Green Deal: towards a “European regulatory pause”?

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Nguyen, P.-V. « EU Green Deal: towards a “European regulatory pause”? », Brief, Jacques Delors Institute, January 2024

Emmanuel Macron’s call for a “European regulatory pause” on environmental norms  indicates an ideological hesitation towards ecological issues and demonstrates a degree of doctrinal indeterminacy as to how to respond to the rhetoric of the European right and far right. However, the use of such an expression is far from neutral; it runs the risk of being used to legitimise populist rhetoric and attacks, which are currently shifting the focus of the electoral debate to the ambition of the European Green Deal rather than addressing its actual implementation and the follow-up that should be given to it.

Clarification is therefore required.

Firstly, it should be emphasised that the President’s call for a “pause” is part of a reasoning that seeks above all to focus on financing the transition. Six months before the European elections, the issue of financing the energy transition must be brought up for public debate. By adopting a financing strategy that benefits from electoral legitimacy, the Member States would give impetus to a concrete dynamic of change. It would give substance to the objective defined in the European Green Deal through investments in transport, buildings, agriculture, energy or industry. On the other hand, by failing to commit to climbing the investment ladder, the EU would jeopardise its climate ambition. Consequently, this could unravel or “pause” the objectives it has meticulously defined under its European Green Deal.

Simultaneously, France must clearly and unequivocally commit to supporting and applying the objectives adopted under FitFor55 with due diligence, as they could be reviewed and toned down during the next mandate. This would imply that France should put money where its mouth is, because France has been ambivalent up until now. Sometimes ambitious at the EU level, it has also sometimes tried to avoid living up to the expectations it has helped set up at EU level. In that regard, the discussions surrounding the Renewable Energy Directive are the perfect example of such behaviour. By backtracking previous agreements reached in trialogue in order to obtain last-minute concessions, or by seeking to unilaterally circumvent  renewables objectives, France puts its credibility on the line. France threatens European unity with the risk of setting a precedent that other Member States could seize upon: not respecting its objectives in the European Green Deal in order to try entering negotiations with the European Commission.

Finally, France could call for regulation to be better drafted (and therefore less subject to change), notably by systematically carrying out impact studies that include – among other topics – an assessment of the impact of climate standards on industrial competitiveness. As scientific knowledge improves and technological progress is made, regulation must keep up the pace with this trend and go hand in hand with a better transposition of European rules (in a compliant and timely manner).