By Victoria Reynal
As president of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen is in charge of the European Union’s Green Deal. The Green Deal is an ambitious plan and policy package that comprises several aims, including making the EU climate neutral by 2050. Its objectives, policies, and what leaders learn in the process of implementation can serve as inspiration and guidance for other countries and regions. The following text is a fictional diary entry: it is presented as if Mrs. von der Leyen had written it. The real author – Victoria Reynal – presents a general view of the Green Deal, through what she considers to be Mrs. von der Leyen’s viewpoint and experience.
Thursday January 28, 2021
What a relief to be writing again, I was missing this….... Honestly speaking, being the first woman to preside the European Commission, switching to European politics instead of just German, handling a pandemic, dealing with an unprecedented social and economic crisis and a climate emergency is not exactly straightforward. I have so much on my mind, but I need to stay focused on my main political goal: the Green Deal. Even though I am new to environmental issues, I have become fond of it, it inspires me, and I want to make it work. I think it is the most substantial challenge I have ever faced – almost comparable to raising my seven children (I hope they never read this!).
I feel it is important for me to not get overwhelmed by daily problems and pressures and to keep reminding myself of what we are aiming at with this Green Deal. During my talks with the Members of the European Parliament the year before last, I reached the conclusion that climate change and environmental issues were at the top of most politicians’ priorities. That is when I became convinced the Green Deal should be developed. Furthermore, all the scientific warnings, the media, international organizations, the young people; we decided to make Europe climate neutral by 2050, and to make the economy grow but without continuing to destroy nature. Actually, our aim is not only to not destroy nature but to take care of it and restore it. We made up our minds to position the EU as a global climate leader – inspiring and mobilizing others to act.
2050 is less than 30 years from now! This makes me anxious, but it also gives me so much adrenaline and energy to work countless hours. I think we have figured out the ways that will most likely help us achieve our main goal of being climate neutral by 2050. Sometimes it can be overwhelming – so much needs to be done – we have set so many expectations with the document we published in 2019. I just need to keep our discussed methods in mind. We need investment – both for boosting and decarbonizing the economy. And money should not only come from governments, but also from the private sector. We need to provide companies with the assurance that this will work otherwise they most likely will not invest and will not change their ways. It is also crucial that we transform all the documents we have written into real policies and actions, starting by the Climate Law, that is already a massive challenge. And do not get me started with how we are going to align/ revise all the different laws and policies to make them contribute to the Green Deal’s objectives… We will have to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, tax exemptions for aviation and maritime fuels, and strengthen the Emissions Trading System (Frans Timmermans is really fond of that) … The need for coordination is astronomical! Thank God my team is smart and committed, even though I could not choose all of them – I guess you just cannot have it all. Renewable energy is crucial and the numbers prove it. It is one of THE main ingredients of this green recipe. Let me not forget about the social side of all this: public opinion and NGOs have pressed us into seriously taking into consideration inequality and public participation. ‘Leaving no one behind’ and having a just and inclusive transition – these two are a must, even more so now with the covid crisis. And getting people and stakeholders involved and committed is also key. We are using my social networks for that, among other things.
We also need to enforce and implement all the policies and legislation that are created to reach the Green Deal. That will be a big challenge – first convincing all member states to get on board, to be ambitious with their goals and once that is achieved, getting them to actually implement their policies. As the bloc we are, we Europeans also need to take into account possible carbon leakages – this will also be an interesting challenge. Because if we import products that are high in emissions to avoid producing them, we would still be indirectly promoting GHG emissions… For that, the carbon border adjustment mechanism might be helpful, I cross my fingers. Trade might even trigger positive changes among our partners, who will have to change their ways and produce with less emissions if they are keen enough to access our markets. Am I being too idealistic?... Probably, but I think our times are in desperate need of idealism. About diplomacy, some think we could also use it as an instrument to promote climate action – there is nothing to lose if we just try! I could continue revising all the methodologies we have set out to reach climate neutrality, but going over the ones I just wrote is already so helpful to me!
Of course I have quite a few hopes, fears, and endless criticism. I think the Green Deal stands a chance, otherwise I would not bother, I would not risk my reputation, I would not have moved to the Berlaymont building and put my life into this job. Europe has achieved so much in the past +50 years, I truly feel proud of this continent, I think history shows that we are capable of overcoming war, poverty, devastation, hostility. We have proven ourselves and the world that when common visions and goals are set, almost anything can be accomplished. Now that the unprecedented threat of climate change is looming over all of us, I believe we can join forces and fight with all our cells, our energy, our passion – with all the tools we can use – to save ourselves and this planet.
I am also aware of many of the pitfalls, which are countless and sometimes keep me up all night. Politics is sometimes the arena where the most despicable parts of us humans come forward. Ego, competition, the relentless search for power, corruption, shortsightedness, manipulation and lies are just some of the dangers that could jeopardize our efforts. Imagine that just a few months ago, people from my own party were turning against me, criticizing me for having an agenda that is too progressive, not cooperating enough with business. They say I am too ‘enthusiastic’ about green policies. Others think that what we are doing is worthless and insufficient, like Greta. I understand her, she is a powerful soul and she is probably right in her requests of higher ambition… But dealing with bureaucracy, with opposition in my own party and in the E.U. institutions are sometimes overwhelming. I cannot even imagine asking for more than a 60% reduction by 2030 – I think they would just fire me. Reaching consensus can feel like giving birth to a mammoth… Our plans have also been criticized for not being radical enough. There are some people who seem to despise capitalism, the market economy, and the idea of growth. They say it is capitalism and growth that brought us to this chaos, and we will not solve anything if we do not radically change our ways, especially our economic model. What can I say… I agree that capitalism has flaws and needs to be regulated. But to destroy it? And at the same time halt emissions without creating a complete societal earthquake? Impossible… About growth, even I sometimes wonder about it, but now is not the time to reflect and get into philosophical discussions – we need to act soon. If someone comes up with a better and feasible solution for the climate crisis in the immediate future, they should speak up, otherwise, they must not block our work.
Well, I feel much better, I need to do this more often. My head gets so much clearer after I write, it is truly therapeutic and refreshing, almost like riding on horseback or listening to classical music… I hope things will go more smoothly, and that Covid will not drown us in short-term emergencies. Let me....actually... let US remain focused – the world needs it.
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