Summary Report – The Architecture of a Green and Sustainable Europe

The European Parliament Former Members Association recently held a virtual conference ‘Together for the Future of Europe’ focusing on the ‘Green Transition Strategy –What the Green Transition can and should do for Europe’.

Opening the session, Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the FMA and Former President of the European Parliament described Europe’s future as an architectural challenge in which a revised architecture of community and economics is needed.

Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament positioned discussion of political systems in the context of the Past-Present-Future. He highlighted that American dominion was ending, the ‘peace dividend’ was over, and that the future horizon of climate change demands global cooperation.

Welle said, poor relations between the United States and China make green ambitions even more difficult and has led Europe to focus on energy security in the context of Europe’s geopolitical security. Despite global tensions, he views Europe as emerging stronger, not least in the context of healthcare, where Europe now sees its capacity to cooperate as a health union.

Cristina Gallach Figueras, Former Spanish Government’s High Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda, and Former Spanish Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Ibero-America and the Caribbean, spoke about the challenges of the Green Transition. In an optimistic exploration of a ‘convergence of possibilities’ Figueras explained some positive outcomes of the pandemic tragedy, stating that it was a good moment to be European, not least because the pandemic and climate challenges have renewed European commitment to cooperation in overcoming serious common challenges.

Professor Jos Marie R. Delbeke, of the School of Transnational Governance (STG) part-time Professor and full Professor at KU Leuven- Belgium, said the Green Transition requires a keen eye on competitiveness. Pointing to Europe’s ‘massive investment programme’, Delbeke highlighted the financial firepower available in the Social Climate Fund. Greenwashing, he said, must be avoided, and a market-based approach, he said, isthe platform to ensure sustained economic stimulus to achieve Europe’s climate ambitions.

The first of two panel discussions, ‘A green and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis?’ heard Eva Patrashkova, a EPP Senior Political Adviser, advocate for the power of collective action, especially when we trust the science, and coalesce around data-driven solutions, to achieve a green and sustainable recovery.

Daša Šašić Šilović, President of the European Partners for the Environment; and Chair of the International Board, CEE Network for Gender Issues spoke of the poverty and hardship faced by many Europeans. She emphasized the risks of autocratic regimes in Europe, and said we must labour to bridge all democratic deficits in the European Union, convincing citizens that Europe is not an elitist agenda. A green and sustainable recovery, said Šašić Šilović, demands transparency of public spending, a fierce fight against corruption and a determination to build social cohesion.

The second panel on Innovation, Economy and Global Competition Capacity, heard John Hassler, (PhD MIT) Professor of Economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University, state that we don’t really know the full risks of climate change. He explained how we have been abusing the atmosphere as a ‘free to use’ natural resource. The question now, is ‘how do we fairly and efficiently price the use of this resource?’ Hassler said political instability and discontent is a threat to the climate change agenda, with many citizens asking: ‘What’s in it for me?’ His message was – we need to simplify the system.

Dirk Holemans, Co-President of the Green European Foundation, said we need ‘a big endeavour’ not a piecemeal approach. The social contract needs updated, he said, because it’s based on an outdated 20th Century fiscal model of taxing labour.

Holemans called for Europe to give back to the people; explaining that fuel poverty is a hidden cost of carbon policies, and that climate policy risks creating fear, insecurity and anxiety – leading to the weakening of our democracy. A concept of care must be introduced to the new social model, he suggested, leading to an ‘eco-social contract’ to avoid the collapse of biodiversity.

Finally, the question of leadership was discussed. The Green Transition demands not simply public leadership, but a combination of public and corporate leadership, pulling all levers of our economy and communities, to outpace a looming climate disaster.