The economic fallout of the Covid-19 outbreak is yet to be determined but as legislators scramble to establish fiscal support for the EU it is becoming clear the suits in Brussels are not prepared to scrap their hard-won Green Deal plan. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The European Council made up of the heads of state of EU member countries has offered hope to the renewables industry by insisting the fiscal response to the Covid-19 pandemic will not abandon its Green Deal for Europe principles.
With the national economies of member states such as coronavirus front line countries Italy and Spain already taking a battering, and criticism mounting at the perceived lack of aid from European partners, the EU is still to discuss the details of an economic response.
President Trump has already signed an historic $2 trillion (€1.81 billion) fiscal program into law across the Atlantic but, with the EU having loosened state aid restrictions to help deal with the public health crisis, the money taps have yet to be turned on.
With numerous industries ravaged by the desperate measures brought in by member states to constrain spread of Covid-19, legislators now have to decide the priorities for funding support, by metrics such as the number of jobs industries support. However, those holding the purse strings may also take into account how important industries are to critical EU policies such as the trading bloc’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Despite petitioning in recent days by reluctant Green Deal partners in Poland and Czechia seeking to relax project timelines, European stakeholders from scientists to industry and civil society have insisted the carbon emission plan could help the bloc recover from Covid-19 and its associated economic havoc.
The Eastern European naysayers appear to have been won round to back a communique issued by European Council president Charles Michel to the European Commission which supported the role of the ‘green transition’ in Europe’s economic recovery.
The council called upon the commission to “start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to normal functioning of our societies and economies and to sustainable growth, integrating, inter alia, the green transition and the digital transformation.” The seven-page paper stated such an effort would require comprehensive plans and unprecedented investment.
“The decision of the European Council to include the green transition as a key element of the European Covid-19 stimulus package is smart and forward-looking,” said Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of industry body SolarPower Europe. “Solar power, as the most job-intensive, low-cost and easily deployed renewable technology can play an important role in this regard. We are collaborating closely with our members to bring forward concrete proposals with the aim of mitigating the effects of the virus on the European solar sector and boosting new investments across the entire solar industrial value chain.”
The council said the European Investment Bank (EIB) could take on a central role in mobilizing Covid-19 resources for small and medium-sized enterprises. To that end, finance ministers have been asked to explore the possibilities of scaling up the EIB’s response. The commission has already tabled a proposed €37 billion Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative which the council endorsed in its latest communication.
The council ended its communique with a call for commission president Ursula von der Leyen and council chief Michel to work together with the European Central Bank to establish a roadmap out of the coronavirus-prompted economic crisis.
The idea of combining economic stimulus with climate protection is not new. Since the 2008 financial crisis, governments have channeled sizeable portions of stimulus packages towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and deploying renewable energy. U.N. body the International Labor Organization wrote that at the end of 2009, around 16.3% of fiscal measures – $521 billion – were allocated to green stimulus packages.