Author : Shairee Malhotra

Expert Speak Terra Nova
Published on Jun 08, 2024

With the 2024 European Parliament elections taking place from 6-9 June, the fate of the European Green Deal hangs in the balance.

The fate of the European Green Deal

Since the last EU election in 2019, the pace of climate change has gained momentum, with 2023 being the hottest year on record.  

With the 2024 European Parliament elections taking place from 6-9 June, the fate of the European Green Deal—the von der Leyen Commission’s landmark legislation aimed at making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050—hangs in the balance. 

Launched in 2019, the European Green Deal was considered the EU’s ‘man on the moon moment’. Since then, the EU has enacted several steps to attain these targets, which involve reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the use of renewables further intensified by the Russia-Ukraine war, and protecting biodiversity. Several proposals including the REPower EU strategy and the Fit for 55 package were devised to these ends.

Launched in 2019, the European Green Deal was considered the EU’s ‘man on the moon moment’. Since then, the EU has enacted several steps to attain these targets, which involve reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the use of renewables further intensified by the Russia-Ukraine war, and protecting biodiversity.  

The deal has already had many successes. For instance, in Germany, carbon emissions were reduced by 73 million metric tonnes from 2022 figures, and over half of Germany’s energy needs were fulfilled by renewables in 2022, according to data from Agora Energiewende

A strained green agenda 

Encouraged by Greta Thunberg’s activism, Europe was engulfed by a green wave in 2019, with European citizens taking to the streets to pressurise politicians towards climate action. With climate change emerging as the dominant issue, the Greens group won 71 seats in the European Parliament elections that same year. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and global trade tensions have altered priorities since then. Climate change no longer tops the Berlaymont’s priority list. Instead, issues of security and defence, industrial competitiveness, and combating economic woes are now centre-stage. A draft vision document put forth by EU leaders just before the current European elections makes several references to matters of foreign policy, security, and enlargement. Still, it falls short of substantial attention to climate change. In comparison, the 2019 vision document had climate change at its core. 

Since February this year and up until the elections, anger from cheap Ukrainian imports and the high costs of the green transition resulted in farmer protests engulfing Europe, with far-right parties seizing the chance to exploit grievances. Perceptions of over-regulation and bureaucracy have further contributed to the Green Deal’s unpopularity, generating resistance amongst citizens and businesses.

Since February this year and up until the elections, anger from cheap Ukrainian imports and the high costs of the green transition resulted in farmer protestsengulfing Europe, with far-right parties seizing the chance to exploit grievances.

Following national trends in member states where the Green vote share is steadily declining based on changing voter priorities, the Greens/European Free Alliance is expected to lose seats in the European Parliament, with Politico’s poll of polls predicting 41 seats for the group in the 720-member European Parliament. Instead, the far-right is expected to gain ground with implications for the future of the EU’s green agenda. Furthermore, across member states including Poland, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, local radical groups such as the Dutch Farmers Defence Force, whose leader, Van den Oever, compared the situation of farmers with that of Jews during World War II, have pushed back against European green policies, while encouraging citizens to vote accordingly in the European Parliament elections. Unpopular policies at the national level such as plans to outlaw gas boilers almost led to a collapse of Germany’s fragile coalition government.

The ascendance of the far-right and expected gains in the European elections has already led mainstream parties such as European Commission President von der Leyen’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) to co-opt more rightward positions to appeal to voters and relinquish or dilute parts of their own Green Deal. This is evident in the delay in implementing the Nature Restoration Lawa proposal to restore at “least 20% of land and sea areas by 2030 and ultimately all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050”, and the withdrawal of a bill to halve the use of chemical pesticides. A potential EPP alliance with the populist far-right European Conservatives and Reformists, Italian PM Meloni’s group, is likely to compromise parts of the EU green agenda further. 

However, despite the relegation of climate change in EU priorities, a 2023 Eurobarometer survey reveals that 77 percent of respondents consider climate change a serious issue, and 85 percent believe the EU should take action to combat this. On the other hand, a poll with 26,000 respondents conducted by Euronews and Ipsos indicates climate change ranks as the sixth priority issue behind immigration and inflation.

Competitiveness is the buzzword 

Mario Draghi, former Italian Prime Minister and President of the European Central Bank, estimates that Europe’s green and digital transformation will require €500 billion annually. But with a sluggish European economy and high inflation, managing these investments will be challenging. 

Europe’s green transition is also being complicated by rampant global trade tensions such as cheaper Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) flooding the European market and impacting European automobile manufacturers.Yet Europe’s aims to phase out fossil fuel vehicles are supported by EVs, and Chinese EVs are currently much cheaper than their European counterparts. 

Europe’s green transition is also being complicated by rampant global trade tensions such as cheaper Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) flooding the European market and impacting European automobile manufacturers.Yet Europe’s aims to phase out fossil fuel vehicles are supported by EVs, and Chinese EVs are currently much cheaper than their European counterparts. 

For the EU, the challenge will involve balancing climate goals with the interests of its industrial and agricultural sectors, with economic competitiveness at the centre. This is why the EPP manifesto—the group that is once again expected to emerge as the largest in the Parliament—vows to “make climate policy go hand in hand with our economy and society”. 


Shairee Malhotra is an Associate Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation.

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