Working Paper

The EU’s Green Deal: Bismarck’s ‘What Is Possible’ Versus Thunberg’s ‘What Is Imperative’

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This paper considers the ambition, scale, substance and strategy of the European Union’s Green Deal

The European Union’s Green Deal, a €1 trillion, 10-year investment plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in 2030 (relative to 1990 levels), has been hailed as the first comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality at a continental scale. The Deal also constitutes the Union’s new signature mission, providing it with a new raison d’etre and a shared vision of green growth and prosperity for all. Because the stakes are high, a dispassionate, realistic look at the Green Deal is necessary to assess to what extent it reflects ‘what is politically attainable’ and to what degree it does ‘what is required’ in the face of continuous global warming. This paper considers the ambition, scale, substance and strategy of the Deal. It finds that the Green Deal falls short of ‘what is imperative’ but also of ‘what is politically possible’. By choosing to make the Green Deal dependent on global finance, the European Commission itself closes down all policy space for systemic change as well as for ambitious green macroeconomics and green industrial policies, which would enable achieving climate neutrality in a socially and economically inclusive manner. Hence, Otto von Bismarck would have been as unpersuaded by the Green Deal proposal as Greta Thunberg, who dismisses it as mere “empty words”.