EU Member States have long been concerned with energy policies at their national level, with EU institutions playing only a marginal role. We have also seen a growing dependence of some countries (notably, Germany and Italy) on Russian fossil fuels, even after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014: a shortsighted choice, as has been made clear by Putin’s criminal aggression towards Ukraine, in February 2022. We are now aware that energy policies and climate polices should proceed side-by-side. But the regressive impact that the green/energy transition could have on a social and territorial level can be overcome – in a political context in which populism and Euroscepticism have flourished – only by putting in place substantial redistribution strategies. In that sense, Next Generation EU and the Just Transition Fund are steps in the right direction.

At the “regional” level, the European green agenda faces multiple dilemmas. Looking south, we have countries that will be hit hard by the shift away from fossil fuels (e.g. Algeria, Libya, Nigeria) and areas already dealing with the dramatic impact of the climate crisis (the Sahel). A forward-looking Europe should be able to address the fragile situation of our neighbours, with both public and private investments, not least because measures like the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, albeit necessary, may be negatively received in countries that still heavily rely on “brown” energies, with – according to Tocci – Turkey probably the most affected.

The global level is now driven by the US-China rivalry, focused on economy and technology, which embodies a broader confrontation between democracies and autocracies. At the same time, we are experiencing a redefinition of the globalisation process. Here lies the fundamental concept of Europe’s “(open) strategic autonomy”, in which the EU’s “twin transitions” (green and digital) are deeply interconnected. The sensitivity of the EU-China relationship can hardly be overstated: while we must avoid the risk of new dependencies (particularly on critical raw materials), we cannot imagine an American-style “decoupling” of our interdependent economies. We will need to maintain a careful balance between cooperation (especially on climate change) and competition.

In a multipolar world, a third player has emerged: the “Global South”, an overly simplified concept that puts very different countries into one basket, but which helps to frame new trends and challenges. In this respect, the EU can play a proactive role, with the Green Deal as a compass. Tocci supports the idea of “Green Partnerships” and “Green Trade Agreements” – above all to strengthen the transatlantic partnership, despite the tensions raised by the US Inflation Reduction Act. Africa is the other significant partner for Europe, with mutual benefits for their development and for our needs for renewable energy. But the Global South suffers from a wider “global (in)justice”, as it suffers the costs of climate change without the benefits of the economic growth. Pragmatic strategies are needed, combining climate adaptation and climate mitigation, with the EU expected to make the most of its Global Gateway project – the (not sufficiently known) European response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In conclusion, Nathalie Tocci has given us a timely and impressive book, in which she combines wide-ranging scenarios and an ambitious political agenda. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid the pessimistic sensation that that agenda is urgent and necessary, but that it is too complex and requires too many consistent decisions from multiple actors, while time is desperately short. We will see how many of those ideas and proposals make their way into the debate heading into the 2024 European elections. Both policy makers and public opinion should be aware that we need a “political and policy-driven” green/energy transition, for the EU to be a credible global climate leader. As the author sums it up, “a green and global Europe must become two sides of the same coin”. If not now, when?

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