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SPECIAL ISSUE - The European Green Deal: Is Europe Becoming More Sustainable?

By Rosa Fernandez, Jonas J. Schoenefeld, Thomas Hoerber & Sebastian Oberthür -

- Article available online

- Access the Special Issue here


Immense environmental challenges in Europe and around the world have long been a focus of EU policy-making. However, the EU’s ambition to lead the international community has not been fully achieved in recent years. In order to renew EU leadership and forcefully drive the sustainability transition, the European Commission launched the European Green Deal, a comprehensive framework for environmental and climate policymaking, in 2019.

Borrowed from the idea of the far-reaching “New Deal” era in the United States in the 1930s, the European Green Deal is a strategy to combine the EU’s long-standing environmental and climate policies into one strategic framework. This approach is especially important in light of the high ambitions to address biodiversity loss, improve environmental quality and, of course, to limit climate change by achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The European Green Deal chimes with the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and aims to leave nobody behind.

Against this background, a brand-new special issue in the International Spectator brings together a range of experts to assess the current state and future prospects of action on the environment, climate and sustainability in the EU, focusing on forestry, trade, energy, transport and other policy areas. The special issue’s contributions look both inwards at the EU’s own activities and outwards at the EU’s influence on other countries and the international community.

The special issue explicitly recognises that many actors and technological, economic, social and ecological dimensions need to be addressed. It engages with the increasing need to involve citizens and stakeholders in EU policymaking, which is not easy, as Rosa Fernandez shows in her contribution on the role of energy communities in various European countries.

New political movements have also influenced internal EU developments, such as an emerging “Ego-Ecology” with a particularly strong current in Hungary, combining nationalism with environmental protection (see the contribution by Thomas Hoerber, Christina Kurze and Joel Kuenzer). Furthermore, some of the old “blocks” of the EU are now breaking up, as Matúš Misik shows by tracing how various Central and Eastern European countries engage with renewable energy.

But many of the old forces still exist and exert influence, as Helene Dyrhauge skilfully demonstrates with respect to the automotive sector. Similarly, Simona Davidescu and Aron Buzogány show how the EU Timber Regulation impacts both the Member State Romania and Ukraine and the important roles interest groups play in the process. Furthermore, when it comes to pursuing its own interest, the EU’s trade policies do not always align with sustainability ideas, as Gabriel Weber and Ignazio Cabras demonstrate in their analysis of the influence of EU trade in Colombia.

Ultimately, the influence of the EU in international environmental negotiations, which Frauke Ohler and Tom Delreux study, also depend on the choice of policies at home. Jonas Schoenefeld and colleagues thus consider how climate policies in the EU Member States have developed over a ten-year period and what we may learn from this history for the future.

Taken together, the special issue traces many active lines of sustainability policymaking in the EU, but also identifies some blind spots, such as for example the powerful impact of the EU’s trade policies, which may in the past have taken precedence over sustainability. While the EU has presented a new European Green Deal strategy, it has so far focused less on adjusting its own political institutions and administrative structures in order to set the stage for a greener future. The special issue thus highlights that the future development and effects of the Green Deal – and thereby the EU’s leadership – remain precarious.


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