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As Europe Faces 60 Million Job Losses, Will The Coronavirus Kill The Climate Agenda?

Foreign Policy

Europe’s pandemic bailouts are trying to save the continent’s economy. Less clear is if they can save the EU’s climate agenda.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses with a toy wind wheel during the opening of the Arkona wind park in Sassnitz, northern Germany, on April 16, 2019.

On Monday, in a live video address, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel restarted the European Union’s Franco-German motor by proposing that the EU disperse a total of €500 billion ($545 billion) in recovery money, borrowed by Brussels on financial markets, to the bloc’s hardest-hit nations and regions. The entire 27-member union must still approve the EU package, which is not guaranteed: Austria, the Netherlands, and Finland have complained that the borrowing program is a form of debt mutualization that they, unlike Germany, still oppose.

But Monday’s press conference at least offered some glimmer of reassurance to one increasingly anxious group in European civil society: climate activists. It’s just not yet clear how long that reassurance will last.Trending Articles

Climate experts have feared Europe’s climate goals could get drowned out in the cacophony of panicked calls amid the coronavirus pandemic for rekindling conventional industries. Macron explicitly underscored that the rescue program would buttress the European Green Deal, the sweeping program of economic reforms advocated by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that would enable the bloc to go carbon neutral by 2050, a key target of the 2015 Paris climate accord. Macron and Merkel, but also other European leaders and even major industries, have recently professed a newfound commitment to a green transition at this most complex of times.

But the decisive battles are still to be fought, and Europe’s traditional economic forces are not backing down quietly. Across Europe, as lockdowns are cautiously being lifted, many businesses and industries are now reopening. But the economic fallout in Europe is vast—as many as 59 million jobs could be lost and trillions of dollars in revenue and taxes. There’s a broad consensus that economic stimulus of historic proportions—from the EU budget and European Central Bank, as well as from nation-states—will be required to fight recession and put devastated economies back on their feet. Less certain is to what degree the stimulus and recovery will take climate policy into account.

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