The European Green Deal: A Solution for Post-Pandemic Recovery?

By Jackie Howell

2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record, sparking a need to address climate change. The European Union (EU) aims to combine climate efforts with a post-COVID recovery plan. However, can member-states overcome their political differences and come to a consensus?

COVID-19 highlights the relationship between health, the economy, and the environment. The European Green Deal, introduced in December 2019, seems like the perfect opportunity to address the effects of COVID-19 and climate change. Local and regional leaders are prioritizing a green recovery from COVID-19, as outlined in the ENVE Commission of the European Committee of the Regions’ 2021 work program. Over the next decade, the EU will mobilize €1 trillion of investments to create a clean circular economy, restore biodiversity, and reduce pollution.

Responses to the Climate Crisis

Climate change has already been on most governments’ agendas. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing the impacts of global warming, arriving at the conclusion: Earth is experiencing a climate emergency.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has prioritized greening the EU economy. In 2019, the European Parliament voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency and committed to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The EU also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to at least 50% of 1990’s levels.

However, ongoing divisions between the East and West and the North and South pose additional hurdles for EU consensus. Dissenters such as the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) warned against giving this impression of panic, downplaying the urgency of climate change. A few right-wing political groups even advocated to postpone the European Green Deal and refocus on economic recovery.

The 2008 Financial Crisis vs. the COVID-19 Recession

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new wave of green measures, such as renewable energy investments, reductions in fossil fuels consumption, support for electric vehicles, and investments in infrastructure. These green recovery packages are reminiscent of the green stimulus packages launched after the 2008 financial crisis. Can lessons from the past help governments from repeating past mistakes?          

In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the 2008 European Economic Recovery Plan introduced a budget of €200 billion, investing some of the funds in energy efficiency, low-carbon or clean technologies, and green infrastructure. Investments in clean energy helped countries build up competitive industries after the 2008 Recession. For the EU, each $1 in green investment boosted GDP by up to $1.50 across the region. However, the 2008 financial crisis led to a new wave of support for far-right populist parties due to the rise in unemployment and a decline in trust in institutions.

In the case of COVID-19, populist parties are now losing support as the bloc finds it more integrated than before. Even coal-dependent Poland shifted its tone on the Green Deal. However, clashing interests can still constrain the EU’s ambitious climate goals, leading to stalemates and a disintegrated EU.    

Challenges to the Green Deal

The EU recognizes that environmental pollution, climate change, and issues of inequality are linked, so the EU is committed to making a “just and inclusive transition for all.” However, public backlash presents a challenge for the EU Green Deal. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel faced pressure from automakers as German car brands faced plummeting sales due to COVID-19.  An overwhelming majority of Europeans and companies support climate action, but their desire to change their own behaviour is quite limited.

While climate change is a less polarized topic in Europe than in the United States, opposition can quickly grow. Far-right parties are increasingly taking a stand on climate change, spreading messages of denialism, inaction, or apathy. The European Green Deal presents far-right populists with the perfect target to divide voters.

COVID-19 is a unique opportunity for governments to create policy that reduces exposure of environmental, social, and economic risks in crises. Lessons from the 2008 economic packages can guide European policymakers in designing green stimulus packages that work for the environment and for all workers. Now is the time for the EU to convince Europeans that climate inaction will only lead to more health and economic crises before it becomes too late.

Historical Analogies: Useful or Harmful to Political Discourse?

By Jackie Howell

This week’s readings provided a thought-provoking question: Are historical analogies useful or harmful to political discourse? Gordon and Moyn present two opposing arguments on the tool of analogy; Gordon argues that historical analogies matter to advance our understanding of the present, while Moyn discusses the pitfalls of comparative historical analysis. While both are compelling arguments, one must use historical analogies when appropriate. Historical analogies can be overplayed to appeal to a particular audience, and one can misuse historical analogies to misconstrue current events. As described by Victoria de Grazia, “calling people fascists has been as American as apple pie,” but it is crucial to understand the difference between fascism as a political label and fascism as a historical phenomenon. Otherwise, the public becomes desensitized to fascism and the dangers it represents, leading to an apathetic society.

“History repeats itself” is a common catch-phrase that bears the cyclical image of events repeating every so often. It is human nature to compare and contrast, but does drawing a comparison between the past and present detract from the consequences of such events? While drawing comparisons can be a useful tool of analogy, comparative analysis can often be misleading and can downplay what requires attention, as argued by Charles Maier (Moyn 2020). However, labelling a historical event (such as the Holocaust) as “unique” can often lead to a hierarchy of traumas, risking the implication that some lives are more valuable than others – which ironically plays into the narrative of Trump-ism.

Understanding fascism, populism, and authoritarianism requires historical analogy to determine the similarities and differences between the various definitions over time. Particularly, fascism in the 20th century can be compared and contrasted with fascism in the 21st century. While events are not identical, the rise to power and the appeal to the masses bear a similarity, even if they occurred nearly a century apart. The most telling sign of fascism is the desire to create a dichotomy of us-versus-them. Populist parties have gained significant political breakthrough across Europe, indicating a phenomenon that is becoming common across continents. To understand the current dangers of the populist or fascist phenomenon, it is useful to study Mussolini’s appeal to the masses or the Nazi-Fascist New Order to learn why and how these leaders gained power.

Ignoring history will not transform the present, and comparing the present with the past can often excuse or distract. As proposed by Moyn, clarifying the similarities and differences to bring about a better future must be the goal when using historical analogies. Analogies can guide scholars and resonate with the public, but the focus of the analogy must be on how to avoid repeating harmful or dangerous behaviours. It is easy to compare President Trump with other fascist leaders; however, it is important to understand the social, economic, and political events that created these leaders to prevent a Trump 2.0.

Works Cited

de Grazia, Victoria. “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism.” Zocalo Public Square, 13 Aug. 2020, zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-history-mussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/

“DEMOS Identifies Four Types of Populism in European Political Parties.” Democratic Efficacy and the Varieties of Populism in Europe, demos-h2020.eu/en/demos-identifies-four-types-of-populism-in-european-political-parties

Gordon, Peter E. “Why Historical Analogy Matters.” The New York Review, 7 Jan. 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/

Moyn, Samuel. “The Trouble with Comparisons.” The New York Review, 19 May 2020, nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/