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Greening Europe? What a good idea

By ALEX WARLEIGH-LACK

09.03.2011 @ 14:18 CET

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT – When Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, he famously quipped that it would be a very good idea. The implication, of course, was that the West needed to raise its game considerably if it were to qualify as a civilised part of the globe or boast of its achievements; and more contemporary Indian public intellectuals such as Vandana Shiva or Arundhati Roy have said much the same thing.

Throughout Europe 2020, environmental concerns are treated secondary at best (Photo: infomatique)

Pondering upon recent EU attempts to pose as the global champion of green politics, Gandhi’s comments have echoed through my mind. Is the EU really qualified to play this role? The recent strategic document which sets out the EU’s vision for the future – Europe 2020 – certainly leaves much room for doubt.

Proposed by the Commission and then accepted by the European Council, this document sets out how the EU should respond to the greatest economic challenge for generations, namely the current financial crisis/recession. Given the EU’s claims to be an innovator in green politics and pretensions to global leadership in the fight against climate change, citizens might have expected that the opportunity to rethink the EU economy along greener lines would be seized. They would have been wrong.

Throughout Europe 2020, environmental concerns are treated at best as secondary concerns, completely subordinate to the ‘competitiveness’ and ‘growth’ agenda. Only one part of the strategy speaks explicitly to environmental concerns – the flagship initiative on ‘resource efficient Europe’ – and this keeps green issues firmly within the confines of conventional economic thinking.

The document even backtracks on the idea of sustainable development, the UN-agreed set of principles established over 20 years ago to guide economic change and shape public and social policy. Instead, a bogus new term – ‘sustainable growth’ – is invented.

The Commission claims to have drawn lessons from the financial crisis, but these seem only to be that previous economic policy must be maintained and even entrenched. The neoliberal and monetarist policies of the EU and its principal member states, which produced the recession, are to be continued; the crisis is considered to have shown the need for greater budgetary discipline, more growth, and yet more emphasis on ‘competitiveness’.

Where are the proposals to rethink social and welfare policy, reduce working hours, or guarantee a basic income? Where are the proposals for a Tobin tax or to regulate the markets? Where is the questioning of economism and the recognition that on a planet of finite resources, ‘growth’ cannot go on forever?

That crash you hear is the slamming of the ideological doors; that sobbing you hear is people in DG Environment and DG Climate Action jamming the Samaritans switchboard, wondering how not to feel irrelevant.

The EU has decided its economic future, and it’s looking anything but green.

The writer is a Professor of Politics and International Relations at the Brunel University and and an Associate Fellow UNU-CRIS (United Nations University, Comparative Regional Integration Studies)

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