Von der Leyen’s Bold Talk Brushes Over EU’s History of Failures
Ursula von der Leyen promised on Tuesday to effectively transform the global energy system in her pitch to become the next EU Commission president.
The bloc’s recent history doesn’t bode well for such ambitions.
The German candidate to lead the EU’s executive arm targeted a 50% cut in Europe’s carbon emissions by 2030 by turning the world’s biggest development bank into a green lender. By the middle of the century, she wants Europe to be the first carbon-neutral continent in the world and pledged a carbon tax on goods from trading partners that don’t match Europe’s standards.
Her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker also sought to think big during his term, proposing a common guarantee fund for euro-area bank deposits, another fund to stabilize the bloc’s economies from shocks, and a levy on tech giants, among other grandiose plans. But he failed to win sufficient support from member states and saw his efforts run aground amid the bloc’s complicated decision-making process and diverging national interests.
Even humbler commission proposals such as abolishing seasonal clock changes are struggling for traction.
So von der Leyen has her work cut out for her to cut through the competing vested interests to make progress on climate. And that’s assuming she can get through a confirmation vote this evening.
Last month, EU leaders failed to reach an agreement on a joint communique committing the bloc to climate neutrality by 2050, as eastern countries led by Poland fretted at the costs of overhauling their energy mix. The spat highlights how the vast resources required for arresting -- and adapting to -- climate change could become the next fault line in European politics.
The EU has demonstrated that it can take decisions in a crisis. When the euro-area’s future was at stake, the bloc set up a gigantic bailout fund and overhauled its public finance rules to avert catastrophe. It also set up common supervision and resolution authorities for the bloc’s biggest banks. But the pace of reform slowed to a standstill once the market pressures abated.
The climate works on a different time scale.
Von der Leyen will have to convince member states and EU lawmakers to make the sacrifices required to forge a common strategy before the worst effects of the crisis become manifest.
If she can do that, she really will have made her mark.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.