Towards an EU Green Recovery? We can switch it on!

While much talks are ongoing regarding the strategies we much adopt for the EU’s economy and society to recover, the crisis is still hitting professionals strongly. As an example, the Belgian electrical contractors report that almost 90% of them have been constrained to completely or partially stop their activity (half of them stopping completely, mostly SMEs). In the meantime, 92% of Belgian electrical contractors approve the current lockdown measures and would support an extension, if needed.

These two figures are striking. They remind us that, despite the turmoil that we are expecting at every level, health and safety measures are our top priority. But it also shows a positive prospect: electrical contractors do not admit defeat, because they are aware that they are part of the solution for this crisis.

Indeed, electrical contractors are at the forefront of the energy transition, which is key to both prepare a cleaner future and create substantial and sustainable jobs.

Electrical contractors, a workforce of 1.8 million professionals across Europe, are the ones responsible to switch on the decarbonisation of our economy: they install PV systems and  energy efficiency solutions, they come to consumers’ households to do maintenance operations and safety check-ups, and they provide advice on their electrical systems, just to name a few.

As a consequence, it was natural for EuropeOn and its members to join forces at the end of March with more than 30 (and now close to 40) EU associations to call on public stakeholders to accelerate an #EUGreenRecovery.

In the same spirit, we co-signed MEP Pascal Canfin’s Call for Mobilisation to reboot and reboost Europe with a Green recovery. This call has received the support of 180 personalities, among which are ministers from 11 European countries, 79 MEPs, 37 CEOs of big companies and numerous NGOs and associations. These initiatives have had a tremendous echo in EU and national newspapers.

However, many voices have raised in parallel to focus on the Recovery and forget about the Green Deal, meaning that the “day after” would just be “business as usual”. Here lies an opposition not only between the old and the new world, but also between short sight and long sight, and, as some might think, between pragmatic and idealistic agendas. We object this point of view, as stated in our joint Call for Mobilisation:

This is not a matter of creating a new economy from scratch. We already have all the tools and many new technologies. Over the last 10 years, tremendous progress has been made in most transition sectors, developing new technologies and value chain, and dramatically reducing the cost of the transition (including inter alia: renewable energy, zero emission mobility, agroecology, energy efficiency…). 10 years ago, zero-emission vehicles were only a prototype. 10 years ago, wind energy was three times more expensive than it is today, and solar energy seven times. 10 years ago, we had not carried out renovation work on buildings showing that this action is profitable.”

This sound reasoning has been more and more shared for the past few weeks. Some national governments, in particular France, Denmark and the Netherlands, have clearly advocated for a strong connection between the Recovery Plan and the Green Deal. Eventually, Member States’ ministers for Energy expressed together on the 28th of April, via the Council, that the “energy sector should play a central role in the recovery plan from COVID-19”. Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy, declared on this occasion that “clean energy investment can simultaneously create jobs and reduce emissions. I see three focus areas in our sector: boosting building renovation, accelerating renewables development and promoting innovative clean energy technologies.”

During this meeting, most of the ministers asked the European Commission to continue its work on the initiatives planned for the Green Deal, the Renovation Wave, Smart sector integration, and the offshore wind initiatives. Besides, the assessment of the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP), planned for June, will be delayed as four Member States (Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Romania) have still not submitted their plans to the Commission.

On the same day, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised that she would put the European Green Deal at the centre of the EU Recovery plan, and commented: “As we now plan to slowly go back to work and to invest billions of euros to restart our economy, we should avoid falling back in old, polluting habits” .

The Recovery Plan is still being drafted and will be presented by the Commission in May. President Van der Leyen insisted that the European Green Deal would be “our motor for the recovery”. This plan will shape a recovery strategy targeted for 14 ecosystems (this concept has not been explained fully but some sectors such as automotive and tourism have been mentioned) in order to restore a “green, digital and resilient” economy (as stated my Commissioner for industry, Thierry Breton). The overall envelope for this plan will rise between 1.000 and 2.000 billion euros. So far, discussions are still ongoing regarding whether it will take the form of loans, fresh EU money, a mix of both, other options, etc.

Making of the Green Deal the motor of the recovery is an extremely positive sign from both the Member States and the European Commission. The question remains: “how?”. Will initiatives such as the Renovation wave, the Smart sector integration and the Smart and sustainable mobility strategies translate into legal enforcement and biding targets, to accelerate the energy transition and boost the job market which will need it enormously? Will skills be taken into account in the upcoming schemes, as we know that there won’t be a green transition if green skills are not implemented? These are the questions we will raise in the coming days and weeks. 

Julie Beaufils,

EuropeOn Secretary General