News / Red light for the European Green Deal?

Feb 2024

Red light for the European Green Deal?

Region: Europe

Author: Etienne Bodard & Lucie Gonçalves

The European Green Deal is facing mounting resistance within EU member states and at the European Parliament from conservative and far-right populist factions, as well as from centrists grouping Renew. This comes as a result of the challenging landscape Europe is currently embroiled in: Russia’s war on Ukraine, inflation, surging energy prices, and farmers’ protests, to name but a few. These tensions have fueled heated debates in anticipation of the 2024 European elections.

The now divisive European Green Deal

Introduced in 2019, the European Green Deal encompasses a range of initiatives aimed at aligning the EU’s climate, energy, transport, and taxation policies with ambitious emissions reduction targets, with the ultimate goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. Despite initial momentum, progress on the Green Deal has slowed since 2022, largely because of the disruptive impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic that have since been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine. The adoption of several key texts remains pending, including revisions to CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles and the energy taxation directive.

Whereas the European Commission proposed on February 6 a new intermediate target of 90% reduction in the Union’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the Green Deal has become a point of contention between political parties, highlighting increased divisions within the EU. Indeed, while some, like the Greens, advocate for further action, others, like centrists Renew, seek to maintain the status quo while others still, like the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), call for the repeal of some existing policies.

The right on the offensive

The rise of populism in Europe has corresponded to increasing skepticism towards the European Green Deal. A recent illustration is the farmers protests against fuel taxes and an increasing regulatory burden, which have been sweeping across Europe. Those were in part driven by environmental regulations they deemed excessive. Now, nationalist parties have seized on this sentiment to portray EU standards as restrictive and anti-competitive and denigrate the Union as a whole. Championing these ideas, far-right movements are gaining momentum in countries like Germany and France.

poll from January 2024, predicted a surge in support for the populist right in the upcoming EU elections. It projected that far-right Identity & Democracy faction might gain 40 seats, potentially becoming the Parliament’s third-largest group. Similarly, the right-wing ECR group, comprising parties like the Polish PIS, Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, and maybe soon Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, is expected to strengthen its position, and aims to become a significant force in Parliament.

Even the manifesto of pro-European party EPP is proposing to go back on some of the Green Deal’s policies, for instance by rolling back the planned phaseout of combustion engines by 2035 and by gutting much of the Farm to Fork agenda, the agricultural part of the Green Deal. Interestingly, although the current head of the European Commission, German conservative Ursula von der Leyen, has been a driving force behind the Green Deal, she must now be careful not to antagonize the EPP, which will be crucial for her potential reelection bid after the June elections. Consequently, von der Leyen and the Commissioner for Climate Action have moderated their February 6 communication. For instance, the new 2040 intermediate climate target dropped of the reference to the reduction of non-CO₂ greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector by 30%.

This shift towards the right poses a challenge to the current pro-European forces, including the EPP, center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and Renew. While these parties could still muster a majority in the Parliament, the growing weight of right-wing groupings threatens to tilt the balance towards more conservative agendas. Not all pro-European forces are equally concerned about this impending shift. Some senior figures within the EPP view it as an opportunity to reduce the influence of the Greens in Parliament, who have been instrumental in shaping climate policies, including the Green Deal.

Greens under pressure

Against this backdrop, the Greens advocate for a more ambitious approach, calling for accelerated action to achieve full climate neutrality by 2040, a decade earlier than the current EU target. However, amidst the current backlash against Brussels’ environmental agenda, and despite the surge that made them the fourth-largest group in the current parliament, the Greens face the prospect of losing roughly a third of their seats in the next election.

Under fire from conservatives and the far right, who blame them for exacerbating farmers’ struggles and rushing the green transition, the Greens are undeterred. The party has intensified its advocacy for greater climate ambition. Their final manifesto calls for a complete transition to renewable energy sources by 2040, with a phased elimination of all fossil fuels starting with coal by 2030. Additionally, they urge the EU to implement a plan to phase out fossil gas and oil by 2035 at the latest.

However, not all Greens agree with this strategy. The German Greens, part of the governing “traffic-light” coalition, have distanced themselves from their European colleagues’ manifesto, preferring carbon neutrality by 2045 rather than 2050. This dissent reflects the party’s precarious balancing exercise, as it seeks to preserve Germany’s governing coalition through compromise.

As the Greens prepare for the upcoming June EU elections, they face a critical decision. They must weigh the option of compromising to preserve at least some of the Green Deal against sticking to their ideals and risk marginalization in a new right-leaning parliament. Their dilemma underscores the challenge of navigating political realities while advocating for ambitious environmental policies. This echoes the Socialists’ dilemma. Indeed, the center-left group generally support the Green Deal’s objectives but emphasize the importance of a just transition, balancing environmental goals with social equity and job protection. This nuanced approach reflects broader concerns about the social dimension of climate policies faced by EU member states.

Macron’s green plan

As populism gains ground in France, President Emmanuel Macron, who has made ecological transition a top priority in both of his terms in office, has called for a “regulatory pause” both at national and EU levels, in response to calls for administrative simplification and reduced regulatory burdens.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, he notably highlighted that France was the first country to adopt ecological planning and its commendable achievements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He emphasized the need to focus on its territorial implementation rather than on the addition of further regulatory measures.

Macron’s agenda prioritizes European sovereignty amidst deepening crises and geopolitical uncertainty. This has been illustrated recently by the transfer of the energy portfolio from the Ecological transition Minister to Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire. While the 2050 net emission target has been maintained, this shift underscores the primacy of sovereignty and competitiveness, particularly in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict. This focus explains Paris’ renewed emphasis on nuclear energy as a vital asset, particularly in ensuring competitive electricity prices for French industries.

Going nuclear

The French president has made the relaunch of the country’s nuclear program a cornerstone of his second five-year term. Macron firmly believes that nuclear energy is indispensable in addressing the significant rise in electricity consumption, stemming from increased electrification, and is crucial for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The nuclear initiative he unveiled in a February 2022 speech involves the construction of 14 new reactors, and he is expected to make additional announcements in June. Macron has described nuclear power as “the technology of the future,” emphasizing its role in maintaining competitive electricity prices and safeguarding French businesses from undue penalization.

France also plays a leading role in advocating for nuclear energy at the EU level. The country was at the initiative of the Nuclear Alliance, which aims to bring together all European countries wishing to rely on nuclear energy, alongside renewable energies, to successfully complete their energy transition. On May 16, the Alliance’s member countries – including Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden – signed a joint declaration calling for a European action plan to develop cooperation on nuclear issues, including skills, innovation, safety standards, decommissioning and waste.

In France, this ambitious nuclear program is complemented by a comprehensive approach combining sobriety, efficiency, and the extensive development of renewable energies. This trajectory is expected to be embodied through the forthcoming publication of the updated multi-year energy programming decree for 2024-2033, setting France’s energy objectives, alongside the decree on the French low-carbon strategy.


As the tangible effects of global warming increasingly permeate our daily experiences, the forthcoming EU elections could durably impact Europe’s stance in the battle against climate change. Parties projected to gain ground in the European Parliament range from lukewarm to outright hostile toward the European Green Deal. The framework’s staunchest defenders stand to lose about a third of their seats. Given Europe’s leading role in pushing for climate change action, the June vote risks negatively impacting the trajectory of environmental policies worldwide.

The significance of the European elections is compounded by the impending presidential elections in the United States, scheduled for November. A potential second Trump administration with its corollary anti-environment agenda, could be the final nail in the coffin of international climate cooperation. The potential resurgence of policies contrary to environmental preservation on both sides of the Atlantic is as sobering as it is dire.

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