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Unity is Europe’s greatest asset

May 15,2024 - Last updated at May 15,2024

COPENHAGEN — With the approach of June’s European Parliament elections, the grand coalition of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe faces a watershed moment. The EPP’s recent decision to nominate European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for a second term, far from being merely procedural, could have profound implications for Europe as it confronts internal and external challenges of unprecedented magnitude.

Together with its coalition partners, the EPP has steered the EU through multiple shocks over the past five years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened tensions with China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the subsequent energy crisis. The EU’s achievements during this period have highlighted not only the bloc’s resilience of the European community but also the crucial role of unity and the need to preserve the current coalition.

Moreover, these challenges have underscored the importance of upholding the intergenerational contract and foundational values that underpin the EU. This is particularly important in the face of mounting pressures from extremists and populists who advocate simplistic, short-term fixes instead of tackling long-term, complex challenges.

Looking ahead, the EU’s agenda will likely remain dominated by persistent crises, necessitating a unified and thoughtful approach. The EPP-led coalition could play a crucial role, fostering stability and economic development while navigating the challenges Europe must face.

One of the main challenges will be the fight against climate change. Over the past few years, European leaders have worked together to protect the environment for future generations while striving to boost economic competitiveness. This collective effort has led to a significant reduction in transport-sector emissions and the adoption of the ambitious Fit for 55 plan, a comprehensive legislative package aimed at reducing the EU’s net greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. The plan includes binding targets for boosting renewable-energy production, reducing energy consumption, and lowering emissions in key industries.

Moreover, today’s geopolitical crises have brought security back to the top of Europe’s agenda, with EU member states aiming to de-risk energy value chains by focusing on renewables and efficiency measures. This strategic pivot reflects a broader commitment to sustainability that resonates beyond Europe’s borders, influencing energy policies around the world.

But this shift is not just about achieving climate goals. By focusing on renewable energies and de-risking supply chains, the EU also aims to shield European citizens and industries from the volatility of global energy markets, which are often influenced by geopolitical uncertainties. The bloc’s commitment to renewables is exemplified by Germany’s Energiewende (energy transformation) policy, as well as robust government investments in renewable energy in Denmark, The Netherlands and Sweden. These strategic investments have also bolstered the competitiveness of these countries’ energy industries.

This is important because Europe is not alone in pursuing a sustainable future. Following the establishment of the EU’s Emissions Trading System, countries like Japan and Brazil have set up their own carbon markets. This global sustainability drive, while commendable, also means increased competition, again highlighting the need for unity as European countries seek to capitalise on the opportunities created by the green transition while striving to meet ambitious climate targets and tackle the complex challenges that come with implementation.

While unity is the EU’s greatest asset in the fight against climate change, the EPP’s leadership, in particular, must continue to play a central role in advancing the EU’s climate agenda. This is no time to backtrack. The expansion of the EU carbon market into new sectors like maritime transport, and the bloc’s prominent role in international climate negotiations, are prime examples of its proactive approach. Faced with the existential threat of climate change, EPP, S&D, and Renew leaders must draw on their experience, knowledge, and ambition to defend the bloc’s core values against rising populism and guide Europe through the challenging times ahead.

Far from a distant threat, climate change is already wreaking havoc across Europe. At this critical juncture, Europe requires unity, vision, and bold leadership more than ever. The future of the bloc, the welfare of its citizens, and the success of its industries are in our hands. For responsible political parties, now is no time to make Europe a victim of partisan paralysis.

 

Connie Hedegaard served as European commissioner for Climate Action (2010-14), and as Denmark’s minister for the Environment (2004-07) and minister for Climate and Energy (2007-09). Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2024. www.project-syndicate.org

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