Within the first 100 days, Timmermans will have to present the first European law on climate. Additionally, he will have to follow the existing circular economy pathway, continuing the push for financing and regulations, even with an eye on decarbonisation. Green parties have more and more clout in the EU Parliament, and the Greta effect has also forced moderates to reinvent themselves as environmentalists.
France and Germany’s governments have recently made brave announcements: the former will invest over 100 billion euros in decarbonisation activities by 2030, the latter is in the process of approving a wide-ranging circular economy law. The United Kingdom is out of contention, unable to free itself from the chaotic, nationalistic disaster that is Brexit. And what about Italy, a pillar of the Union and a major player in the global economy?
Italy has awoken. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who has gone from puppet to European player in one Italian summer, Rome has raised its game, notwithstanding the many difficulties that plague the yellow-red government, which unites the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Democratic Party (PD). Following PD representative David Sassoli’s election as President of the European Parliament, the new government also saw Paolo Gentiloni selected as European Commissioner for the economy. Gentiloni, a seasoned democrat, has a long history in the ecological movement, with strong ties to Legambiente – one of Italy’s oldest environmentalist organisations. Gentiloni will inevitably have to face the issue of budget surplus with regards to relaunching the European economy (going beyond quantitative easing). One of the most interesting strategies was proposed by Italy’s new Treasury Minister, Roberto Gualtieri (PD): excluding green and circular investments from European deficit calculations. The proposal has generated some interest, and will be included in discussions for reforming the Stability Pact. Of course, pessimists are questioning the definition of green investments and whether they will be useful in reaching the ambitious objective of carbon neutrality by 2050, or if they will simply be used to increase public debt.
Nonetheless, there are clear signals that Italy is setting itself on course to becoming a key player for green policies in the EU. On 20 September, Giuseppe Conte launched a proposal for a Green New Deal between the State and private companies, and at the same time a draft of the new Climate Environment (Clima Ambiente) Decree-Law was being circulated before undergoing revision by the State Accounting Body. From transport (scrapping polluting vehicles, supporting public mobility) to reforestation (with an experimental urban planting programme); from parks to the expected announcement that environmentally damaging subsidies will be phased out (by 10% a year until 2030); all the way to circular economy measures, including the interesting tax incentives for packaging-free and on-tap products (recognising a contribution of 20% off the purchase cost of packaging-free products) and a statement regarding completion of end-of-waste decrees. Still not enough, it’s true. A national plan for the decarbonisation of transport needs to be discussed, as well as a national adaptation strategy for climate change, bioeconomy measures and, most importantly, the promotion of a Carbon Tax at the European and global level. The democrats – freed from the political opportunism of former PM Renzi – and M5S have a strong environmentalist component among their ranks. The time has come to let them do their work.