Biden’s Climate Plan: Hope Alone or a Turning Point?

One of Joe Biden’s first acts after he entered the White House was to sign a series of climate-related executive orders, signalling a clear intention to waste no time in reversing the destructive policies of his predecessor. Many citizens of the US, a country that is regularly affected by severe natural disasters including wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, are expected to support these moves. In 2020, two-thirds of Americans thought that their government should adopt stronger climate policies. In its latest report, the US Federal Reserve for the first time identified climate change as a serious threat to financial stability. Reflecting the urgency of the matter, the new US president has presented the most ambitious climate plan to date. What has he promised, and which measures can be implemented – and how quickly?

President Joe Biden has announced that combating climate change will be a priority for his administration and plans a cross-agency approach to tackling this challenge. His climate plan centres on the decarbonisation of the power sector by 2035 and the climate neutrality of the entire economy by 2050, and he has pledged a first-term investment of 2 trillion US dollars in order to achieve this.  

Biden has proposed a broad package of climate policies affecting numerous sectors. A key priority is the electrification of the transport sector. To achieve this, Biden’s government plans to introduce higher emission standards, following California’s example, and to build 500 000 new charging stations for electric cars to create corresponding market incentives. Coupled with an offer of retraining and good jobs with a minimum wage of 15 US dollars, the transformation of the domestic auto industry is expected to create 1 million new jobs.

Besides the electrification of the automotive sector, Biden’s most ambitious campaign promise in the transport sector is the construction of the world’s most sustainable, safest, and fastest train system. After decades of focusing on individual mobility and virtually ignoring rail transport in the US, Biden’s plan represents not only a paradigm shift but also a mammoth task.

To reduce the large amounts of energy consumed in heating and cooling buildings in the US, Biden plans to weatherise 2 million homes (making them resistant to cold weather, through insulation and other means) and upgrade an additional 4 million commercial buildings to increase their energy efficiency, in addition to constructing 1.5 million new homes and public housing units to the highest efficiency standards. Since energy supply is a state responsibility in the US, Biden has not formulated a target for the share of renewable energy sources in the electricity mix.

A federal research agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-C), is to be established to drive innovation in the new, advanced technologies needed to achieve climate neutrality. Research will be funded in areas such as sustainable energy, battery technology, carbon capture and storage, new building materials, hydrogen, and modern nuclear power. This should spur a wide range of innovations and lead to the creation of new industrial sectors. Biden’s vision is to make the US the world leader in and top exporter of green technologies, with a clear emphasis on their domestic production – thus boosting the US economy. In order to ensure that climate policy is an industrial policy success, Biden has announced not only investments in infrastructure and research, but also necessary tax and trade policy reforms. However, he leaves the details open. Public procurement is seen as another building block to promote sustainable technologies that are produced in the US.

Biden’s plan represents not only a paradigm shift but also a mammoth task.

A plan with social justice at its heart

Inspired by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, Biden has proposed the introduction of a national civilian service programme – the Civilian Climate Corps – in which young people can get involved in nature conservation and environmental projects. In addition, 250 000 new jobs are to be created in the restoration of abandoned coal fields and oil fields. Taking a lesson from the Democrats’ lost election campaign in 2016, Biden has explicitly emphasised the key contribution of the coal-mining regions to the economic rise of the US and promises to support their transition with the help of a new Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities.

Although Biden has distanced himself from the Green New Deal in the past, his policy proposals draw on its principles significantly. The central new feature of Biden’s climate agenda is that it links climate policy and social justice. This is made clear by his promise to make 40 per cent of the investments in sustainable energy and infrastructure available to disadvantaged and low-income communities. For Biden, social participation also means that all citizens have access to high-speed internet and that schools in poorer neighbourhoods are modernised. He recognises that those on low incomes and people of colour are disproportionately affected by pollution, and as a result, they suffer financial and health disadvantages. By doing so, he introduces a new dimension to climate policy in the United States: environmental justice.

He recognises that those on low incomes and people of colour are disproportionately affected by pollution, and as a result, they suffer financial and health disadvantages.

Biden’s climate policy narrative is a combination of reducing CO2 emissions and simultaneously carrying out massive infrastructural investment. The policy should result in the creation of new jobs, “made in the USA” green technologies, the development of sustainable industries, and improved social justice.

Climate 21 Project

The Climate 21 Project, a group of over 150 high-level climate experts, has developed recommendations for Biden’s climate policy and advocates a broad interagency approach to address this challenge of the century. The Climate 21 Project does not formulate any substantive goals; rather, its proposals make recommendations on structures and measures to be implemented. They set out how the White House, together with 11 federal departments and agencies, should pursue and execute climate policy in order to “hit the ground running” and succeed in implementing the fundamental pillars of its climate policy in the first 100 days of Biden’s term in office. In order to avoid a situation in which no one takes final responsibility due to the number of actors involved, a high-level national climate council is to be created within the White House.

Putting the plan into action

It will be possible to implement certain elements of Biden’s new climate policy relatively quickly, while others will take longer. Some, however, will be difficult to implement at all. Trump’s environmental rollbacks, including emissions standards for power plants and the transport sector, the regulation aimed at reducing methane emissions, and protection for water and land, will be relatively straightforward to reverse, restoring standards to their original levels. Following Biden’s signing of the executive order for the US to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement, it is expected the US will regain its membership within a month. The court cases pending against states including California that embraced higher emission standards could also be withdrawn with the appropriate political will.

The drafting of new laws, on the other hand, could easily take two years or more. Biden’s executive order halting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, an extension to the massive oil pipeline running between the US and Canada opposed by many indigenous communities affected, is likely to be followed by numerous lawsuits from the companies affected, delaying the final decision for years.

In order to pass the budget, tax reforms, and trade agreements, the president needs congressional approval. With the election win in Georgia, the Democrats now have the same number of seats in the Senate as the Republicans. In the event of stalemates in the Senate, the vice-president will have the deciding vote, meaning that Kamala Harris will play a decisive role over the next two years. With a majority in the House of Representatives, the Democrats can thus theoretically organise majorities in Congress. Such a majority would be wafer-thin, however, and could not be relied on – particularly when coupled with the broad range of positions represented within the Democrats, especially in terms of climate policy.

In the event of stalemates in the Senate, the vice-president will have the deciding vote, meaning that Kamala Harris will play a decisive role over the next two years.

In contrast to Biden, Democrat proponents of the Green New Deal are in favour of a phase-out of all fossil fuels, including gas. Many of them are also critical of technologies such as carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy. In recent years, many more progressive Democrats have entered Congress, and in many policy areas they have advocated much stronger reforms compared to Biden as a moderate Democrat. On the other hand, Biden emphasised during the presidential race that he was running as a president of reconciliation and wants to bridge the growing division within society. In order to create broad consensus and muster support for this project, he will have to reach across the political aisle to certain Republicans and make compromises with them. Given the significant hostility between them, Biden faces a difficult balancing act, both within his own party and in Congress, to unite the different camps as well as he can. This task would require time to build trust, but this is in short supply. From day one, Biden will be required to tackle numerous challenges, among them the pandemic, the economic crisis, and climate change. This will include passing legislation with wide-reaching implications. The strong emphasis on economic policy in his climate plan could, however, help him win broader support for his policies in Congress and within society over the coming years.

A winning team: Biden’s key players

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, cut many government posts related to environmental and climate protection, leaving them unfilled. The new president must therefore not only redirect the administration in terms of content, but also re-staff it with experienced personnel. Biden has appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. A diplomatic heavyweight, his task will be to regain the trust of the international community. Kerry, who played a decisive role in the Paris Climate Agreement, will be tasked with convincing other nation states to adopt ambitious climate goals. But this will only succeed if the US itself sets an appropriate example. This includes ambitious national climate goals, appropriate measures to achieve them, and a responsible commitment to international climate finance. Kerry will also sit on Biden’s National Security Council, highlighting the threat to national security posed by climate change.

Central to the implementation of climate policy is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Michael Regan, currently head of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, has been named as the new head. He is the first person of colour head the EPA. He is expected to strongly promote the issue of environmental justice.

Biden faces a difficult balancing act, both within his own party and in Congress, to unite the different camps as well as he can.

A further member of Biden’s climate team will be avowed Green New Deal supporter Deb Haaland. The New Mexico representative has been nominated as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, which holds responsibility for the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources. She will be the first Native American in the cabinet and will be a strong advocate for environmental and minority interests.

According to statements by Biden’s political advisors, a convincing climate policy profile and being considered an ally in the fight against climate change were essential for the top jobs..

Not all good news

The numerous hopeful announcements aside, Biden’s climate policy also has problematic aspects and will take a different course to the EU. He does not fundamentally question fracking, merely refusing to grant any additional permits for drilling on federal lands. Biden sees gas not only as a medium-term bridging technology but also grants it a place in the energy mix in the long term. He will continue with the US approach of wanting to export its liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia, Europe, and South America and to see it as an industrial sector for the long term. The US has invested large sums of public and private money in fracking technology, which must now pay off.

Pinning all of its hopes on carbon capture and storage, the US will fail to make a clean break with fossil fuels and will create false market incentives

Biden is pinning all his hopes on carbon capture and storage in order to make the extraction and burning of gas justifiable in terms of climate policy. The US will pump massive investments into this technology in the next few years, leading to capacity constraints in other areas. The US will thus fail to make a clean break with fossil fuels and will create false market incentives despite major climate policy concerns about carbon capture and storage and its questionable economic viability. Such a policy trajectory fails to give the impression of a consistent US climate policy. Lastly, Biden sees modern nuclear power as a climate-neutral energy source but fails to come up with a solution for the unresolved and cost-intensive final storage issue. Nor does he address the security concerns of nuclear power.

In this together? The outlook for international climate policy

In addressing the climate crisis during his first conversations with world leaders and announcing an international climate summit for the spring, Biden’s climate diplomacy has already begun. But overall, Biden’s climate policy rhetoric has a clear national focus. The extent to which the new US president will participate in international climate financing remains to be seen.

From the outset, the EU should approach the new US administration proactively as a renewed ally in the fight against climate change and make concrete proposals for transatlantic cooperation. The EU’s progress with its European Green Deal is being followed with great interest in the US. Since Biden is also committed to massive investments in infrastructure and green technologies, an exchange between governments on both sides of the Atlantic could be valuable and inspiring. There are prospects for the creation of transatlantic working groups bringing together different ministries or departments to learn from each other’s policy measures and to strengthen transatlantic cooperation. The EU Commission’s proposal to introduce a climate tariff on products from countries without a (compatible) CO2 price has caused some unrest on the Hill. A large majority in Congress wants to avoid a trade policy dispute if possible. This example shows that the EU, as an important trading partner, has the weight to set climate policy standards and to push the US to take more ambitious climate action.

This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (

Green Transition in China: At What Cost?

Green economics have become increasingly central to China’s domestic and international politics since it announced its national strategy to build an “ecological civilization” in 2007. In this interview, the authors of China Goes Green (Polity, 2020) interpret the Chinese state’s approach to environmentalism, how it is being used to reinforce authoritarian control, and the danger of climate overshadowing other critical social and environmental issues. With international cooperation on climate desperately wanting, they discuss how EU, US and Chinese climate policies can and should fit together ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference planned for late 2021.

Clémence Pèlegrin: In China Goes Green, you distinguish between environmental authoritarianism and authoritarian environmentalism. Can you explain this difference and how China’s climate politics and policies have evolved?

Yifei Li: We set out to research authoritarian environmentalism, but our investigation took us somewhere that we didn’t expect. People are frustrated by how democracies seem incapable of producing robust and effective responses to environmental challenges. You could even say that there is Western admiration for China’s authoritarian, decisive approaches to environmentalism. In other words, if the end of environmental sustainability is noble enough, it could be used to justify the means of authoritarian governmental approaches. However, after a systematic review of Chinese environmental power on the ground, we found that environmental protection, instead of being the end, is becoming the pretext for the intensification of authoritarian control at home, geopolitical leverage, and all sorts of international influences.

Judith Shapiro: I think some of the Western admiration for China’s environmental decisiveness comes out of wishful thinking and a sense that the planet has run out of time. We get infatuated with the notion of “ecological civilization” because it sounds very forward-thinking.

You have described China’s highly centralised approach to environmental policy. To what extent could this pose a problem to efficient policymaking?

Judith Shapiro: On the one hand, we must admire that the Chinese state is investing tremendous funds and institutional support into technological innovation for climate and other environmental concerns, whether in the form of think-tanks or places like Tsinghua University. Certainly, the US should admire it: there’s no funding from the US National Science Foundation to this degree. On the other hand, while it is very exciting, it reflects a kind of technocratic approach to environmental policymaking in which engineers lead the process while citizens have no say. Occasionally, these engineers invent something, such as fuel-burning chambers which can shoot silver iodide into the monsoons coming up from India to create a “sky river” on the Tibetan plateau. Then, suddenly, they plan to install some 10 000 of these machines. What about the Indians who also need this water, or the Tibetans whose beliefs do not allow this sort of intervention? There is a notion here that people can conquer nature. Years ago, I worked on Mao’s war against nature, and this really harks back to that – it shows the same kind of infatuation with high modernism that the American political scientist James Scott described back in 1999 in Seeing Like a State.

Yifei Li: When innovative capacity, epistemic power or knowledge is so centralised, it often means that Chinese state officials, well intentioned though they may be, just don’t know what is happening on the ground to the point where they ignore inputs from ethnic minority groups and independent scientists. In this case, centralisation becomes a disservice to the Chinese state. They are pursuing a one-dimensional approach of what China is currently and what China could become moving forward. By being completely desensitised to the complexity of the nation and the diversity of society, Chinese state actors undermine the state’s ability to govern well.

The CCP sees itself as rejuvenating “the Chinese nation” and restoring China’s former glory: it is not just building any kind of civilization – it is building a unique, ecological kind of civilization.

Judith Shapiro: In some ways, that’s been part of the governance system of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from the beginning: the idea that the CCP represents the people and knows better than the people at the same time.

How does this eco-modernism interact with the notion of ecological civilization?

Yifei Li: Ecological civilization is an overarching governmental strategy. There is a premature tendency on the part of many observers – both inside and outside China – to dismiss it as propaganda. Ecological civilization represents Chinese Marxism’s unique “innovation” to the classic Marxist formulation of the stages of development, from agricultural society to imperialism, to capitalism, to socialism and then, ultimately, to communism. Chinese state-sponsored Marxists are essentially suggesting that ecological civilization is the transitional stage from socialism to communism. So, they are suggesting that China is experiencing something that is Marxist but that Karl Marx himself didn’t even see. In that sense, it becomes a unique intellectual contribution.

China is also saying that before the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century it was at top of the world’s civilizations, but that since then, there has been a century of humiliation for China. The CCP sees itself as rejuvenating “the Chinese nation” and restoring China’s former glory: it is not just building any kind of civilization – it is building a unique, ecological kind of civilization. That, in a way, becomes the CCP’s branding of what it is doing in China. It’s important to recognise the centrality of ecological civilization to how the Chinese state is thinking about itself. Moving forward, environmental protection will continue to feature very prominently in Chinese state policies.

Judith Shapiro: It’s worth remembering that this notion has been included in the Chinese state constitution and the five-year plans: they could just as easily have used the phrase “sustainable development”, but they chose not to because that would have been a Western import.

Can you explain the phenomenon of green grabbing and what this tells us about the Chinese government’s approach to energy transition on the ground?

Judith Shapiro: In its various environmental programmes, the Chinese state furthers its goals vis-à-vis institutions and ordinary people. For instance, China has been building dams for a long time, and they often serve the interests of local officials who benefit by selling electricity. But now, with the commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060, it has become much easier for the state to justify the need to build these dams as part of a renewable energy portfolio. Hydroelectric dams are already incredibly contentious, both in China and abroad, and are resisted by the communities they displace. Countries downstream the Mekong river, such as Vietnam, have been enormously impacted by China’s dam-building. India is also very worried about China’s dam projects on the Brahmaputra river.

In its various environmental programmes, the Chinese state furthers its goals vis-à-vis institutions and ordinary people.

By listening to voices that resist the dams, the state can avoid making serious mistakes. For instance, the dam that was planned for the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province would have been catastrophically damaging to China’s intangible heritage, but it was abandoned in 2007 following a huge campaign. Unfortunately, some of those projects are back on the table and we must keep an eye on this new set of excuses for building hydropower, which is very bad for diversity, landscape laws and human rights.

Yifei Li: A lot of international admiration for Chinese environmentalism has been premised on China’s promotion of renewable energy. We need to be more careful here. Hydropower may be renewable from an energy perspective, but dams are essentially breaking off riverine ecosystems and have long-lasting social and economic impacts on local communities. We must ask ourselves, at what cost is China achieving its renewable energy policies?

To what extent can China’s transition accentuate social inequalities, both domestically and abroad?

Judith Shapiro: Environmental displacement is a core insight when considering climate justice. Across borders, dams are being built on the Mekong river to serve Chinese energy needs. Even along the Belt and Road, its infrastructure programme to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks, China exports coal-fired power plants and searches for and extracts raw materials with severe environmental impacts. Environmental displacement is increasingly being shifted overseas to poorer communities who are in a weaker position to resist, whether in Africa, Latin America or even along the Belt and Road. Today, the Belt and Road is being framed as a win-win for China and its partners. It echoes the theory that late-stage capitalism needs to constantly look for new markets and raw materials.

Yifei Li: One example of urban-rural inequality is the recycling mandate in the city of Shanghai. Recycling has been carried out in this city for decades, and many migrant workers depend on it as their primary source of income. The government is now trying to build a formalised recycling system in the city, pushing out migrant workers and hiring locals instead. At the same time, they are gentrifying the city and limiting the economic space for migrant workers to continue to thrive in major metropolitan centers in Shanghai and in Beijing. That’s a common trend we’re seeing in other places too.

How do you reflect on the economic rationale of cost-benefit balance underlying the Chinese government’s ecological ambitions?

Yifei Li: China is using the Belt and Road initiative as a mechanism to absorb its economic surplus. It is exporting high-speed rail technologies to its partners on the Belt and Road when China’s domestic market has been saturated. The Belt and Road is becoming a Chinese economic growth strategy. What is mind-boggling is how, despite the environmental destruction caused by the Belt and Road initiative, Chinese state actors continue to call it “green, smart, win-win”. There is abundant evidence of ecological habitats being destroyed, deep-water seaports damaging entire marine systems, and coal-fired power plants releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.

What is mind-boggling is how, despite the environmental destruction caused by the Belt and Road initiative, Chinese state actors continue to call it “green, smart, win-win.”

China announced a plan to reach peak carbon emissions no later than 2030, and then carbon neutrality by 2060. The real question is: how are they going to achieve it? Various local experiments seek to account for carbon neutrality. In Beijing, for example, anyone wanting to host a sporting event must do what they call a “full-scale carbon inventory” by calculating how much energy, fuel, water and so on it will require. The total will then be compared to the carbon quota assigned by the government. Anyone exceeding their quota must go to the carbon cap and trade mechanism in Beijing to buy more carbon credits. It strikes me as a very risky experiment. It gives Chinese government actors sweeping authority in determining how much carbon any event is entitled to release. It is not far-fetched to imagine a scenario in which events better aligned with the state’s ambitions get more credits. If or when the 2060 carbon neutrality pledge is achieved in this fashion at a national scale, it will be very worrying.

Is China aiming to gain worldwide intellectual leadership on how states can reconcile economic development and ecological transition?

Yifei Li: Chinese diplomats are very much driven by this idea of seeing the Chinese economic approach successfully replicated in other parts of the world like Africa and South America. The Chinese state wants to be a global leader in environmental protection. Under Trump, the US dismantled much of the environmental apparatus. China seems very eager to fill that void. But if it wants to live up to its full potential as a global leader, China must learn to listen to non-state actors. It needs to learn to be sensitive to alternative views of development, and to concerns that may or may not align with the urban-centric developmental vision that seems to be so deeply entrenched in the Chinese state.

Could you tell us more about non-climate environmental impacts in China?

Judith Shapiro: Only looking at carbon neglects many other kinds of environmental impacts. The Chinese mega-dams, for instance, have enormous repercussions on all kinds of ecosystems. Sometimes, with the urgency of the climate crisis, we forget that there are other environmental issues at stake too.

Yifei Li: One of the most central insights of environmental studies is that everything is connected. We cannot separate activities like corn or soy monocultures from the wider system that gives rise to them and the damage they inflict on other parts of the ecosystem. Whether it is a forest, a marine ecosystem, or even an urban ecosystem, any project should be sensitive not only to long-term ecological impacts but also to the impacts that may not seem immediately apparent. Take the Three Gorges Dam, for example: concerns were already being voiced when it was being constructed, even before many of the ecological consequences had been predicted. It’s only after ten, twenty years that we’re beginning to appreciate the long-term loss of sedimentation, including what this means for downstream communities. This wasn’t known before, simply because humans had never experienced a similar impact on that scale. But today, we know for a fact that because of the Three Gorges Dam, the city of Shanghai is not receiving enough sedimentation, causing it to be slowly washed away into the East China Sea because ocean water is salty and erosive. Ecological consequences will take a very long time to manifest. If we aren’t careful now, the consequences can be very costly further down the road.

Sometimes, with the urgency of the climate crisis, we forget that there are other environmental issues at stake too.

Is China investing in adapting to the current effects of climate change? How big a priority is this for the Chinese government?

Yifei Li: It’s a huge priority. The city of Shanghai where I was born and raised is at risk of experiencing serious adverse climate events if the sea level continues to rise. Top leaders are fully aware of such dangers and they are investing in a seawall comparable to the one in Venice. At the same time, Shanghai has invested in more than 600 pumps on its waterways to pump out water and limit impacts on human settlements in case of a storm. The city also invests in embankment reinforcement projects all year long. This is an ongoing struggle: Shanghai is the most economically important metropolitan center for the Chinese economy. They simply cannot afford to lose it to climate change. But it is striking that there are these huge efforts to make Shanghai climate resilient, while at the same time the Chinese economy continues to emit carbon and all kinds of greenhouse gases that make long-term climate prospects seem darker and darker.

Judith Shapiro: Overall, the Chinese state is much more aware of climate change than the public. In general, Chinese people are more concerned about the impact of air or water pollution on their public health. Even among the highly educated, climate change often seems like an abstract concern. A few young people are following the example of activists like Greta Thunberg, but ground-level air pollution feels much more urgent when everyone is coughing and children can’t go out to play.

How do you see international cooperation between Europe and China on environmental grounds, mutual priorities, and projects?

Yifei Li: Environment, and climate in particular, is an area with real potential for partnerships between China and Europe, as well as China and the US. Europe has so much experience with carbon cap and trade for instance, and China seems eager to acquire and act on that knowledge. Also, unlike many of China’s Belt and Road partners in Africa and Central Asia, Europe has many strong legal institutions. The European Union’s Directorate-Generals for Energy and for Environment both have existing rules with a successful track record. As the Belt and Road continues to take root in countries like Italy or Germany, it will be interesting to see how EU officials can hold Chinese state investors accountable to European law and not to Chinese law. China and its foreign partners don’t have overarching legal institutions to govern the Belt and Road projects: all China does is follow the local legal provisions and regulatory codes. The real win-win scenario that could materialise would be if Belt and Road projects turn out to be beneficial to Europeans while still making sense to Chinese economic state investors. As of now, all we see is China partnering with countries like Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Tanzania, in political contexts where the local regulatory regime may be corrupt, minimal, or just generally ineffective. So, the EU will be a key test for the Belt and Road.

As the Belt and Road continues to take root in countries like Italy or Germany, it will be very interesting to see how EU officials can hold Chinese state investors accountable to European law and not to Chinese law.

Judith Shapiro: Commentators have suggested that US-China relations have been so damaged by Trump’s trade war that climate policy will be about competition rather than cooperation moving forward. I don’t agree that it must go this way. Looking back to the 2014 APEC summit, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping committed to work together on climate. These issues can be seen as wedges to renew a disrupted partnership. As someone who has devoted her life to the US-China relationship, I would like to see whether we can hold onto the possibility that the US and China can work closely on this issue. That’s not to say China should be excused for its human rights violations in Xinjiang and Tibet, for example, or the situation in the South China sea – but on climate alone, the US and China have a lot of ground for working together.

Yifei Li: It’s not about China and the EU or the US choosing to work together. We are in planetary crisis that is simply too urgent. If we are serious about making sure this planet is humanly habitable, working together is the only option.

Una recuperación con transición justa para España: una oportunidad irrepetible

Sólo meses después de la 25ª Conferencia de la ONU sobre el Cambio Climático que tuvo lugar en Madrid en diciembre de 2019, España se encontró en medio de uno de los bloqueos de coronavirus más estrictos de Europa. El país ha sido uno de los estados miembros más afectados por la pandemia Covid-19, pero la recuperación de la crisis apoyada por la UE es una coyuntura crítica para que España acelere su transformación ecológica. El progreso continuo de una transición justa será esencial para asegurar una descarbonización oportuna que no deje a nadie atrás.

2020. La humanidad ha experimentado cómo el aleteo de una mariposa en Wuhan –en este caso, el de un murciélago probablemente– puede generar un huracán que paralice el mundo durante meses y haga proliferar cementerios improvisados. Es la primera vez en la historia humana en la que todo el planeta sufre simultáneamente una de las consecuencias de la degradación extrema de los ecosistemas. Degradación que facilita la transmisión de enfermedades víricas de animales a humanos, y que en un contexto de globalización se ha transmitido como la pólvora que arde. Los impactos en la salud, en el empleo y el conjunto de la economía son impresionantes. 

Sin embargo, aunque resulte difícil identificar esta pandemia como una oportunidad, lo cierto es que los planes de reconstrucción para hacer frente a la crisis son una ocasión irrepetible para el mundo, para Europa y para España. Es el momento de dar protagonismo a la agenda climática y garantizar que se cumplan los objetivos de la COP21 de París y más allá. Tan solo quedan tres décadas para conseguir cero emisiones netas en 2050 y evitar las consecuencias que provocaría un calentamiento global superior a dos grados centígrados. Hay de pisar el acelerador de la transición. 

España está siendo uno de los países europeos más golpeados por la COVID-19. Al igual que ocurrió con la recesión de 2008, en estos momentos también está sufriendo más duramente los impactos sanitarios y sociales de la crisis de 2020. Las cifras resultan abrumadoras. La incidencia de los contagios, hospitalizaciones y muertes es desorbitada, y han sometido al sistema de sanidad pública –debilitado por las políticas de austeridad– a un enorme estrés. Esto ha afectado especialmente a los profesionales de la salud, pero también a la toda la población, que sufre el tremendo impacto de las medidas de confinamiento en la economía. Consecuencias vividas igual que en tantos otros lugares de Europa y del mundo, pero con una virulencia especial dadas las características del modelo productivo y de empleo español, excesivamente dependiente del turismo y con unas altas tasas estructurales de desempleo, especialmente entre la población joven.  

Frente a esos impactos el gobierno ha adoptado, a través del diálogo social tripartito, importantes medidas extraordinarias para proteger la economía y el empleo. Medio millón de empresas, cuatro millones de trabajadores, un millón de autónomos y cientos de miles de personas vulnerables se han visto beneficiadas por esas medidas. Entre ellas se destacan los Expedientes de Regulación Temporal de Empleo y el sistema de Ingreso Mínimo Vital. Pero a pesar de ese escudo social que protege a las empresas y a las personas de los impactos más inmediatos, las previsiones indican que el PIB se reducirá este año en torno al 12%, muy por encima de la media europea, los ingresos de los hogares españoles bajarán un 8,6% de media, cuatro veces más que en el resto de Europa, y el desempleo juvenil podría alcanzar el 40%. 

Paradójicamente, en un escenario tan deprimente, soplan vientos a favor para la transición energética y ecológica de la economía española. Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, España tiene la oportunidad de superar un modelo productivo especialmente insostenible: en lo ambiental, con una presión devastadora sobre el territorio y la biodiversidad, y en lo social, con un desempleo estructural y unos empleos de baja calidad. 

Esta oportunidad llega principalmente de las instituciones europeas, las cuales, en lugar de abandonar a los países más golpeados e imponerles una austeridad social severa (como se hizo ante la crisis financiera), ha decidido responder con un ambicioso y multimillonario programa común de recuperación que se presenta como socialmente inclusivo y ambientalmente sostenible, conocido como Next Generation

Para la Comisión Europea este programa, es un presupuesto reforzado de la UE por valor inicial de 750.000 millones de euros para hacer frente a los daños económicos y sociales provocados por la COVID-19, impulsar una recuperación sostenible y crear puestos de trabajo. Persigue una recuperación económica en clave de digitalización y de lucha contra el cambio climático, aplicando las medidas de transición energética del llamado Green Deal europeo de sostenibilidad ambiental. 

El germinar del Green Deal y la Transición Justa.  

En este contexto de recuperación económica y emergencia climática, no está de más recordar que la temperatura media del planeta ya ha incrementado alrededor de un grado. Que los efectos planetarios de este incremento están repartidos de manera desigual e, independientemente del origen de las emisiones de efecto invernadero, hay zonas que sufren los cambios climáticos de manera mucho más pronunciada que otras. Se cuentan por decenas de millones en todo el mundo tanto el número de personas desplazadas a causa de los fenómenos meteorológicos extremos. Según la OIT, el deterioro de los ecosistemas genera una pérdida equivalente a 82 millones de empleos entre los 1.200 millones de personas que dependen directamente de los ecosistemas. 

No es nada agradable imaginar las catastróficas consecuencias de un incremento de la temperatura de más de dos grados. Sin embargo, el proceso de maduración de la agenda socioambiental y la inclusión de las políticas climáticas ha sido demasiado lento. Desde 2006, año de publicación del Informe Stern sobre la economía del cambio climático, se sabe con certeza que los que los costes de no actuar a tiempo son muy superiores a los de una acción temprana. Entre cinco y veinte veces más. Pero, a pesar de ello, no se ha actuado en consecuencia. Ya en 2008 el secretario general de Naciones Unidas, Ban Ki-moon, formulaba el Green New Deal para responder simultáneamente a la crisis climática y financiera; sin embargo, han tenido que pasar doce años hasta que Europa adoptara su Green Deal

También tuvieron que pasar 18 años para que la transición justa – un término que aparece por primera vez en las negociaciones climáticas en la cumbre de Kioto (1997) como una demanda de los sindicatos europeos– fuera incluida en el Acuerdo de Paris (2015). Este reconocimiento resalta la importancia de integrar dentro de las políticas climáticas la preocupación por el trabajo decente y los empleos de calidad. Dos años después, en 2017, la OIT adoptaba con el acuerdo tripartito de gobiernos, empleadores y sindicatos  de todo el mundo las Directrices para una transición justa. Bajo la influencia de estos acuerdos por fin los programas climáticos van incorporando la transición justa, como es el caso del programa europeo de recuperación. 

También España se está poniendo a punto, aunque llega tarde. Fue en 2004 cuando se hizo el primer intento de incorporar políticas climáticas y de transición justa, con la llegada de la ministra Cristina Narbona al gobierno socialista. Apoyándose en el movimiento ecologista y en los sindicatos, modernizó las políticas ambientales y climáticas e institucionalizó el diálogo social tripartito para la reducción de emisiones en los sectores industriales, aplicando el Protocolo de Kioto. Pero el intento duró poco: las resistencias de los sectores políticos e industriales tradicionales y la crisis de 2008 se llevaron por delante aquel proyecto. Tras diez años de retroceso, en 2018 la agenda climática encuentra un impulso prometedor con la creación del Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica y el nombramiento de Teresa Ribera como ministra primero, y después como vicepresidenta. 

El objetivo de la transición justa es la mitigación de los potenciales efectos adversos del cierre de actividades

Uno de los primeros pasos de este nuevo periodo ha sido la derogación del llamado “impuesto al sol”, un obstáculo tan simbólico como efectivo a la producción y autoconsumo de energía renovable. Su derogación vino acompañada de la entrada en vigor de un marco normativo totalmente diferente, en favor de la producción de energías renovables y la transición justa. Desde entonces ha proliferado de nuevo las renovables y su potencia instalada en territorio español, llegando en 2020 al top 10 mundial, generando perspectivas de desarrollo económico y empleo. 

El Plan Nacional Integrado de Energía y Clima (PNIEC) 2021-2030, enviado a Bruselas a principios de 2020, y el anteproyecto de la Ley de Cambio Climático, que incluye una Estrategia para la Transición Justa, convierten a España en uno de los más avanzados materia de transición ecológica. Además del objetivo emisiones cero para mediados de siglo, se fija como meta la reducción de las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero del 23% para 2030 respecto a 1990. Objetivo aparentemente modesto, considerado escaso por las organizaciones ecologistas, pero que representa un importante desafío ya que las emisiones actuales son superiores a las de 1990 en más de un 10%, y que permitirían España lograse ajustarse a las metas de reducciones establecidas para Europa. 

Pero lo más interesante de lo que está pasando es el despliegue de la transición energética en el plano más operativo: la puesta en marcha de proyectos de energías renovables y de eficiencia energética, a la vez que se cierran las minas y térmicas de carbón. Esta situación no se había dado antes, y ahora dibuja un panorama esperanzador en el que el papel de la Transición Justa está siendo especialmente destacable. 

La transición justa como instrumento de aceleración 

La transición justa actúa en los procesos de transición (como el cierre de las minas), facilitando iniciativas de desarrollo sostenibles que promuevan oportunidades de empleo. El objetivo de la transición justa es la mitigación de los potenciales efectos adversos del cierre de actividades contaminantes, acompañando a las personas afectadas con medidas de protección social, formación y trabajo decente. 

La transición hacia una economía baja en carbono significa el fin del uso de carbón, el gas y el petróleo, las fuentes de energía que vienen haciendo funcionar nuestro mundo desde la primera revolución industrial. Esto supone una transformación radical que no solo afecta a la generación de energía, sino también al transporte, la edificación y el sistema agroalimentario. Sectores enteros van a desparecer –están desapareciendo– y con ellos sus empresas, empleos y profesiones, en un proceso de transición de gran impacto que afectará a millones y millones de puestos de trabajo. 

Si las personas afectadas por las consecuencias negativas de la transición no encuentran el apoyo y el acompañamiento necesario, este proceso de cambio dejará a millones de personas empobrecidas. Así, la transición encontrará obstáculos sociales importantes, retrasarán la velocidad de la transición, o directamente la hará inviable.  

La transición justa trata de superar esos obstáculos acompañando la transformación de la economía con inversiones para que se creen más empleos y con medidas de protección social, especialmente en los ámbitos más afectados. Así, las estrategias de transición justa no son fórmulas generales, sino actuaciones vivas y dinámicas en el territorio. 

La transición hacia una economía baja en carbono significa el fin del uso las fuentes de energía que vienen haciendo funcionar nuestro mundo desde la primera revolución industrial. Esto supone una transformación radical

España se está convirtiendo en uno de los países más avanzados en la materia. Desde el mismo momento de la creación del Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica, la titular del MITECO establece una alianza con el Director General de la OIT por la que se compromete a aplicar las Directrices de la OIT sobre transición Justa. Dichas bases, incluidas la Estrategia de Transición Justa de España, guían el inicio de procesos de diálogo con autoridades locales, representantes empresariales y sindicales, y buscan la puesta en marcha de una iniciativa realmente innovadora: los ‘Convenios de Transición Justa’. 

Posteriormente se crea el Instituto para la Transición Justa, cuya dirección recae en una de las mayores especialistas mundiales en la materia: Laura Martín Murillo. Desde esta organización se lideran los procesos de participación y diálogo y la articulación de los Convenios, que incluyen cientos de iniciativas de desarrollo.  

Desde entonces, está sucediendo algo insólito: se están cerrando las minas y las térmicas de carbón con acuerdos. En la COP 25 se asistió a un hecho muy simbólico e inusual para una cumbre climática: la presencia del Coro minero de Turón en concierto para celebrar los acuerdos alcanzados. Estamos viendo cómo la transición justa no es solo deseable, sino posible. La decena de Convenios de transición justa en Asturias, León, Palencia y Teruel suman más de 1800 iniciativas de transformación de la economía local en clave de justicia social y medioambiental. Solo en la provincia de León existen más de 2.000 puestos de trabajo relacionados con energías renovables frente a los 600 que se han perdido o se perderán en las centrales térmicas, y se calcula que las renovables tienes capacidad de emplear a 1.700 personas más en la provincia. Esto no solamente supone una oportunidad para las personas que ven su puesto de trabajo desaparecer como consecuencia de la nueva legislación, sino también para retener la población rural de la “España vaciada”, con un foco en el empleo para mujeres y jóvenes.  

La descarbonización no tiene por qué significar la pérdida neta de empleos. Hay trabajos que desaparecerán, por descontado, pero otros se transformarán y muchos otros más se crearán en sectores emergentes como las energías renovables, la movilidad eléctrica, la rehabilitación de edificios o la agricultura ecológica y de proximidad. De hecho, se van crear muchos más de los que los que se van a perder. En 2018, la OIT calculó que, por cada empleo que se destruya debido al abandono de los combustibles fósiles, aparecerán cuatro derivados de las políticas de transición para reducir emisiones.  

Una oportunidad irrepetible 

Se abre por lo tanto una oportunidad inédita para dar un vuelco a la economía española y conseguir un modelo productivo social y medioambientalmente sostenible. Transformar el sector de la construcción hacia la rehabilitación y la eficiencia energética; sustituir el turismo masivo y concentrado por opciones de ocio más respetuosas con el territorio; cambiando la movilidad de mercancías y personas para reducir sus impactos y emisiones, protegiendo la biodiversidad y el territorio. 

En resumen, hay urgencia, mucha urgencia, y poco margen para la procrastinación. Los últimos pasos van en la dirección adecuada y el contexto favorece. La Unión Europea ha tomado decisiones de mucha trascendencia con la creación del Next Generation y la adopción del Green Deal. Es imprescindible hacer frente a la crisis provocada por la pandemia a través de medidas que sirvan para ecologizar los sistemas productivos, elevar los compromisos de reducción de emisiones, crear empleos y promover la transición justa. 

España recibirá 140.000 millones del fondo de recuperación de la crisis, y de su buena gestión depende que se estimule suficientemente el empleo y se disminuyan las altísimas tasas de paro y temporalidad que caracterizan la economía española, a la vez que se reduce la huella de carbono. El tiempo no juega a favor, pero todo indica que existen las ideas, los programas, las capacidades y los compromisos para no dar puntada sin hilo. Es una oportunidad tal vez irrepetible.

Coronavirus Recovery and Just Transition in Spain: A Unique Opportunity

Only months after the 25th UN Climate Change Conference took place in Madrid in December 2019, Spain found itself in the midst of one of Europe’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns. The country has been among the member states worst-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, but EU-supported recovery from the crisis is a critical juncture for Spain to accelerate its ecological transformation. The continued progress of a just transition will be essential to ensure timely decarbonisation that leaves none behind.

In 2020, humankind experienced how the flapping of a butterfly – or in this case, a bat most likely –in Wuhan can generate a hurricane that paralyses the world for months and has immense human cost. This is the first time in history that everyone on Earth has suffered one of the consequences of extreme degradation of ecosystems simultaneously. A degradation that facilitates the transmission of viral diseases from animals to humans and which, in a context of globalisation, has spread like wildfire. The impacts on health, employment and the entire economy are astounding.

It is difficult to identify this pandemic as an opportunity, but the reconstruction plans to tackle the crisis are a unique chance for the world, Europe and Spain to give prominence to the climate agenda, and to ensure that the objectives of the Paris Agreement and beyond are met. Only three decades are left to achieve zero net emissions by 2050 and to avoid the drastic consequences of a planet warmed over 2 degrees Celsius. The transition must accelerate.

One of the European countries hit hardest by Covid-19, Spain is now suffering the health and social impacts of the pandemic more severely than elsewhere ­– as was the case in the 2008 recession. The figures are overwhelming. Extremely high infection, hospitalisation and death rates are putting enormous stress on a public health system already weakened by austerity policies. Health professionals have been particularly affected, but the entire population suffers from the tremendous economic impacts of lockdown measures. Economic consequences in Spain are particularly harsh compared to other European member states due to the Spanish economy’s dependence on tourism and the country’s high unemployment rates, especially among young people.

In order to address the impacts of the coronavirus crisis, the Spanish government adopted extraordinary measures to protect employment and household incomes. Half a million enterprises, four million employees, one million self-employed workers, and hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people have benefited from these measures, with the most prominent policies being the Temporary Employment Regulation Schemes and the Minimum Living Income system. Despite this social shield, forecasts indicate that GDP will fall by around 12 per cent this year (well above the EU average), Spanish household incomes will fall by an average of 8.6 per cent (four times the EU average), and youth unemployment could reach 40 per cent.

Paradoxically, in this depressing scenario the winds are blowing favourably for Spain’s energy and ecological transition. For the first time in a long time, Spain has an opportunity to overcome a particularly unsustainable production model: environmentally, with devastating consequences for territory and biodiversity; and socially, with structural unemployment and low quality jobs.

This opportunity stems mainly from EU institutions. Instead of abandoning the hardest-hit countries and imposing severe social austerity on them (as happened in the previous financial crisis), the EU has decided to respond with an ambitious, multi-million common recovery programme, presented as socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

For the European Commission this programme, known as Next Generation, is a reinforced EU budget of 750 billion euros aimed at addressing the economic and social damage caused by the Covid-19 crisis, boosting a sustainable recovery and creating jobs. The programme proposes economic and social transformation in terms of digitalisation and sustainability through an energy transition guided by the Green Deal.

Just transition germinates in Spain

In this context of economic recovery and climate emergency, it is worth remembering that the average temperature of the planet has already increased by about one degree. The planetary effects of this increase are unevenly distributed and, regardless of the origin of greenhouse gas emissions, some areas suffer from climate change much more severely than others. Millions of people are displaced by extreme weather events worldwide. According to the ILO, ecosystem degradation generates an annual loss equivalent to 82 million jobs among the 1.2 billion people who depend directly on ecosystems for their survival.

The consequences of a planetary temperature increase of more than two degrees would be catastrophic. However, the progress of the socio-environmental agenda and climate policies has been too slow. The 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change made it unmistakable that the costs of failing to take climate action in time are five to twenty times higher than those of early action. Despite this, no substantial action has been taken. In 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon formulated the Green New Deal to respond simultaneously to the climate and financial crises. However, it has taken 12 years for Europe to adopt its Green Deal.

It also took 18 years for the just transition – a term that first appeared in the climate negotiations at the 1997 Kyoto summit as a demand of European trade unions – to be included in the 2015 Paris Agreement. This recognition underlines the importance of integrating concern for decent and quality jobs within climate policies. In 2017, the ILO adopted the Guidelines for a Just Transition with the agreement of governments, employers and trade unions worldwide. Under the influence of these agreements, climate programmes are finally incorporating just transition, as is the case for the European recovery programme.

The aim of just transition is to mitigate the potential adverse economic effects of the phasing out of polluting activities

In Spain, the climate agenda is also moving forward, though progress is overdue. With the arrival of Cristina Narbona in 2004 as minister for environment in the social-democratic party (PSOE) government came the first attempt to incorporate climate and just transition policies. With the support of the environmental movement and trade unions, Narbona modernised environmental and climate policies, applying the Kyoto Protocol by institutionalising the tripartite social dialogue for reducing emissions in the industrial sectors. The attempt was short-lived, ultimately derailed by resistance from the traditional political and industrial forces and the 2008 crisis. After ten years of backsliding, in 2018 the climate agenda received a promising boost with the creation of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the appointment of Teresa Ribera first as minister and later as vice-president.

One of the first steps since 2018 has been the repeal of the so-called “sun tax”. This toll effectively discouraged the installation of domestic solar panels for self-consumption by obliging those who invested in them to pay for the energy they supplied to the general network rather than being paid for it, as had been the case previously. The withdrawal of the sun tax was accompanied by the entry into force of a completely different regulatory framework in favour of renewable energy production and just transition. Since then, renewable energies have once again proliferated in Spain, with the country reaching the world’s top 10 in installed capacity in 2020, generating interesting prospects for economic development and employment.

The 2021-2030 National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) and the draft Climate Change Act (which includes a Just Transition Strategy) make Spain one of the most advanced countries in terms of ecological transition. In addition to the target of net zero emissions by 2050, Spain has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 23 per cent by 2030 as compared to 1990. This seemingly modest target, which is considered to be low by environmental organisations, represents a major challenge: current emissions are over 10 per cent higher than 1990 levels, and achieving such a reduction would enable Spain to meet the reduction targets set for Europe.

However, what is most striking about current developments in Spain is the deployment of the energy transition at the most operational level: the implementation of renewable energy and efficiency projects, and the simultaneous closure of coal mines and thermal power plants. This situation is unprecedented and suggests positive future prospects in which just transition has a particularly important role.

A catalyst for transition

Just transition acts in processes of ecological transition (such as mine closures) facilitating sustainable development initiatives that promote employment opportunities. The aim of just transition is to mitigate the potential adverse economic effects of the phasing out of polluting activities, accompanying the people affected with measures of social protection, training and decent work.

The transition to a low-carbon economy implies abandoning the use of coal, gas and petrol, the energy sources that have powered our world ever since the first industrial revolution. This is a radical transformation that affects not only the generation of energy itself, but also mobility, construction and the agri-food system. Entire sectors are going to disappear (and are already disappearing), and with them companies, jobs and professions, in a process of transition with great impact on millions and millions of jobs.

If those affected by the negative consequences of the transition are not sufficiently supported, this process of change will leave millions impoverished. This would pose major social obstacles to the transition, delay its speed, or directly make it unviable.

A just transition seeks to overcome these obstacles by accompanying the transformation of the economy with investments that create more jobs and with social protection measures, especially in the areas most affected. Thus, just transition strategies are not general formulas, but dynamic and bold actions in the territories affected.

Spain is among those leading the way in this area. As soon as the Ministry for Just Transition was established, its head established an alliance with the Director-General of the ILO, thereby making a commitment to apply the ILO Guidelines on Just Transition. These guidelines, included in Spain’s Just Transition Strategy, facilitated the initiation of a dialogue with local authorities, business and trade union representatives, and sought the implementation of a truly innovative initiative: the Just Transition Agreements.

The transition to a low-carbon economy implies abandoning the energy sources that have powered our world ever since the first industrial revolution. This is a radical transformation

Later, the Institute for Just Transition was created, to be directed by one of the world’s leading specialists in the field, Laura Martín Murillo. This Institute leads the processes of participation and dialogue as well as the articulation of the Agreements, including hundreds of development initiatives.

Since then, coal mines and thermal power plants are being closed with agreements from all sides. At the 25th UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, the Turon Mining Choir even performed to celebrate the accords reached. All this demonstrates how just transition is not only desirable, but possible. The ten Just Transition Agreements that are currently underway in the regions of Asturias, León, Palencia and Teruel bring over 1800 initiatives to transform local economies in terms of social and environmental justice. In the province of León alone, there are more than 2000 jobs related to renewable energies compared to the 600 that have been or will be lost in thermal power stations, and it is estimated that renewable energies have the capacity to employ 1700 more people in the region. This is not only an opportunity for workers who see their jobs disappear as a result of the new legislation, but also to retain rural population in España vaciada (“emptied Spain”) with a focus on employment for women and young people.[i]

Decarbonisation does not necessarily imply net job losses. Some jobs will disappear, of course, but others will be transformed and many more will be created in emerging sectors such as renewable energies, electrical mobility, building renovation or ecological and local agriculture. In fact, the ILO estimates that more workplaces will be created than destroyed: for every job lost due to the phaseout of fossil fuels, four will be created as a result of transition policies to reduce emissions.

Avoiding a deadlock

An unprecedented opportunity to transform the Spanish economy and achieve a socially and environmentally sustainable production model has arrived. An opportunity to reorient the construction sector towards renovation and energy efficiency; to replace mass tourism with leisure options that are more respectful of the territory; to rethink the mobility of goods and people to reduce its impacts and emissions.

In short, there is great urgency and little room for procrastination. Recent steps are going in the right direction and the context is favourable. The European Union has taken far-reaching decisions with the creation of its Next Generation programme and the adoption of the Green Deal. It is essential to address the crisis caused by the pandemic with measures that serve the transition to greener production systems, increase emission reduction commitments, create jobs, and promote a just transition.

Spain will receive 140 billion euros from the pandemic recovery fund. The reduction of unemployment and labour precarity depend on the good management of these funds, funds which will also need to ensure the reduction of Spain’s carbon footprint. Time is not on our side, but everything indicates that the ideas, programmes, capacities and commitments exist to avoid a deadlock.

[i] España vaciada is a commonly used term to refer to the large proportion of Spanish territory that is unpopulated, where almost one out of every two villages is at risk of disappearing.

This article is part of the Green European Foundation’s Just Transition transnational project.

The Rule of Law Compromise: The EU’s Gift to Autocrats

Following a budget blockade from Hungary and Poland lasting several weeks, EU leaders found a compromise to implement the EU’s next seven-year budget, and provide financial assistance to the economies worst hit by the pandemic. While Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, framed the deal as a success, many commentators see in it an unnecessary gesture towards the EU’s two backsliding democracies. We asked legal scholar Laurent Pech for an opinion.

Green European Journal: In July, you forecasted that the German presidency would end in a possible Faustian pact on the rule of law. When looking at the latest developments, would you say that things unfolded in the way you feared they would?

Laurent Pech: I would say that the early prediction made in the summer of 2020 about a possible Faustian pact between the German government and the EU’s two autocratic governments has materialised to a large extent. We can mention some concrete examples. First, the two Article 7 hearings, which were supposed to take place in December, were cancelled. Then, more crucially, the German presidency has proposed a so-called compromise, which was accepted on 10 December by the European Council. This “compromise” provides for the delayed implementation of the new rule of law conditionality mechanism. In my view, this has been done in obvious violation of the EU treaties.

We have never seen this in the history of the EU: the Commission, as the formally independent guardian of the treaties, has decided to do what it is told by the European Council.

The European Council has seemingly convinced the European Commission not to apply the legally binding regulation until a judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is issued. We have never seen this in the history of the EU: the Commission, as the formally independent guardian of the treaties, has decided to do what it is told by the European Council, a body which the EU treaties forbid to exercise legislative functions. The German presidency has invented a new concept in EU law: legally binding regulations that do not have to be applied until a judgment of the ECJ has been issued. This concept has been created to appease the two autocratic governments which have been violating the EU’s foundational values on an industrial scale for a while now. I never thought I would see this kind of legal sci-fi.

The EU often frames its deals as if everyone was a winner. In this case, are Poland and Hungary the beneficiaries?

EU institutions keep saying that EU values are non-negotiable, that they are not for sale, and there should be no compromise whatsoever when it comes to the rule of law. But the reality is quite different. The content of the compromise, in the short-term, is a clear victory for the Hungarian and Polish governments, because they have been given time to do even more irreparable damage to the rule of law and the democratic fabric of their countries, and to misuse EU funds until the next national elections in their respective countries (which are expected to take place in 2022 and 2023). These autocratic governments now have ample time to finalise the consolidation of an authoritarian regime and make sure that the opposition will not be able to win the next elections via, for instance, the ongoing destruction of media pluralism in Poland and more rigged electoral rules in Hungary.

Strategically, wasnt it a bad idea to make the rule of law conditionality part of the discussion on the recovery funds? It provided Poland and Hungary an opportunity to blackmail the rest of the EU.

It was indeed a mistake to present it as part of the budget package when the regulation on this new conditionality mechanism could in fact be adopted simply with a qualified majority. My colleague, R. Daniel Kelemen from Rutgers University has repeatedly argued that the German presidency should have put this regulation to a vote to call Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński’s bluff. It would have passed and there would have been no incentive for the Hungarian and Polish governments to veto the EU’s seven-year budget or the Covid-19 recovery plan.

Wasn’t the rule of law conditionality watered down too much, anyway?

The proposal made by the European Commission in May 2018 was promising; it was a balanced, careful text. The European Parliament made a number of positive amendments, seeking to expand the scope, improving legal certainty, and making sure that beneficiaries of EU funding would not be negatively affected. But the German presidency presented a compromise text in September 2020 which was anything but a compromise; I would rather describe it as a deliberate sabotage of the Commission’s draft regulation to appease Orbán and Kaczyński. Due to the repeated sabotage attempts made by the German presidency, the Commission must now satisfy a strict multipronged test before it can propose measures on the basis of this mechanism. And now, the very application of the mechanism has been delayed until God knows when.

By the time this mechanism has any impact there is unlikely to be any rule of law left

In its current form, how long would this procedure take after being triggered?

The ECJ can accept to review this case on an expedited measure, but the average duration of expedited proceedings is about 10 months. Even in a best-case-scenario, it is difficult to see how the Court would be able to issue a ruling before early 2022. Once this is done, the Commission has to finalise some “guidelines”. Only then will the Commission be able to activate the mechanism and then you can expect more time before any eventual measures get to the Council. Essentially, by the time this mechanism has any impact there is unlikely to be any rule of law left. Not to mention that we do not know if it will ever actually be activated. The current Commission has proved to be reluctant to act even when faced with ECJ judgments being openly ignored.

Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte demanded that rule of law breaches be punishable retroactively as of January 1, even if the implementation of the mechanism is delayed. How can the Commission retroactively punish member states after a year or two, when in most cases the money is already spent by then?

It is not necessarily unlawful to do so as the conditionality regulation does explicitly provide that it shall apply from 1 January 2021. But what if we are faced with irreparable damage to the rule of law? The Commission can recoup the money from the funds which have not been used, or at least freeze those funds. But when judicial independence is undermined, the damage is immediate, and in some cases irreparable. Recouping the money is not going to help much in the case of Polish judges who are being unlawfully suspended, litigants whose right to independent courts have been violated, or when critics are being legally or otherwise persecuted by their own government.

When judicial independence is undermined, the damage is immediate, and in some cases irreparable.

There is, however, an immediate solution available: the conditionality mechanism is not supposed to supersede all existing tools. In the case of Polish judges, for example, the Commission could do its job more promptly and effectively by making more proactive use of the infringement procedure and systematically applying for interim measures in the face of obvious irreparable damage being done to the EU legal order. We have to use these more often and more effectively if we want to avoid situations similar to what happened with the Central European University in Budapest. In that case, the Commission won in Luxembourg, but this win came too late. By the time of the judgement, the university had been de facto kicked out of the country in breach of EU law.

Another problem with the conditionality is that it cannot be applied to issues that are not directly linked to the mismanagement of the spending of these funds…

There has to be a direct link with the sound financial management of the EU budget or the protection of the EU financial interests. A member state could decide to attack civil society groups or discriminate against LGBT people or persecute individual independent judges and yet its actions would fall completely outside the scope of this new mechanism because it would be difficult or impossible for the Commission to establish a sufficiently direct link with the use of EU funds. Thus, the scope of this new mechanism is very, if not excessively, limited. This is why it is important to reiterate that this new mechanism is only complementary.

Will undermining the Commission set a problematic precedent for the future?

In this instance, the Commission was willing to agree to stop being the guardian of the treaties and take instructions from the European Council. This is in complete contradiction with the role of the Commission as defined in the EU treaties. I guess this would not have been possible if it weren’t for the fact that the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is a former minister of the Head of government currently in charge of the rotating council presidency. So maybe she has failed to adjust to her new role and failed to fully appreciate that the Commission is not supposed to be the personal assistant of the European Council. This constellation is bad and has led to a toxic precedent. Why should the Commission have independent regulatory powers if it is not going to act independently?

The lower house of the Dutch parliament adopted a resolution in early December obliging the government to file a claim against Poland at the European Court of Justice for not respecting the rule of law. Is this a sign that the Commission’s duty to act as guardian of the treaties will fall on the member states?

The expression “guardian of the treaties” is in the singular and not in the plural. So, the assumption is that we have only one guardian whose main job is to guard the treaties. However, the treaties also provide for national governments to launch infringement actions. So, this is nothing new: infringement actions can be initiated by national governments against a fellow neighbouring government. This time, the Dutch parliament asked the Dutch government to consider launching an infringement action against the Polish government regarding the violation of EU rule of law requirements. It is not yet clear whether the Dutch government is going to go ahead with this. They have agreed to report back to the Dutch parliament by 1 February 2021. Even if they do go ahead, the Commission has to be consulted. If the Commission does not want to take the case forward itself, the Dutch government might lodge a complaint before the Court. So, this again can lead to another very long process.

Symbolically, this is, however, an important step. The fact that the Dutch parliament felt the need to put forward the motion and to adopt it is a damning indictment of the current Commission’s failure to act promptly regarding the severely deteriorating rule of law situation in Poland.

Hungary and Poland claim that the rule of law is badly defined, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szíjjártó called them “ideological and political criteria”, and Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga argued that there is no clear definition of the rule of law. Is it really as arbitrary as they claim?

First of all, it is important to remember that the Hungarian and Polish governments were the ones who applied for EU membership, and part of the obligations for membership is to comply with the rule of law. The Commission gave the green light to their accession on the basis that they would comply with all EU law requirements. So, now these countries are conveniently forgetting their own legal commitments to the EU.

Their arguments also betray a lack of knowledge of their own legal systems when they criticise the EU for lacking a single provision which would offer a comprehensive definition of the rule of law. If you look at the Polish or Hungarian constitutions, you are not going to find a very detailed definition, because national constitutions are not supposed to be long lists of definitions. This is also why, in the EU treaties, most concepts are not extensively defined. Think of the concepts of European citizen, worker, or the concept of customs duties. In the EU, the rule of law is made concrete in several provisions of the EU Treaties as well as in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter has several provisions describing what the rule of law means, for instance: a right to an independent tribunal, the right to a fair trial, presumption of innocence, effective judicial protection, and so on. It is all there. The EU rule of law has been further defined through the case law of the ECJ, which is exactly the same situation as in Hungary and Poland where the core requirements of the rule of law have been defined in the case law of the Hungarian Constitutional Court and the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (when these countries still had proper independent constitutional courts). The bottom line is the Hungarian and Polish governments are misrepresenting the situation to undermine the legitimacy of EU action on the rule of law front.

Following the compromise on the rule of law mechanism, has another opportunity been wasted after the Article 7 mechanism? What should be the next step? Containment? A two-speed Europe? Should we expect Hungary and Poland to leave at some point?

Legally speaking, no member state of the EU can be forced out. The best you can do if you value the rule of law is to quarantine the governments concerned using the Article 7 procedure to stop the authoritarian gangrene, which would suspend that country’s voting rights. The problem with this “quarantine” is that you need unanimity, and therefore, when you have not just one problematic government, but two, they can protect each other. It is possible to find a way around this by suspending them at the same time. But this is not politically realistic considering the likely opposition of governments, for instance the Bulgarian government, whose own rule of law record is quite abysmal. Let us also not forget Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, who seems very keen to defend his “big brother” Orbán.

Nevertheless, Article 7 could still be used more effectively. In the two ongoing proceedings, the Council could adopt concrete recommendations which the Polish and Hungarian governments would have to consider. But nothing is done. We do not even have formal hearings. We also have the infringement procedure but is tends to be used in a too little too late fashion. The main European political parties could also play their part by expelling their pet autocrats.

Since the EU cannot expel autocratic governments, if the situation gets really bad, it may have no choice but to take seriously the scenario discussed by the Dutch prime minister a few weeks ago in the Dutch parliament. He said if things really get out of hand, there is always the option to reconstitute the EU without Hungary and Poland. So, it would not be Hungary and Poland leaving the EU, it would be the other EU member states that exit the EU (on the basis of the infamous Article 50 as the UK did) and create a new union. But this would be a legal and logistical nightmare. Not to mention that it would not be fair to leave the Polish and Hungarian citizens behind. To avoid this scenario, it would help a lot if the national governments and parliaments of other EU member states would recurrently and strongly denounce the authoritarian developments in Hungary and Poland, and make sure that Hungarian and Polish citizens can again have elections that are not only free but also structurally fair.

Hungary and Poland are not the only countries causing concern. In France, the recent terrorist attacks have led to proposed security legislation that severely curtails press freedom and free expression – fundamental pillars of a society that respects the rule of law. How worried should we be about these developments?

The context and the patterns matter a lot. Some of the measures which have been recently adopted in France can certainly be described as potential violations of the rule of law. No country is immune to its government of the day adopting measures which do not comply with democratic requirements.

But Hungary and Poland are qualitatively different, because there is a pattern leading to autocracy, a blueprint which aims to deliberately and structurally undermine all checks and balances. Such a process cannot be identified in France. It is important not to compare oranges with apples. Hungary is not even considered a democracy anymore by many democracy annual reports and indexes: violations of the rule of law in a non-democratic regime cannot be compared to restrictive measures in democracies.

We can and should criticise what happens in France or elsewhere, but it is important not to use the problems in other countries to engage in whataboutery and normalise an abnormal situation. Poland and Hungary are to date the only two straightforward, obvious examples of severe and deliberate autocratisation in the EU.

The World Cannot Afford to Look Away From Xinjiang

Revelations of the persecution of Uighurs on a massive scale are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to repression by Chinese authorities. Governments in the West have long turned a blind eye to human rights abuses, both in China and around the world, for the sake of political and economic expediency. This failure has come at great cost, both to human lives and to the moral standing and integrity of these countries on the global stage. European states must urgently change course.

Reading Clinton-era US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s latest book, Hell and Other Destinations, I was struck by its binary understanding of the world, and quaint, if disturbing, blithe assumption that the US and “the West” were forces for democracy and human rights around the world. It’s a personal book, and being charitable about the long and pioneering life of a girl who was forced to flee Soviet-dominated Prague and who lost family members in the Holocaust, it is easy to see where that Cold War perspective came from.

However, the idea that the West has historically acted or acts now as a champion of democracy around the world is a lazy and plainly wrong assumption that is repeated unchallenged far too often. Today’s world is scarred by the long-term US and UK backing of repressive regimes and leaders and moral and practical support for indefensible wars and human rights abuse. From Thailand, where the monarchy was built up by decades of US support linked to the Vietnam War, to the desperate chaos of Libya and Iraq, where Colonel Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein were “our men” until they weren’t, the damaging repercussions of Western involvement are many. The situation hasn’t changed. The dreadful human rights record of “friend and ally” Saudi Arabia has not prevented massive arms sales from the UK and France.

Abusive regimes are responsible for their own behaviour. But other states are also responsible if they stand by and fail to speak out, or, even worse, offer tacit or active support.

Overlooked atrocities in Xinjiang

This responsibility is not just a historical legacy. The fate of the Uighurs is one of the largest human rights issues in the world today. It stands as a shocking example of how millions suffer when abuses are left to escalate and expand, particularly if the international community offers even tacit support for the situation.

The Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China, located primarily in the far north-west region, Xinjiang. Since the 1950s, the region has seen massive state-sponsored migration of Han Chinese from the east. With this movement has come the long-term discouragement of community expression that, over the past decade, has intensified into the repression of local identity, culture, and religion.

In November 2020, Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson presented the situation in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (to give it its inaccurate full title) and Tibet to the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong.

[…] the idea that the West has historically acted or acts now as a champion of democracy around the world is a lazy and plainly wrong assumption that is repeated unchallenged far too often.

The picture of Xinjiang society that emerged was one of total surveillance and mass detention. The distant eyes of satellites show that, in a significant expansion that began in 2017, at least a million people are held in re-education camps. The detainees are subjected to forced labour, often for commercial companies, including Western brands. Increasingly, Richardson suggested, these camps are no different from prisons. Language and culture are systematically repressed, while exiles who can speak out tell of large numbers of people “disappeared”. Many families are too afraid to have even the most innocent contact with the outside world and credible well-documented reports of forced sterilisation and abortions have emerged.

The amount of coverage that Xinjiang and the Uighurs receive does not match the scale of the horror. Certainly, in autumn 2020, a Canadian parliamentary committee labelled the treatment genocide, the Pope called the Uighurs a “persecuted people”, and the UN Human Rights Council has been urged to investigate. But the world remains a long way from where it needs to be to defend any kind of human rights order.

China’s track record of repression

Normally, expatriate communities are strong advocates for the safety of their relatives, friends, and compatriots. However, a deep, disturbing investigation in The Economist has shown how the repressive hand of Beijing manages to keep the Uighur diaspora silent in every corner of the world. Honourable and brave exceptions, such as Dolken Isa, have spoken out about the silence in most parts of the EU. For a credible first-hand account, survivor Ӧmir Bekali paints a vivid, disturbing, and nightmarish picture. Nevertheless, global awareness and attention remains limited.

Belatedly, UK politicians are beginning to focus on the situation of the Uighurs, and not just from longstanding champions of international human rights such as the independent peer David Alton. In December 2020, the House of Lords is debating two amendments to new British legislation on international trade that would ensure human rights is considered in trade negotiations, and, going further, that a court ruling affirming genocide could lead to a deal being blocked. These moves are accompanied, not entirely incidentally, by growing concerns about China’s behaviour as a trading partner and a member of the global economy.

The West failed to stand up to China on Xinjiang […] and thus failed to stand up for the universality of human rights […]

Yet what is lacking is an acknowledgement – in Britain as well as across much of the rest of “the West” – of Western complicity in the current situation. The West failed to stand up to China on Xinjiang and earlier cases of abuse when it wasn’t seen to be in our “national interest”, and thus failed to stand up for the universality of human rights around the world.

Chinese systematic destruction of human rights goes back decades to repression in Tibet, which the Dalai Lama labelled “cultural genocide”. At the time, the Western reaction varied from weak to spineless. The Western response to the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs is even more disturbing. In the context of the “War on Terror” and Western military adventurism after 2001, the early years of repression against the Uighurs was actively supported and explicitly encouraged by Western countries. Without justification, the Uighur terrorist threat was portrayed as being on a par with Al-Qaeda or Isis. Yet there’s no evidence that that was the case; and, if there is now an extremely small and weak violent resistance to Beijing, it is a product of the repression. However, as the West turned a blind eye to the situation in Xinjiang, China gave the US and its allies an easy ride on interventions and human rights abuses elsewhere in the world.

From words to action

The past actions of Western countries in no way excuse, explain, or should impact on the reaction to China’s human right abuses. The regime in Beijing is entirely responsible for its treatment of the Uighurs, the Tibetans, and the Hong Kong 12. But to guide actions now, and in the future – on matters from Saudi Arabia arms sales to the response to Hungarian autocracy and particularly on the extreme case of the Uighurs – governments, parliamentarians, campaigners, and citizens in Western countries need to vow to do better on upholding human rights.

Tools and strategies for credible action are not beyond their means. States can deploy what are known as Magnitsky-style sanctions. These targeted sanctions curtail the travel and financial activities of individuals involved in abuses. The chief executive of Hong Kong has complained about their impact. Coming together internationally, states can support the proposed United Nations-led action against the use of forced labour in global supply chains. Traditional options such as boycotts are also open to states, as well as citizens and movements. While boycotts face the challenge of hitting unintended targets (and, in the case of China, the pervasiveness of Chinese goods presents a practical hurdle), the ending of arms sales and direct military support to countries such as Saudi Arabia would be both precise and effective.

There is also an undeniable power to united international disapproval. It may not suddenly overturn the behaviour of a repressive state, but tacit approval or even turning a blind eye will only magnify the risk of abuses.

Abusive regimes are responsible for their own behaviour. But other states are also responsible if they stand by and fail to speak out […]

Standing up for human rights will have costs. It will provoke threats of financial and even military retaliation. But the costs of inaction – in human lives, in torture and abuse, and in threats to all of our security – are far higher. The world has seen before how a genocide allowed to proceed unchallenged ends up. The world also knows the consequences of failing to actively support democracy, or actively destroying it as happened with Western support in the Congo with the assassination of Patrice Lumumba or across South America through the “Jakarta method”.

The international community is unlikely to see leadership from Joe Biden’s America, which is constrained domestically and uncertain of its international role. The United Kingdom is showing leadership on Hong Kong in a limited way, as the other signatory to the Joint Declaration that returned the city to China in 1997, but has more than enough problems of its own. Muslim states might have been expected to stand up for the Uighurs, but many have been noticeably silent, it can only be assumed due to their own records on rights and democracy.

It therefore falls to the EU – particularly Germany and France – to carve out a new approach to foreign affairs and genuinely, independently, live up to frequent fine words on human rights and democracy. The Uighurs and the world need more than words with no action. Britain may now find itself buried deep in the Brexit chaos, but with a government that proclaims its desire to forge a new independent place on the global stage, EU-UK cooperation that puts aside narrow economic interests to strive for a stable, rights-respecting world governed by the rule of law is in everybody’s interests.


Gdy region Brukseli dopiero przygotowuje się do zreformowania swojej gospodarki w oparciu o model ekonomii obwarzanka, Amsterdam już teraz daje susa w przyszłość dzięki nowej strategii zrównoważonego rozwoju. Rada miasta zaprosiła do prac nad jej sformułowaniem twórczynię  ekonomii obwarzanka, światowej sławy ekonomistkę Kate Raworth, tak aby przystosowała go do społecznych i ekologicznych problemów Amsterdamu. Poniżej zamieszczamy rozmowę z Marieke van Doorninck,  która jest radną miejską odpowiedzialną za gospodarkę cyrkularną, o tym, co ekonomia obwarzanka będzie w praktyce oznaczała dla Amsterdamu.

8 kwietnia rada miasta Amsterdamu przyjęła pięcioletnią strategię gospodarki cyrkularnej. Strategia ta obejmuje rozmaite środki, które firmy, władze samorządowe, a także obywatele  będą musieli wdrożyć w nadchodzących latach. Na przykład, dobra konsumpcyjne wytwarzane zgodnie z zasadami gospodarki cyrkularnej – takie jak meble, elektronika, farby i tekstylia – muszą być łatwiej dostępne dla lokalnych mieszkańców. Miasto zobowiązało się do zbudowania wspomagającej infrastruktury, w tym platform wymiany, sklepów z używanymi rzeczami, rynków online i serwisów naprawczych. Celem jest zmniejszenie zużycia nowych surowców o połowę do 2030 r. i całkowite przestawienie się na gospodarkę  obiegu zamkniętego do r. 2050.

Amsterdamska strategia gospodarki cyrkularnej opiera się na dostosowanym do warunków lokalnych „modelu obwarzanka”, stworzonym przez brytyjską ekonomistkę Kate Raworth. Obwarzanek ilustruje strategię myślenia o rozwiązaniu ekologicznych i społeczno-gospodarczych wyzwań naszych czasów w sposób spójny i zrównoważony. Podejścia do problemów ekologicznych i gospodarczych są zwykle fragmentaryczne; ten model pokazuje, jak społeczności i firmy mogą przyczynić się do rozwoju gospodarczego, który brałby pod uwagę ograniczenia planety i społeczności. Amsterdamski „miejski obwarzanek” stanowi cel na przyszłość i będzie wsparty ogromną ilością danych. A przede wszystkim oczekuje się, że model obwarzanka posłuży jako narzędzie (kompas) do oceny dobrobytu poza ”tu i teraz”.

Socrates Schouten: Obwarzanek jest przyciągającym uwagę nowym określeniem, ale czy jest to rzeczywiście nowa idea? Na przykład politycy w całym kraju już pracują nad pojęciem dobrostanu.

Marieke van Doorninck: Rzeczywiście istnieje szeroki ruch, który uznaje powiązanie ekologii i sfery socjalnej, a także to, że nie da się oddzielić zielonego zrównoważenia od innych wyzwań. To  podejście do szerokiej koncepcji dobrostanu odzwierciedla się w sposobie, w jaki opracowujemy jego wskaźniki. Obwarzanek pomaga nam opowiedzieć tę historię. Nasza strategia może koncentrować się na Amsterdamie, ale ostatecznie dotyczy  znacznie większej opowieści, która skupia się na strukturach globalnych.

Amsterdam wybrał model obwarzanka Kate Raworth. Co z tego konkretnie wynika?

Obwarzanek łączy dwie główne kategorie problemów naszej społeczności – społeczne i ekologiczne – w jednolite ramy. Nasz fundament społeczny nie jest zdrowy – zbyt wiele osób boryka się z ubóstwem, samotnością i problemami mieszkaniowymi. Jednocześnie wykraczamy poza naturalne ograniczenia naszej planety, co jest konsekwencją naszego stylu życia. Zmiana klimatu i utrata bioróżnorodności mogą sprawić, że Ziemia nie będzie się nadawała do życia. Obwarzanek pozwala na uzyskanie jasnego obrazu tego podwójnego problemu i pomaga zidentyfikować sprzeczności na poziomie miasta. Na przykład ceny nieruchomości  determinują częściowo wyniki gospodarcze: kiedy ceny są wysokie, uważamy, że miasto ma się dobrze. Jednak dla wielu osób oznacza to, że nie stać ich już na mieszkanie w tym mieiscu. Chcemy to zmienić.

Uderzyło mnie, że terminy „model  obwarzanka” i „gospodarka cyrkularna” są używane wymiennie.  Amsterdam wprowadza jednocześnie model obwarzanka i strategię cyrkularną. Jaka jest między nimi różnica? I czy wszystko to zmieści się w teczce jednej radnej?

Obwarzanek z pewnością nie dotyczy pojedynczego radnego.  Cały zarząd miasta opowiada się za tą koncepcją i proponujemy go wspólnie. Projektowanie nowej strategii gospodarki cyrkularnej dla Amsterdamu było najważniejszym powodem przyjęcia teorii gospodarki obwarzanka Kate Raworth. Gospodarka cyrkularna jest podstawowym dossier, na które patrzymy przez soczewkę obwarzanka. Potrzebne będą również działania w innych obszarach polityki, ale to zależy od właściwych radnych.

W jaki sposób obwarzanek wzbogaca gospodarkę cyrkularną?

Już próbujemy być tak cyrkularni, jak tylko jest to możliwe,  kupując produkty oraz zbierając i przetwarzając odpady. Ale formułując tę nową strategię do 2025 r., z wizją do roku 2030, potrzebujemy opowieści, która pozwoliłaby je  połączyć. Model obwarzanka łączy różne środki, które są konieczne, aby nasze miasto stało się bardziej socjalne i nadające się do życia we wszystkich aspektach.

A diagram of doughnut economics: between its social foundation of human wellbeing and ecological ceiling of planetary pressure lies the safe and just space for humanity.
Ilustracja: „[Model obwarzanka] pełni również rolę lustra, w którym możemy zobaczyć, co miasto robi w  miarę dobrze, a  gdzie wyraźnie mamy niedostatki lub przekraczamy granice”.

Określenia „zrównoważenie” i „cyrkularność” momentalnie sprawiają wrażenie, że robimy dobre rzeczy, zarazem jednak pomijamy zmiany strukturalne, które są konieczne, żeby rzeczywiście działać inaczej. Punktem wyjścia dla naszej strategii było stwierdzenie: „nie musimy robić rzeczy cyrkularnych, musimy robić rzeczy cyrkularnie”. Model obwarzanka świetnie się do tego nadaje. Nie tylko oferuje teorię związku pomiędzy socjalnością a zrównoważeniem, ale pełni również rolę lustra, w którym możemy zobaczyć, co miasto robi w miarę dobrze, a gdzie wyraźnie mamy niedostatki lub przekraczamy granice.

Zatem używamy modelu obwarzanka, aby nasza strategia była bardziej spójna i skuteczna. Oczywiście można mieć gospodarkę cyrkularną bez modelu obwarzanka. Ale wtedy oznacza ona jedynie robienie przyjemnych cyrkularnych rzeczy i nic poza tym – tracimy z oczu większy obraz.

Obwarzanek ma dwie granice: pierścień zewnętrzny (limit ekologiczny) i pierścień wewnętrzny (fundament społeczny). W jaki sposób władze samorządowe wizualizują różnorodne górne i dolne granice  miejskiego dobrobytu?

Zrobiliśmy „miejskie selfie” –  pierwszy szkic, który pokazuje, gdzie przekraczamy zarówno wewnętrzne, jak i zewnętrzne granice obwarzanka. Na poziomie społecznym miasto sporządziło sprawozdanie dotyczące niedostępnych cenowo mieszkań, jak również ludzi żyjących w społecznej izolacji, którzy są z tego powodu bardziej narażeni na doświadczanie samotności i depresji. Zrobiliśmy to samo dla kwestii ekologicznych w zakresie zmapowania naszych emisji gazów cieplarnianych i nadmiernego zużycia niezrównoważonych materiałów.

Ponadto opracowaliśmy narzędzia mierzenia wpływu naszej egzystencji jako amsterdamczyków – naszych wzorców konsumpcji – na ludzi i środowisko naturalne w innych krajach. Obwarzanek umożliwia nam zbadanie  społecznych i ekologicznych wpływów, jakie nasza lokalna gospodarka wywiera na miejsca na całym świecie, z których pochodzą używane przez nas produkty i surowce.

„Miejskie selfie” jest naszym punktem odniesienia – pokazuje, gdzie jesteśmy teraz. Pracujemy wciąż nad systemem, który będzie sprawdzał, gdzie możemy wprowadzić zmiany, które pozwolą nam lepiej mieścić się w granicach obwarzanka.

Przypuszczam, że amsterdamczycy zastanawiają się: no dobrze, to piękna historia, ale co właściwie się zmieni?

Konkretne środki to prawie 200 projektów zawartych w programie wdrożeniowym. Dotyczą one szerokiego wachlarza kwestii – od zbierania pozostałości farb lateksowych po wprowadzenie paszportów materiałów, które zawierają szczegółowy opis materiałów użytych  przy konstrukcji budynków, aby ułatwić ponowne użycie ich części składowych.  W dłuższym okresie czasu chcielibyśmy, żeby było to obowiązkowe dla całego sektora budowlanego.  Przez cały czas zaostrzamy wymogi dla budynków w odniesieniu do  standardów zrównoważonego rozwoju i zalecamy stosowanie  zrównoważonych i cyrkularnych materiałów, takich jak drewno.

Za pomocą obwarzanka wspieramy również inicjatywy społeczne. Pierwszą z nich była inicjatywa mieszkanki dzielnicy Zuidoost. Chce ona pomóc ludziom, którzy mieszkają w źle ocieplonych domach, zmniejszyć  rachunki za energię, dostarczając im grube kotary, szyte przez osoby wykluczone z rynku pracy. Niektóre z tych inicjatyw są współfinansowane przez miasto.

Do jakiego stopnia można fundamentalnie zreformować gospodarkę na poziomie lokalnym, jeśli weźmiemy pod uwagę globalne łańcuchy i wzorce konsumpcji?

Celowo wybraliśmy trzy dziedziny, na które mamy jako miasto niezbędny wpływ: żywność, budownictwo i dobra konsumpcyjne. Jeżeli chodzi o żywność, podjęliśmy poważne kroki na rzecz ograniczenia jej marnowania. Ale Amsterdam nie jest stanie zrobić tego sam. Potrzebna jest realna zmiana polityki holenderskiego rządu i Unii Europejskiej.

Weźmy na przykład wymagania, które ustalamy dla dóbr konsumpcyjnych. Wszyscy znają frustrację z powodu problemów z naprawą urządzeń. Jeśli zepsuje się jeden przycisk, musisz wyrzucić całe urządzenie. Co gorsza, części plastikowe często trudno jest zrecyklingować, ponieważ składają się z różnych materiałów. Wielu ludzi ma już dość tej marnotrawnej kultury i jedynym rozwiązaniem jest wprowadzenie odpowiednich regulacji prawnych.

Dyskusja wokół małych plastikowych butelek dowiodła, że rynek nie rozwiąże tego problemu. Po nieudanych próbach nakłonienia przemysłu napojów do zmniejszenia ilości odpadów, rząd holenderski rozszerzył  system kaucji tak, by obejmował również małe butelki PET. W naszym mieście czekaliśmy na tę decyzję od lat.

[…] Amsterdam nie jest  stanie zrobić tego sam. Potrzebna jest realna zmiana polityki holenderskiego rządu i Unii Europejskiej

Lobbujemy też na rzecz zwiększenia przestrzeni na lokalne eksperymenty. Na przykład aktualne prawo rozróżnia pomiędzy odpadami z gospodarstw domowych a odpadami przemysłowymi – te drugie są odbierane przez różne przedsiębiorstwa prywatne. Przyznano nam pilotażowe zwolnienie z przepisów ustawy o zarządzaniu środowiskiem dla amsterdamskiej dzielnicy handlowej  “9 Streets”, co oznacza, że to miasto jest teraz  odpowiedzialne za odbiór i przetwarzanie pochodzących stamtąd śmieci. Pozwoli to  zmniejszyć liczbę przejazdów śmieciarek.

Innym naszym od dawna wyczekiwanym życzeniem jest obniżenie podatków od pracy i wyższe podatki od zużycia surowców. Gospodarka cyrkularna ma potencjał tworzenia nowych miejsc pracy. Jeśli jednak praca pozostaje droga, stanowi to mocną zachętę do nieoszczędnego używania materiałów, unikania precyzyjnego wykonania i napraw oraz hurtowego zakupu produktów z Chin. Chcemy, żeby praca była bardziej ceniona, a zużycie surowców pierwotnych zmniejszone tak, jak tylko jest to możliwe. Zastosowanieprostego środka podatkowego pomoże przedsiębiorstwom, które chcą pracować cyrkularnie.

Guardian napisał nawet w nagłówku, że  Amsterdam przyjmuje model obwarzanka, aby nadać kierunek zdrowieniu gospodarki po pandemii koronawirusa. Czy to nie będzie trudne w czasie, gdy zmniejszyły się zasoby finansowe miasta?

Wyszliśmy z naszą strategią gospodarki cyrkularnej w samym środku ery koronawirusa. Zastanawialiśmy się, czy jest to właściwy czas na przedstawienie tej propozycji i jakie elementy tego planu mogą przetrwać tak poważny kryzys zdrowotny. Ale czy można zagwarantować, że gdy najgorsze będzie już za nami, nie wrócimy do starych praktyk,?  Jak ukształtować miejską gospodarkę, która nie będzie już zależna od ciągłego wzrostu gospodarczego, lecz umożliwi wszystkim godne życie w ramach ograniczeń planety?

Wziąwszy pod uwagę powyższe pytania, Guardian słusznie zauważa, że teraz jest dokładnie właściwy czas. Jednym z powodów,  dla których uważamy, że obwarzanek jest tak znakomitym modelem, jest to, że skupia się on na  wielu różnorodnych kryzysach i łączy problemy, z którymi mamy do czynienie w Amsterdamie – a tak naprawdę na całym świecie. Nadanie priorytetu produkcji, przetwórstwu i konsumpcji na poziomie regionalnym pozwoli na stworzenie miejsc pracy – co jest bardzo ważne w radzeniu sobie z recesją – i sprawi, że gospodarka stanie się bardziej odporna.

Czy model obwarzanka da się również zastosować poza Amsterdamem? Mamy tutaj progresywną większość, a obwarzanek wydaje mi się bardzo zielono-lewicowy. Zielona zewnętrzna powłoka i lewicowy spód: ta kombinacja definiuje Groenlinks jako partię.

Nie musisz być zwolenniczką Groenlinks, żeby opowiedzieć się za ideą cyrkularnej gospodarki. W Obszarze Metropolitalnym Amsterdamu, który jest najbardziej lewicowy spośród 32 gmin, osiągnięto szerokie porozumienie w sprawie gospodarki obiegu zamkniętego. Może nie wszystkie z nich są zgodne z modelem obwarzanka, ale wszystkie są bardzo ambitne pod względem zrównoważenia.

Nasza strategia może koncentrować się na Amsterdamie, ale ostatecznie dotyczy znacznie większej opowieści, która skupia się na strukturach globalnych

Od czasu ukazania się tego artykułu w Guardianie zadano mi wiele pytań na temat obwarzanka. Dyrektor generalny wiodącego amsterdamskiego przedsiębiorstwa powiedział, że bardzo go to zainteresowało i odniósł się do książki ekonomistki Mariany Mazzucato The Value of Everything. Te idee pokazują, że nie trzeba wcale tak wiele poświęcić, by inna gospodarka stała się możliwa. W gospodarce jest więcej wartości, niż nam się wydaje.

Z pewnością nawet bez ram teoretycznych można inicjować projekty, które oswajają ludzi z poglądem, że powinniśmy oszczędnie zużywać surowce pierwotne i że w życiu chodzi o coś więcej niż oferuje  nam kultura konsumpcji i marnotrawstwa. Jednak na  poziomie miejskim konieczny jest model, który łączy elementy społeczne i ekologiczne. Potrzebujemy zarówno praktyki, jak i teorii, by umożliwić większej liczbie  ludzi doświadczenie dobrostanu w czystym świecie.

Powyższy wywiad został pierwotnie opublikowany po niderlandzku przez  De Helling.


Opieka zdrowotna dla każdego, zielona gospodarka, przystępne cenowo i zrównoważone ekologicznie budownictwo mieszkaniowe oraz wiele innych korzystnych rozwiązań: w czasach, gdy zaufanie do polityków zostało poważnie osłabione przez nadmiar pustych obietnic, Zielony Nowy Ład wydaje się zbyt piękny, aby był prawdziwy. Aaron Vansintjan argumentuje, iż sukces Zielonego Nowego Ładu na szczeblu krajowym zależy od uzyskania szerokiego poparcia poprzez realizację projektów i działania organizacyjne na szczeblu lokalnym, które dobitnie pokazują, że prawdziwa zmiana jest możliwa.

Można by pomyśleć, że równoległe rozwiązanie problemu nierówności społecznych i zmiany klimatu zyskałoby niemal powszechną aprobatę. Jednak w 2019 roku wyniki wyborów parlamentarnych w Wielkiej Brytanii ujawniły inne realia. Partia Konserwatywna – najbardziej popularne ugrupowanie, które zebrało 43,6 procenta głosów – poświęciła minione 10 lat na systematyczne znoszenie obowiązujących przepisów ochrony środowiska, co uczyniło Wielką Brytanię jednym z najbardziej nierównych pod względem ekonomicznym państw OECD. Wyborcy odwrócili się od Partii Pracy Jeremy’ego Corbyna, chociaż w swoim manifeście oferowała radykalną wizję eliminacji ekstremalnego bogactwa, tworzenia zielonych miejsc pracy, upaństwowienia transportu publicznego, odbudowy publicznej opieki zdrowotnej i darmowego dostępu do Internetu szerokopasmowego. To samo można powiedzieć o Partii Zielonych Anglii i Walii, której manifest koncentrował się na społecznie sprawiedliwym Zielonym Nowym Ładzie.

Należy wziąć pod uwagę inne czynniki, takie jak rola mediów, zmyślna kampania informacyjna konserwatystów pt. „Get Brexit Done” (pol. „Załatw Brexit”) oraz sam system głosowania. Mimo to kwestia, dlaczego ludzie zdecydowali się poprzeć oponentów, wymaga wnikliwej analizy.

Zielony Nowy Ład to zestaw strategicznych rozwiązań proponowanych przez postępowe partie w świecie zachodnim; w znakomitej większości pokrywają się one z założeniami manifestu Partii Pracy. Zielony Nowy Ład może przybierać różne formy, ale w skrócie sprowadza się do przekazania znacznych funduszy publicznych na odnawialne, ekologiczne projekty i infrastrukturę, aby generować miejsca pracy i przeciwdziałać zmianie klimatu. W Stanach Zjednoczonych Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez i Bernie Sanders wykorzystali Zielony Nowy Ład do sformułowania wizji klasy robotniczej oddanej ochronie środowiska: obietnicy, że możemy żyć dostatnio, nie narażając na szwank przyszłości naszych dzieci.

„Zielony Nowy Ład dla Europy”, międzynarodowa kampania zainicjowana w 2019 roku przez ruch „Demokracja w Europie” (DiEM25), obejmuje niektóre z tych samych zasad sprawiedliwej transformacji, ale w kontekście europejskim. U podstaw tych wizji leży ryzykowne założenie, iż ci, których wykluczono i uczyniono niewidzialnymi w sferze polityki, skorzystają z nadarzającej się okazji, by odmienić swoją egzystencję. Jednakże przykład porażki brytyjskiej Partii Pracy dowodzi, iż inspirująca, pożądana wizja nie wystarczy do zmobilizowania ludzi, aby zagłosowali na politykę w stylu Zielonego Nowego Ładu.

Polityka pustych obietnic

Ze względu na chaos globalnej pandemii, który co godzinę relacjonują kanały informacyjne, łatwo jest zapomnieć, że rok 2019 upłynął pod znakiem ogromnych niepokojów społecznych. Wiele z tych protestów zostało sprowokowanych przez cięcia budżetowe; niektóre były odpowiedzią na politykę klimatyczną. We Francji „żółte kamizelki” wyszły na ulice każdego miasta w związku z podatkiem paliwowym wprowadzonym przez rząd Macrona; należał on do pakietu mającego zapewnić zmniejszenie zużycia paliw kopalnych. W Ekwadorze protestowano przeciwko kolejnemu podatkowi paliwowemu forsowanemu przez Międzynarodowy Fundusz Walutowy, który podobnie jak we Francji uderzyłby w najbiedniejszych. To tylko dwa z długiej listy powstań, które były skierowane przeciwko czemuś: ubóstwu, wykluczeniu z systemu politycznego, endemicznej korupcji czy elitom.

Poza globalnym ruchem ekologicznym i klimatycznym nie istnieje żadna inna znacząca globalna inicjatywa obywatelska, która nawołuje do wprowadzenia Zielonego Nowego Ładu. Na chwilę obecną zasięg tej idei ogranicza się głównie do kręgów politycznych. Jest całkiem możliwe, iż wzorem wyborców brytyjskich przedstawiciele klasy robotniczej odrzuciliby w głosowaniu tę propozycję. Bo niby dlaczego mieliby ją poprzeć? Znakomita większość ludzi doświadcza polityki wyłącznie w kategoriach pustych obietnic. Obiecując tak dużo, Zielony Nowy Ład może sprawiać wrażenie najbardziej pustej ze wszystkich obietnic.

Gwoli jasności: gros strategicznych założeń Zielonego Nowego Ładu jest godne pochwały. Polityka środowiskowa powinna przynosić korzyści wszystkim bez wyjątku. Nie powinna wykluczać imigrantów ani zwiększać cięć budżetowych. To jednak nie wystarczy, by stała się czymś realnym dla wyborców. Zielony Nowy Ład postrzegają oni jako utopię, ponieważ nikt nie miał dotychczas do czynienia z porządkiem opartym na ogólnodostępnej opiece zdrowotnej, zielonej gospodarce, przystępnym cenowo i zrównoważonym ekologicznie budownictwie mieszkaniowym, pełnej opiece nad dziećmi i demokratycznej kontroli nad miejscem pracy.

Innymi słowy, Zielony Nowy Ład musi być wydarzeniem codziennym, w którym udział wziąć może każdy – nie tylko entuzjaści formułujący ambitne manifesty.

W jaki sposób ci z nas, którzy chcą urzeczywistnić Zielony Nowy Ład, mogą sprawić, by zainteresował on ludzi? Faktem jest, że przychylność ogółu uda się zapewnić dopiero wtedy, gdy idea przeobrazi się w coś przyziemnego i namacalnego. Innymi słowy, Zielony Nowy Ład musi być wydarzeniem codziennym, w którym udział wziąć może każdy – nie tylko entuzjaści formułujący ambitne manifesty.

Co więcej, nawet gdy kandydaci popierający Zielony Nowy Ład zostaną wybrani, mogą nie wdrożyć swoich postulatów. Potrzebujemy ruchów społecznych – niezależnych od partii politycznych – wywierających na polityków nieustanny nacisk i gotowych walczyć o Zielony Nowy Ład, a nie tylko przeciwko polityce konwencjonalnej.

Pandemia COVID-19 trwa zaledwie kilka miesięcy, ale już zdążyła spowodować liczne kryzysy: finansów, zatrudnienia, produkcji przemysłowej, opieki zdrowotnej i stosunków globalnych. Zdarzenie to zaczyna przybierać postać przełomu, którego skala jest porównywalna z Wielkim Kryzysem lat 30. Właśnie w takiej chwili ludzie naprawdę potrzebują Zielonego Nowego Ładu – dawny Nowy Ład był odpowiedzią na Wielki Kryzys. A Zielony Nowy Ład szczególnie teraz potrzebuje ludzi. Jak możemy zaaranżować ich spotkanie?

Ziarno zmiany zasiane w mieście

Od początku XXI wieku mieszkańcy miasteczka Jackson w stanie Missisipi regularnie biorą udział w swoich zgromadzeniach ludowych. Pod sztandarem organizacji „Cooperation Jackson” (pol. „Współpraca w Jackson”) społeczność – głównie osoby ciemnoskóre i najbiedniejsze – decyduje, w jaki sposób chce uczynić swoją miejscowość bardziej sprawiedliwą, demokratyczną i zrównoważoną ekologicznie. Zainspirowany sojuszem „Black Power” (pol. „Czarna siła”) z lat 60. i 70. minionego stulecia, ruch ten zmierza do ustanowienia czegoś, co określa się mianem „gospodarki spółdzielczej”, w ramach której wszyscy członkowie społeczności mają udział w jej bogactwie, a nie tylko garstka jednostek najzamożniejszych. Na przestrzeni lat „Współpraca w Jackson” rozwinęła sieć niedrogich mieszkań spółdzielczych, gospodarstw miejskich i firm zajmujących się kompostowaniem; teraz inwestuje w drukarnię 3D produkującą maseczki medyczne. „Współpraca w Jackson” jest tak popularna, że dwóch kandydatów, których poparła w wyborach na burmistrza miasta, wygrało przy trzech różnych okazjach.

Walcząc z prawem do posiadania ziemi na wyłączność, rasizmem i nierównością, a także budując biznesy należące do pracowników, ruch powołał do życia mikrokosmos tego, do czego dążą zwolennicy Zielonego Nowego Ładu. Ażeby odnieść zwycięstwo w wyborach, nie ograniczyli się do deklaracji – musieli zademonstrować swoim sąsiadom, jak prezentuje się prawdziwa zmiana. O historii i filozofii tej organizacji można dowiedzieć się więcej z lektury książki pt. „Jackson Rising” (pol. „Jackson powstaje”) napisanej przez jej liderów.

W każdym z tych ruchów to sami obywatele urzeczywistniają swoje wyobrażenia – rządy muszą ulec presji i podporządkować się, bo w przeciwnym razie spotka je przegrana w następnych wyborach.

Co ważne, to obywatele realizują każdy cel, z kolei rządzący poddają się naciskowi społecznemu, bo zależy im na utrzymaniu władzy.

W Barcelonie ruch na rzecz prawa do mieszkania zyskał taką popularność, że zwyciężył w wyborach miejskich w 2015 i 2019 roku. Organizacja, która od niedawna nosi nową nazwę „Barcelona En Comú” (pol. „Wspólna Barcelona”), przestroiła system polityczny miasta w taki sposób, by w każdej dzielnicy odbywały się regularnie zgromadzenia obywatelskie wpływające bezpośrednio na politykę ratusza. To jej członkowie okupują domy osób eksmitowanych, witają uchodźców porzuconych przez włoski rząd, ustanawiają zamknięte dla samochodów zielone przestrzenie dla pieszych.

Zakazując nielegalnego wynajmu AirBnB, organizacja zapobiegła niepohamowanemu wzrostowi stawek czynszowych. Być może najbardziej stymulującym jej przedsięwzięciem jest przejmowanie kontroli nad prywatnymi przedsiębiorstwami wodociągowymi i energetycznymi, które zmierza do demokratyzacji i municypalizacji podstawowych usług miejskich. Lekcje wyciągnięte z przekuwania tego ruchu społecznego w samorząd zawarte są w książce pt. „Fearless Cities” (pol. „Nieustraszone miasta”), napisanej wspólnie przez radykalne ruchy społeczne z całego świata.

W Berlinie energiczny i bojowy ruch najemców, reagujący na gwałtowną gentryfikację i przesadne podwyżki czynszów, walczy o utrzymanie niewygórowanych cen zakwaterowania. W 2019 roku odniósł wielkie zwycięstwo nad koalicją deweloperów, gospodarzy i spekulantów, zmuszając rząd do zamrożenia czynszów i wykupienia całych budynków z przeznaczeniem na mieszkania socjalne.

W Jackson, Barcelonie i Berlinie ludzie zmagają się o bardziej demokratyczną gospodarkę spółdzielczą, o prawo do podstawowych usług, wreszcie o miasto, w którym nie są ignorowani ubodzy i uciskani. Co ważne, to obywatele realizują każdy cel, z kolei rządzący poddają się naciskowi społecznemu, bo zależy im na utrzymaniu władzy. Razem ruchy te stoją na czele tzw. radykalnego municypalizmu – zbioru działań oddolnych, które sprawiają, że nasze miasta stają się bardziej demokratyczne, zrównoważone ekologicznie i sprawiedliwe.

Urzeczywistnianie Zielonego Nowego Ładu

Wszystkie te imponujące osiągnięcia mogą wydawać się trudne do powtórzenia. Od czego mieliby zacząć ci, którzy chcą zapoczątkować taki ruch w swoim mieście? Jak znajdą sojuszników o podobnych poglądach i zdołają rozrosnąć się do tak dużych rozmiarów? Zważywszy na ograniczenia społeczne narzucone przez pandemię, wyzwanie wygląda na jeszcze trudniejsze.

Jednakże jesteśmy dzisiaj świadkami czegoś niesamowitego. W każdym mieście i miasteczku pojawiają się zupełnie organicznie sieci wzajemnej pomocy podobne do tych, które przez dziesięciolecia powstawały w Jackson, Berlinie i Barcelonie. W czasach kryzysu ludzie spotykają się i pomagają sobie nawzajem – robią zakupy, prowadzą zbiórki pieniędzy z myślą o swoich chorych sąsiadach, opiekują się cudzymi dziećmi.

Mniej znany jest fakt, iż tego rodzaju inicjatywy nie biorą się znikąd. Ludzie podejmowali je przed kryzysem, spotykając się codziennie na klatce schodowej, na ulicy i w supermarkecie; odgarniając śnieg sąsiadom lub przygotowując poczęstunek na imprezę społeczności lokalnej. Kiedy uderza kryzys taki jak obecna pandemia, relacje te uaktywniają się, by posłużyć za podłoże obywatelskiej pomocy wzajemnej.

Wszystko zaczyna się od spraw codziennych. Przykładowo pomoc, jaką związki najemców niosą mieszkańcom w organizowaniu się i wywieraniu presji na gospodarzy, by wypełniali zobowiązania i dbali o swoje nieruchomości, można ostatecznie zmienić podczas kryzysu w strajk czynszowy, czy też w ambitniejsze żądania kierowane bezpośrednio do zarządu miasta. Ogrody społeczne zapewniają ludziom miejsce do spotkań oraz poczucie dostatku i kontroli nad otoczeniem nawet pośród miejskiej zabudowy. Rozmowa ze współpracownikami stanowi pierwszy krok, by na forum zakładowym domagać się lepszych płac i praktyk środowiskowych. Każde z tych przedsięwzięć ma swój początek w nawiązywaniu i umacnianiu bliskich relacji w domu i pracy, i późniejszym zwiększaniu wymagań. W dobie kryzysu właśnie te relacje mogą zdecydować o przetrwaniu.

Od podstaw

Jak to się ma do Zielonego Nowego Ładu? Można odnieść wrażenie, iż przedstawione poczynania są dalekie od obiecywanego stworzenia infrastruktury energii odnawialnej potrzebnej do przeciwdziałania załamaniu klimatu lub zapewnienia transportu publicznego i bezpłatnej opieki zdrowotnej. Jednak ruchy miejskiego municypalnizmu to zalążek znacznie większej transformacji.

Po pierwsze, im więcej demokracji, tym lepiej dla środowiska i najuboższych. Demokracja to nie tylko udział w głosowaniu raz na kilka lat. Oddanie kontroli zakładów użyteczności publicznej w ręce społeczeństwa pomaga wyeliminować korupcję i biurokrację. Zdrowie publiczne i dostęp do podstawowych zasobów staje się priorytetem, a nie źródłem zysku. Mówiąc konkretniej, rozszerzenie procesu decyzyjnego poza krąg technokratów połączone z zaangażowaniem ludzi w politykę poza lokalem wyborczym pokazuje, że autentyczna zmiana jest możliwa.

„Współpraca w Jackson” i „Wspólna Barcelona” są tego dobrymi przykładami. Kiedy uczestnicy tych ruchów zaczęli rozumieć, jaką faktycznie mają władzę, poczuli się na tyle pewnie, by wystawić w wyborach własnych kandydatów. Starali się też zadbać o to, aby osoby te kierowały się i podlegały decyzjom zgromadzeń sąsiedzkich, które nie zaprzestały swoich obrad po wyborach. Głosowanie na polityków, którzy reprezentowaliby cię w korytarzach władzy, jest z pewnością wygodne, ale nie równa się ze świadomością, iż twoje własne decyzje i działania mogą przynieść realne zmiany.

Ponadto ruchy, o których mowa, są ważne, ponieważ stanowią integralną część najważniejszych aspektów egzystencji: miejsca naszego zamieszkania i pracy. Gdy ludzie mogą doświadczyć korzyści płynących ze zbiorowego działania – chociażby zamrożenia czynszu dzięki kampanii społecznej – są wówczas nieporównanie bardziej skłonni włączać się samodzielnie.

Weźmy na przykład wydarzenia, do jakich doszło latem 2017 roku w dzielnicy Parkdale w Toronto. Wielu rezydentów nieruchomości należących do tej samej firmy zmuszano do zaakceptowania wysokiej podwyżki czynszu. Kiedy na znak protestu nieliczna grupa lokatorów przeprowadziła strajk czynszowy, reszta społeczności wątpiła w jego powodzenie. Seria imponujących zwycięstw sprawiła, że szeregi buntowników zasiliło więcej osób. Wspólnie udało im się nakłonić właścicieli do przyjęcia niższego czynszu.

Demokracja to nie tylko udział w głosowaniu raz na kilka lat. Oddanie kontroli zakładów użyteczności publicznej w ręce społeczeństwa pomaga wyeliminować korupcję i biurokrację.

Historię tego sukcesu opowiada 30-minutowy film dokumentalny pt. „This is Parkdale!” (pol. „To jest Parkdale!”). Czerpiąc z kilkuletnich doświadczeń, mieszkańcy dzielnicy organizują w czasie pandemii COVID-19 kampanię na rzecz utrzymania tej samej stawki czynszu w całym Toronto.

Lokalne ruchy demokratyczne są kluczowe nie tylko dlatego, że wzbudzają zainteresowanie Zielonym Nowym Ładem. Ich wyjątkowa rola polega również na tym, by rozliczać urzędników i wybranych reprezentantów, gdy ci ociągają się lub mówią wymijająco o „kompromisach” i „podejściu pragmatycznym”.

Nie oznacza to, że inicjatywy lokalne nie potrzebują pomocy ze strony rządu. Wręcz przeciwnie, wiele z nich zależy w dużym zakresie od rządu krajowego lub instytucji szczebla niższego. Wystarczy wymienić skrócenie procedur związanych z zakładaniem kooperatyw energetycznych, zdobywanie środków finansowych na transport publiczny, prowadzenie zbiorowych negocjacji z największymi koncernami farmaceutycznymi w celu obniżenia cen leków. Z kolei rządy krajowe nie są w stanie prowadzić radykalnej polityki Zielonego Nowego Ładu bez zdecydowanego wsparcia obywateli dążących do wprowadzenia zmian na poziomie lokalnym.

Wprowadzenie Zielonego Nowego Ładu na poziomie krajowym jest konieczne, aby zyskać dodatkowe lata na walkę ze zmianą klimatu. Sukces ogólnokrajowy uda się osiągnąć tylko w sytuacji, gdy na każdej dzielnicy zaistnieje „mini-Zielony Nowy Ład”. Urzeczywistnienie Zielonego Nowego Ładu wymaga namacalnych, alternatywnych sposobów na wspólne życie i pracę. Każdy może brać czynny udział w ich opracowywaniu. To więcej niż wrzucenie głosu do urny wyborczej, które bywa niczym więcej, jak protestem. Chodzi o to, by lepiej poznać swoich sąsiadów i kolegów z pracy oraz wspólne nadawać kształt małym fragmentom utopii.

Zwracam się do tych z was, którzy wierzą już w Zielony Nowy Ład: waszej pomocy potrzebuje każda dzielnica, każde miasto. Bez lokalnych alternatyw wizja radykalnie odmiennej gospodarki pozostanie pustą obietnicą; kuszącą ideą, której nie zaufa większość ludzi. Naszym zadaniem jest zaskarbienie sobie tego zaufania. Poprzez naszą codzienną postawę musimy pokazywać innym, że razem możemy naprawić ten świat.

National Capitalism in Orbán’s Hungary

Behind the veneer of economic nationalism, Hungary is one of the breeding grounds of a new incarnation of neoliberalism. We spoke with sociologist Gábor Scheiring, a founder and former MP of the Hungarian Green Party LMP (Politics Can be Different) about his new book The Retreat of Liberal Democracy: Authoritarian Capitalism and the Accumulative State in Hungary.

After the end of communism, Hungary was for many years seen as a star pupil in the establishment of democratic institutions and a market economy. However, in the second decade of its economic and political transformation, it became obvious that the narrative of success concealed immense fragility. Industries collapsed and resentment started to grow among the losers in the transition process. The Socialist-Liberal coalition that governed the country since 2002 alienated large parts of the electorate, notably by imposing austerity in 2006 and a highly unpopular healthcare privatisation agenda in 2007.

To outside observers, the problems became visible in 2008 when the former “economic powerhouse” had to be saved from bankruptcy with a rescue package provided by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank – the condition for the help was another set of painful austerity measures. This is the context in which Viktor Orbán, the country’s “illiberal” prime minister, came to power in 2010. In the decade that followed, Hungary has been the focus of attention as Orbán has attacked democratic institutions, misused EU funds, and adopted increasingly far-right rhetoric.

Green European Journal: Your book is quite critical of prominent explanations for the decline of democracy in Hungary and Poland. Why?

Gábor Scheiring: The problem is mostly related to where they put the emphasis. It is not what they say, but what they do not say. Some argue that the main explanation for the decline of democracy is the violation of norms by political rogues. Writers such as Francis Fukuyama or Jan-Werner Müller have made this argument. Most studies on populism in Hungary emphasise the role of Viktor Orbán and his cronies in the decline of democracy. Several leading figures of the liberal opposition are also fixated on Orbán, neglecting the structural issues. Of course, Orbán played a crucial role in the democratic backsliding. However, this argument diverts attention from the fact that politicians do not come out of nowhere, they don’t just operate in a social vacuum.

Of course, Orbán played a crucial role in the democratic backsliding. However, this argument diverts attention from the fact that politicians do not come out of nowhere

The other problem is the culturalist literature, which is focussed on the role of culture and heritage – that is nationalism in Eastern Europe, intertwined with the weakness of the nation-state – in shaping politics. Looking at cultural attitudes is not necessarily a problem – as long as culture is examined in the context of economic and political processes. But there are those who say the “persistence of feudal serf-mentality” determines everything that is happening in Hungary – and as such, the illiberal populism of Viktor Orbán is what best represents what the Hungarian people are longing for deep down. This argument is misleading, elitist, and derogatory.

Whereas your work focuses more on the economics.

Yes, I think there is a huge lack of economic explanations when it comes to examining the decline of democracy or the rise of populism in the region. But I am not an economic determinist. I do not think that a country’s position in the capitalist world system will determine all possible outcomes. Politics as well as a sociological, anthropological concept of culture also have a role to play in it. Not to mention geographic factors.

Apparently, the Hungarian government is on good terms with the economic elite. You write that by the 2000s, Hungary’s “national capitalists” had largely distanced themselves from the left-wing and liberal political elite and sided with Fidesz (who were still in opposition at the time). What are the roots of these tensions?

At the root of the structural tensions is the poorly managed dependent development of post-communist Hungary. Following the change of regime in 1989, Hungary reintegrated into global capitalism in a dependent position; it had to rely on transnational corporations to import innovation. To deal with this situation, the country adopted an avant-garde neoliberal public policy mix, complemented by certain social policy reconciliation programmes – such as an option for early retirement, in order to remove those who were unable to compete from the labour market.

1.5 million Hungarian jobs were lost during the first years of the regime change, out of which only 0.4 million have been recreated. The share of wages in total national income decreased from 57.2 per cent to 46.3 per cent during the first 20 years of the transition. The average real wage in 2009 was only around 10 percent higher than it was in the early 1980s. At the same time, inequalities grew rapidly, social housing was completely privatised, so we are talking about three lost decades of social development.

The fact that this process ended in extreme social and economic disintegration does not strictly follow from the fact that the Hungarian economy found itself in a position of “dependent integration” with the global economy. The process of reintegration puts tremendous pressure on a country and generates certain trends, but even so, local elites still have room for manoeuvre to direct and steer them. There are countries that have been more successful in this than Hungary, Poland followed a much more aggressive and successful industrial policy, the Czech Republic was much better in building up a functioning social investment welfare state. In Hungary, the fragile class compromise between workers, technocratic politicians and foreign investors that defined the years of liberal democracy collapsed because of this very clear political polarisation over the fact that dependent integration was managed in tandem by transnational capital and the technocratic political elite (mainly on the Left).

Of course, the world of Fidesz was not very different from this until the early 2000s – even if it was always a little more open to economic nationalism. Before returning to power in 2010, however, the party took an economic nationalist turn.

Can we say that a liberal, left-wing intellectual in the 1990s and early 2000s saw the interests of international capital as their own?

The zeitgeist could have been described as: “a good industrial policy is that there is no industrial policy.” It was a neoliberal dogma that was heard in other countries as well, but the Czech or Slovenian governments nevertheless pursued a much stronger industrial policy.

Weak industrial policy has proved to be a huge problem for Hungary and only the Right has highlighted this problem. For the Left, with the exception of some progressive, new left-wing circles, it is not appropriate to criticise multinational companies. The structural problem with the Hungarian economy is that there is a competitive export sector, but the value that is ​​produced there remains exclusively within global value chains – in practice, much of the revenue flows back to Germany or to other Western states to the parent companies. We would need an industrial policy that puts an end to this: foreign capital is important for a country like Hungary to be able to develop, but only if there is an industrial policy that makes sure that this foreign capital is not a “cathedral in the desert”.

foreign capital is important for a country like Hungary to be able to develop, but only if there is an industrial policy

National capitalists lobbied both sides of the political spectrum to pursue a less extreme-neoliberal industrial policy but only on the Right did they find open ears. That is why, by the mid-2000s, most of the economic elite was allied with Fidesz.

From 2010 onwards, economic policymaking completely changed in Hungary. Many on the Right like to see today’s Hungary as a developmental state – which, similarly to East Asia’s miracle economies in the 20th century, sets the ground for sustainable economic growth through state-led economic policy planning.

A very imperfect developmental state, maybe. But it is so imperfect that I would not even call it a developmental state.

We see that in recent decades there has been a very serious social disintegration in Hungary: in the deindustrialised areas, the left has lost its rural base, the local working class, and this disillusionment has been exploited by Viktor Orbán in his bid for power. As prime minister, one of his main economic policy goals was to emancipate national capital. He crowded out transnational capital from sectors of the economy where it was possible (notably by nationalising banks, utility companies), and thus we have seen a clear rearrangement in non-export sectors (such as energy, banking or retail), which are dominated by national capitalists.

But regardless of this transformation, the dominance of transnational capital in the Fidesz system remained in the rest of the sectors. The government forged a new alliance with transnational capital, and in a sense, the state became even more vulnerable to multinational companies operating in technology export sectors – as the current government spends even more money on their support than its predecessors. The new flat corporate tax of 9 per cent is the lowest in Europe. Due to tax relief, the biggest companies pay even less tax. The actual corporate tax paid by the 30 largest companies in Hungary on their income before taxes was 3.6 per cent in 2017.

Where does the developmental state parallel come from?

It would make sense to have the kind of developmental state in Hungary that is able to reduce the country’s economic divisions and lead Hungary out of the middle-income trap in which it has been stuck in the new millennium.

Orbán also sensed something of this need – but the state organisation his government created is completely unsuitable to function as a developmental state. A developmental state maintains some professional, technocratic bodies where professional planning takes place, and it also maintains a bureaucracy that is somewhat independent of power relations. In addition, the developmental state is able to confront the economic elite and formulate long-term development goals against their short-term interests. Many of the systems necessary to achieve long-term goals have been completely dismantled by the government such as research and development, higher education, human capital policy or healthcare.

How does the Hungarian leadership legitimise its system?

Orbán has a vision and uses it to establish an identity in the minds of his allies. This identity is about making the country economically independent and reducing its dependence on multinationals (as seen in the non-export sectors). In this endeavour, corruption is seen as an affordable price, a teething problem, as the newly rising entrepreneurs will form the Hungarian economic elite in the long run.

Policies aiming at upward redistribution are just popular enough for the system to work, when supplemented with authoritarian and populist fixes

Orbán’s system is so much about serving the economic elite that his party received fewer votes when it was re-elected in 2014 than it did in the national election of 2006, when it lost. Therefore, it is not true that he is enjoying overwhelming popular support. Policies aiming at upward redistribution are just popular enough for the system to work, when supplemented with authoritarian and populist fixes. These fixes (such as creating enemies and depriving the opposition of a level playing field), however, are needed for this well-organised minority to remain in power.

To what extent is it possible within the new, national economic elite for someone to form an opinion critical of the government? Or does this question not even arise because their economic interests are in line with what the government is doing?

The latter is true for 90 per cent of the members of this elite. Even if they do not like everything that happens in politics, overall they still feel that they are in their current beneficial position thanks to the government’s concessions.

There is an absolute minority that still does not clash with the government, even if it opposes it on an absolute ideological basis. And there are some actors who are more vocal, because they have a profile that relies on a skilled, cooperative, healthy workforce. This would require investment in education and research. This, however, is not compatible with the needs of the majority of the Hungarian economic elite, because the production modes of this elite are based on an easily exploitable, cheap, relatively unskilled labour force – as most of the big capitalists are active in areas such as the real estate business, the food industry, agriculture, or the raw materials industry.

Can this economic policy increase Hungary’s international competitiveness?

Not in the long run. In the short term, however, there were visible successes: when Orbán came to power in 2010, the Eastern European periphery was benefiting a lot from the global economic trends of the time. Western European companies have increased their competitiveness by moving even more production to Hungary, Romania, Poland or Slovakia. That is why these countries have experienced a rather spectacular growth cycle. Besides that, another important factor of economic growth in Hungary is EU financial support.

As the inflow of foreign capital slowed down spectacularly in Hungary, the lack of this capital was made up for by EU funds, which the Orbán government used very effectively – as they knew that this way, they could build a new oligarchy and spur economic growth.

For your book, you interviewed a number of workers who have experienced the regime change as adults. Do those conversations show that the promises made by politicians in the 1990s about a quick catch-up to the West were excessive?

There were probably unrealistic expectations as well. But overall, I think survival, a decent living, and a secure financial background are not excessive expectations. Most people were lacking these – many things that were still available during communism became unavailable.

In the meantime, of course, there was also a false political illusion that we would catch up to the West in a very short time, and to do that it would be enough to just cater to the needs of multinational companies. Not only the interviews but also the questionnaire research revealed that the younger generations were even more disappointed than the older ones.

What is the main lesson for the progressive opposition in Hungary to take away from your analysis?

The classic cosmopolitan-liberal strategy of naming and shaming populists will not suffice to prevent the rise of Orbán-type neo-illiberals and to beat them electorally once they gain power. Currently, Orbán poses as the sole political voice of domestic businesses. I think the Left needs to talk more openly about the problem of economic dualism and abandon its one-sided preference for foreign investors. To get Hungary out of the current middle-income trap, economic policy has to reduce the productivity gap between transnationals and domestic businesses. Instead of embracing the failed model of neoliberalism, the progressive Left needs to embrace the state as an economic agent that promotes domestic value chains. A progressive, democratic developmental state can help domestic companies switch to a higher value-added mode of production, one that does not rely on the exploitation of workers and the environment.

The answer to nationalist populism is not more neoliberalism. The answer is reinventing the Left

But most importantly, progressives need to earn back the trust of disgruntled workers and must embrace the state as the champion of social cohesion. The answer to nationalist populism is not more neoliberalism. The answer is reinventing the Left – a progressive populism if you like. A change in identity and narrative is only the first step. The current opposition is very weakly embedded in small- and medium-sized towns, the deindustrialised regions that used to be the regional strongholds of the Left. It would be a strategic mistake for the Left to accept its role being confined to the major cities. Progressives have to invest more into organising to forge a social coalition needed for a stable majority. Only the organised power of the masses can curtail the power of the elites.

Politique pour le changement : Black Lives Matter en Europe

L’assassinat de George Floyd aux États-Unis plus tôt cette année a mis à nu la violence policière et galvanisé les protestations partout dans le monde. Il a également apporté la preuve des conséquences mortelles du racisme structurel qui ronge les sociétés sur les deux rives de l’Atlantique. Comment faire pour s’assurer que cette vague de colère se traduise par une politique qui change la donne ? Nous nous sommes entretenus avec Alice Bah Kuhnke, vice-présidente du Groupe des Verts/ALE au Parlement européen, sur la lutte contre le racisme structurel en Europe, mais également sur les rôles du débat démocratique et de l’UE dans ce processus.

Green European Journal : Le meurtre de George Floyd a suscité des protestations virulentes partout dans le monde alors que ce n’est pourtant pas la première fois que la brutalité policière à l’encontre des Afro-Américains se trouve mise en évidence. En quoi ce cas-ci se démarque-t-il des autres ?

Alice Bah Kuhnke : C’est vrai. George Floyd et Breonna Taylor ne sont malheureusement pas les seules personnes à avoir été tuées par la violence policière. On peut se demander pourquoi cette indignation ne vient que maintenant. Depuis le décès de George Floyd, nous assistons à une véritable vague de protestations, de manifestations et de réactions locales et même régionales. Cette fois-ci est différente, effectivement. Je n’ai pas de réponse aux raisons exactes de cette différence. Par contre, il vaut la peine d’examiner le contexte précis dans lequel cet assassinat a eu lieu. Il a été extrêmement visible en vidéo et partagé des millions de fois sur les médias sociaux. A notre époque, les nouvelles et les informations circulent vite.

Nous devons aussi prendre en compte le contexte de la pandémie du Covid-19, qui a aggravé plus que jamais la vulnérabilité de nombreuses personnes partout dans le monde. Confinés chez eux, les gens ont eu plus de temps pour suivre l’actualité et les médias sociaux de plus près que d’habitude. Voilà pour certaines des circonstances qui ont sensibilisé l’opinion internationale aux assassinats de George Floyd et de Breonna Taylor. Chacun a été confronté à la fois au visage hideux de la violence policière et à sa propre vulnérabilité par rapport au Covid-19.

Chacun a été confronté à la fois au visage hideux de la violence policière et à sa propre vulnérabilité par rapport au Covid-19.

A votre avis, vivons-nous un moment décisif qui mènera à un changement politique durable ou s’agit-il d’une vague momentanée de colère et d’indignation ?

Cela reste à déterminer. C’est à nous de décider de ce qui sortira de ce moment. J’espère que nous sommes assez mûrs pour non seulement pleurer et condamner les meurtres de George Floyd et de Breonna Taylor, mais aussi pour regarder au-delà et comprendre qu’il n’est pas uniquement question de violence policière et de l’assassinat de deux personnes afro-américaines. Ces actes sont la résultante du racisme structurel présent dans nos sociétés. Si nous comprenons cela, nous serons capables de traduire ces meurtres en une politique pour le changement.

En Amérique, le mouvement Black Lives Matter a mis en avant une série de revendications telles que des coupes dans le financement de la police et le retrait de statues de personnes liées au racisme. Ces demandes ont-elles un lien avec ce que vous associeriez à une « politique pour le changement » ?

Les États-Unis ont leur propre contexte. Il n’est pas adéquat de comparer le racisme structurel et ses conséquences aux États-Unis avec l’Europe ou le reste du monde. C’est essentiel de le comprendre parce qu’il n’est pas possible de se contenter de copier-coller les revendications et les propositions politiques d’un pays à l’autre. Ce serait trop simplifier les choses, même si certaines des revendications de Black Lives Matter aux États-Unis peuvent aussi avoir un impact important dans un contexte européen.

Prenons la revendication portant sur le retrait des statues représentant des personnes liées au racisme. Au Royaume-Uni, dans la ville de Bristol, la statue d’un marchand d’esclaves du nom d’Edward Colston a été déboulonnée et remplacée par la sculpture d’un membre du mouvement Black Lives Matter [que le conseil municipal de Bristol a retirée par la suite].

Pour commencer, le racisme et la discrimination ne disparaîtront pas en mettant une statue à bas. Si c’est ce que pensent les gens, nous sommes dans de beaux draps parce que les problèmes sont beaucoup plus larges et beaucoup plus profonds.

Soyons très clairs : la population ne peut pas se permettre de descendre dans la rue et d’abattre les statues qu’elle n’aime pas. Nous ne vivons pas selon les lois de la jungle. Nous vivons en démocratie, un régime où des processus démocratiques sont nécessaires. Nous devons avoir des discussions sur ce qui devrait changer. Pour ma part, je crois que chaque responsable politique de chaque municipalité dans chaque pays de l’UE devrait convier ses concitoyens à une assemblée pour discuter des statues présentes dans sa ville et demander si ces statues correspondent à ce que la population veut. Représentent-elles les héros dont nous avons besoin et quelle interprétation leur donner ? Ensuite, après ces discussions – de longues discussions qui doivent s’étaler sur plusieurs mois – il faudrait organiser une réunion au cours de laquelle une décision démocratique serait prise sur ce que l’on fait des statues : les déboulonner, les mettre au musée ou les laisser là où elles sont. C’est ainsi que nous faisons les choses en démocratie. L’idée que tout groupe de personnes qui est le plus fort dans la rue à un moment donné peut se permettre de démolir quoi que ce soit est profondément autoritaire.

Les tendances autoritaires ne sont pas seulement confinées à l’extrême droite, elles sont également présentes dans les mouvements d’extrême gauche.

Effectivement et, en tant que Verts, nous devons défendre avec fermeté les processus démocratiques où toutes les voix sont entendues, y compris celles des minorités et des personnes qui ont des opinions différentes. Ce n’est pas parce que des centaines de milliers de personnes sont descendues dans la rue pour faire tomber une statue que c’est la bonne chose à faire. Les responsables politiques doivent avoir assez de courage pour le dire et pour plaider en faveur des processus démocratiques. J’entends souvent dire que les gens en ont assez de parler et que le moment est venu de passer à l’action. C’est une mauvaise idée. La démocratie, c’est la conversation. Il n’est pas seulement question de parler, mais aussi d’écouter, en particulier les minorités et les personnes qui voient les choses différemment. Permettre de tels processus relève de notre responsabilité.

La démocratie, c’est la conversation. Il n’est pas seulement question de parler, mais aussi d’écouter, en particulier les minorités et les personnes qui voient les choses différemment.

Mais dans ce cas, quid du mouvement pour les droits civiques, de la désobéissance civile et de Martin Luther King ? Est-ce que la désobéissance civile et l’action directe ne font pas aussi partie d’une conversation démocratique, en particulier quand les processus démocratiques s’avèrent insuffisamment réactifs ?

Les Partis verts de toute l’Europe sont tous étroitement liés à des mouvements de terrain, locaux. Que ce soit de leur propre initiative ou pour soutenir des agendas plus larges, des représentants et des partisans de l’écologisme seront toujours présents à des manifestations et critiqueront publiquement l’injustice dans toute société non démocratique. En tant que responsable politique, je me vois comme une représentante de leurs opinions et de leurs souhaits politiques.

Cela dit, il faut pousser au changement à l’intérieur du cadre juridique commun mis en place par nous tous, le peuple, par le biais de décisions démocratiques. Même si vous voulez changer le cadre – ou le système, si vous préférez – vous devez commencer à le changer de l’intérieur. Si ce processus semble parfois lent, j’ai vu à de nombreuses reprises, au cours de mes années en politique, des idées et des souhaits se transformer en actions concrètes. Avec des responsables politiques dans nos institutions mus par une volonté en phase avec celle du peuple, le changement est possible. C’est la raison pour laquelle la meilleure façon de changer les choses est de voter pour un parti politique et un responsable politique en qui vous avez confiance pour représenter vos convictions et mener vos combats.

Qu’en est-il des protestations antiracistes dans votre pays d’origine, la Suède ? Quels défis sont particuliers à la Suède actuellement ?

En matière de racisme et de discrimination, la Suède fait face à des difficultés semblables à celles qui existent dans des pays comme le Danemark ou l’Allemagne. La plupart des crimes de haine sont commis sur la base de motifs raciaux et les personnes d’origine africaine sont davantage exposées à la violence physique que le reste de la population. En Suède, la discrimination structurelle est visible dans divers domaines de la société : sur le lieu de travail, dans le système éducatif, dans les institutions politiques et dans notre vie quotidienne. Le résultat est une inégalité des chances dans la vie en général, certains étant privilégiés et bénéficiant de meilleures opportunités que d’autres. En fin de compte, c’est une question de pouvoir – le pouvoir de façonner notre vie et la société dont nous faisons partie.

Un des problèmes que nous avons est le manque de statistiques et de données adéquates sur le racisme structurel. De telles informations sont indispensables pour que les politiques puissent traiter cette problématique

Un des problèmes que nous avons est le manque de statistiques et de données adéquates sur le racisme structurel. De telles informations sont indispensables pour que les politiques puissent traiter cette problématique. La plupart des informations disponibles viennent des organisations de défense des droits civiques et des ONG. En d’autres termes, il faudrait avant tout renforcer la collecte de données et la sensibilisation. Bien entendu, nous savons que la discrimination raciale est une réalité sur le marché du travail, en matière de logement ou même quand il s’agit simplement d’entrer dans des restaurants et des bars. Les ONG et les journalistes ont amplement documenté ces phénomènes. Mais cela reste insuffisant parce qu’il existe un racisme structurel dans les pouvoirs publics et dans l’ensemble de la société.

Vous avez dit un jour que les Verts suédois « devaient aller là où vont les extrémistes d’extrême droite ». Qu’entendiez-vous par cela ?

En Suède, pendant de nombreuses années, ne pas débattre avec des extrémistes a été considéré comme parole d’Évangile. Il fallait simplement les ignorer plutôt que de leur donner la parole et les laisser exprimer leurs convictions haineuses. C’était une erreur. L’idée que nous ne devrions pas débattre avec certaines personnes est très vaniteuse. Je comprends les arguments qui sous-tendent cette thèse, mais je pense que les Verts doivent s’engager et faire en sorte que les gens entendent aussi nos arguments et nos points de vue. Nous devons être courageux et prendre ce débat à bras-le-corps, ne pas reculer et laisser les extrémistes porter le débat là où ils ont envie de l’amener.

Les personnes de couleur sont également sous-représentées en politique. Que faudrait-il faire pour qu’elles soient mieux représentées dans les institutions politiques ?

Cette question est extrêmement importante car notre système démocratique dépend d’un facteur central : la confiance. Si le système parlementaire et ses représentants n’ont pas la confiance, autant dire qu’ils n’ont rien. En politique, pour conserver la démocratie, la confiance est le facteur le plus important, le plus précieux. Lorsque les gens ne peuvent pas se projeter dans leurs parlementaires, ils ne se sentent jamais pleinement représentés et la confiance risque de s’éroder. Ce problème affecte en particulier les institutions européennes, dirigées pour la plupart par des hommes blancs plus âgés. Cette structure ne représente pas l’UE dans son intégralité. C’est un immense problème qui mine la démocratie, ce que nous ne pouvons pas nous permettre.

Lorsque les gens ne peuvent pas se projeter dans leurs parlementaires, ils ne se sentent jamais pleinement représentés et la confiance risque de s’éroder.

Il importe cependant de reconnaître qu’il n’existe pas de solution miracle en la matière. Il faut des années pour modifier une institution et sa structure. En tant que Verts, nous devons aussi regarder nos propres partis et nos propres organisations. Si nous prenons le parti des Verts suédois, par exemple, je constate que nous avons un problème de diversité sur toute la structure, de haut en bas, et jusque dans notre organisation de jeunesse. Nous aussi, nous avons un devoir à faire. Nous devons nous assurer que les jeunes – au-delà du niveau social de leurs parents, de l’endroit où ils vivent et des écoles qu’ils fréquentent – ont envie d’adhérer à des partis politiques et de s’impliquer dans la vie politique. En d’autres termes, nous devons être à même de toucher tout le monde.

Les Verts allemands, considéré depuis longtemps comme un parti de blancs universitaires, a l’intention d’adopter des règles de diversité visant à s’assurer que les groupes minoritaires sont représentés dans tous les organes politiques avec un taux minimum équivalent à leur représentation dans la population globale. Que pensez-vous d’une telle proposition ?

C’est une magnifique ambition et je suis fière que mon parti sœur se fixe un tel objectif. En revanche, ce type de proposition exige aussi beaucoup de travail pour veiller à ce que ces postes soient occupés par des personnes compétentes. C’est une clé et, sur ce plan, les Verts peuvent faire mieux. Il est évident qu’être noir peut donner des compétences sur certaines questions, comme le fait d’être migrant. Nous devons le comprendre et prendre le temps d’identifier les bonnes personnes.

Outre la représentation, quels changements sont nécessaires pour vaincre le racisme structurel en Suède et dans l’Union européenne en général ?

Nous devons utiliser tous les outils à notre disposition, y compris la législation à tous les niveaux. Dans le contexte européen, une première étape consisterait à débloquer la directive de lutte contre la discrimination, bloquée en Conseil depuis 2008. J’ai été désignée rapporteure sur ce dossier. Cette directive vise à étendre la protection contre la discrimination fondée sur l’âge, le handicap, la religion ou les convictions et l’orientation sexuelle en dehors du marché du travail. Dans la plupart des États membres, la discrimination intersectionnelle n’est pas couverte par la législation nationale. La directive reste un symbole honteux du manque de volonté politique, tant du Conseil que des États membres, de légiférer en matière de lutte contre la discrimination. Elle doit être débloquée immédiatement. À cette fin, j’attends de la présidente de la Commission européenne, Ursula von der Leyen, qu’elle agisse et mette absolument tout en œuvre pour mobiliser le Conseil pendant la présidence allemande. Les meurtres de George Floyd et de Breonna Taylor, et les protestations qui ont suivi partout dans le monde, adressent un message clair aux politiciens : le peuple exige que des mesures soient prises. Maintenant.

La directive reste un symbole honteux du manque de volonté politique, tant du Conseil que des États membres

Cookies on our website allow us to deliver better content by enhancing our understanding of what pages are visited. Data from cookies is stored anonymously and only shared with analytics partners in an anonymised form.

Find out more about our use of cookies in our privacy policy.