COVID-19: The time has come for the Green New Deal for Europe
In just two months, COVID-19 has set off a chain of unprecedented crisis in Europe. A health crisis has brought about a continent-wide lockdown, aggravating an economic crisis from which Europe never recovered, compounding the climate and environmental crises that were already pushing our planet to the brink.
When US President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched his New Deal, he set his sights on a holistic plan to address the Great Depression: relief for those struggling to get by, recovery to bring the economy back to life, and reform to prevent the mistakes of the past from being repeated.
Once again, we find ourselves entering an economic depression. And once again, we will need a holistic and ambitious policy programme to lift ourselves out of it.
The choice is ours to make. If our governments bail out the banks, airlines, car factories, and fossil fuel companies, our response to the COVID-19 outbreak could put us back on a path of planetary breakdown. But if we put people before profit, our response could propel us towards a frontier of justice, sustainability and solidarity.
One thing is for sure: the EU’s “Green Deal” is dead. The piecemeal approach — of dividing policies between different agencies and portfolios — cannot deal with the crises we face. The financing strategy, based on the premise that ‘there is no money’ for the green transition, has been exposed as a lie.
COVID-19 drives us to that crossroad. Communities around the continent are overcoming the imposition of physical distancing with new forms of social solidarity. Neighbours are helping each other and listening to each other. Communities are rediscovering old bonds — and new ones are taking shape as neighbours take to their windows, balconies and discover new potential in digital organizing.
In these spaces, we can begin to design the demand for a just transition. A transition that provides relief by strengthening the social safety net for all Europeans — ensuring universal access to good healthcare and housing. A transition where economic recovery is sustainable, putting people before profit and ensuring that we all benefit from the economy that we create. And a transition that reforms our political economy, giving a voice to communities around the continent, and the agency to shape their own futures.
Below, we set out a selection of policy recommendations from our Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition that can help steer us towards a response that is just, democratic and sustainable.
Adopt a European Health and Care Standard that raises the bar for decent health and universal social protection provision and directs resources toward regions that fall below this standard, to begin rebalancing health and care outcomes across Europe.
Adopt a Care Income (CI) — based on the recognition of the necessity of the activities of caring, which are often undervalued or invisible in our societies and overwhelmingly performed by women — especially mothers. The CI would compensate activities like care for people, the urban and rural environment, and the natural world. It would protect both those working on the frontline of the pandemic and those struggling to support their families under quarantine.
Fund a major buy-back programme for vacant housing stock. Social distancing is a privilege that is not available to everyone. With 38 million vacant homes around the continent, Europe can provide shelter for all who need it.
Fund the green transition by mobilising a coalition of Europe’s public banks — led by the European Investment Bank — to issue green bonds to raise at least five percent of Europe’s GDP in funding that can be channelled into the Green Public Works.
Abandon the dominant model of public-private financing that sees public money subsidise private profit. The gains of public investment must remain in public hands.
Invest the money raised through a new public agency — the Green Public Works — that puts investment decisions in the hands of communities and generates millions of new jobs in the green economy.
Ensure that all new jobs are based on a three-day weekend or four-day working week with lower overall working hours — with increased possibilities of remote working. These jobs must provide workers and communities with democratic control over their workplaces. And they must be local — ensuring that all European residents can earn fair wages in their communities.
For all EU institutions, switch to a Genuine Progress Indicator system of accounting rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — abandoning the dogma of endless growth in favour of a metric that shows the health of our societies and the natural world.
Introduce a new Regulation to clarify that the European Central Bank must prioritise employment, social progress and environmental protection as part of its mandate.
Extend the ECB-mandated freeze on share buybacks and dividends to investors until banks have divested of all fossil fuel assets.
Fund a Green Solidarity Network to unite twinning and cooperation arrangements between municipalities, regions, farmers, and communities — enhancing horizontal information-sharing and political decision-making across the continent.
Establish the Green Horizon 2030 research and development programme, and ensure that any technologies or techniques developed under the programme are open source and devised in collaboration with other countries to support the emergence of sustainable economies across the globe.