Will Europe’s climate frontrunner put the rest of the world on guard?

In 2021, there are not very many things in which Europe can claim its global “leadership” with dry eyes. But when it comes to climate change, the EU is full of self-confidence. “We are the first,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed last week in the run-up to the Glasgow climate summit. “There is no doubt about it. We are the first to draw a clear roadmap.”

I presented this roadmap to climate-neutral 2050 nearly two years ago as the “European Green Deal.” Since then, the paths have been filled in more precisely – Recently this summer With a detailed plan to cut European emissions by 55 per cent by 2030. This means that von der Leyen and its climate commissioner Frans Timmermanns are now in Glasgow and have a convincing plan to reduce their emissions.

But it’s also clear: The Green Deal can only work if Europe joins the rest of the world. In the weeks leading up to Glasgow, Timmermans traveled around the world, including Indonesia, India and the United States, to convince decision makers of the need to set more realistic goals. The next week and a half will be a test for him as a leading climate diplomat, and for the European Union as a whole, whether Europe can do more on climate than just tidying up its home.

busy with himself

Critics believe that the EU has been too self-centered of late and that its role as a global engine has fallen short. They note that while US climate envoy John Kerry has traveled to one country and another since the beginning of this year to persuade countries to set higher goals, the “outside” aspect of Timmerman’s role until recently remained largely invisible.

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Kerry has already traveled to China several times this year, while Timmerman’s visit to the country did not materialize. “Has Europe really shown the diplomatic pressure and commitment to China that it could have shown?” asked Nick Mabe, director of the British Climate Research Center E3G, last week in an interview. „This was not really in Europe best watchWhen it comes to diplomacy.” Only after the summer did the Timmermans clearly appear on the international stage – according to critics, rather late.

“We often spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves,” says MEP Bas Eickhout (GroenLinks), member of the European Parliament delegation in Glasgow. “The Timmermans had to spend a lot of time getting all the member states involved. It was at the expense of international diplomacy, while Kerry made a good impression. In addition, our commitment is very much dependent on how we do it ourselves. It is often complacent, and that leads to anger in other countries.”

Stakeholders in Brussels reject this criticism. Officials say credibility is critical in climate talks. That is why it was so important to work on your policy first. Europe has also strengthened its activities in the field of climate diplomacy. For example, Central Climate Ambassador, Belgian Marc Vanheuchelen, has been coordinating activities for two years now.

Everyone stresses: Diplomacy is rarely visible. Recently, he has often withdrawn from the view of the wider public. “Kerry may have put in a great PR show,” says an EU official. “But if you look at what it can offer in concrete terms, it won’t be much.” Timmermans has consulted with China countless times last year.

International diplomacy remains the EU’s Achilles heel

Climate diplomacy has recently meant an almost continuous series of video conferences, phone calls and text messages to Brussels. Detailed plans have already been drawn up for all countries of interest, in which the political, economic and social areas are carefully defined. This raises the question: What can the European Union do concretely – with financial, technical or political support – to persuade this country?

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The climate summit itself is nothing more than a final piece, an official confirms. “If you don’t talk to those countries countless times, knowing exactly what’s going on somewhere, don’t think you’ll convince them right away.” Small success was noted in the rapid US response to the recent European commitment to allocate an additional €4 billion for “climate finance”. And soon the United States made its own promise.

However, EU officials also recognize that international diplomacy remains Europe’s Achilles heel. “You dedicate a lot of time to achieving a common vision. But sometimes you get the feeling: we start to get tired,” says an EU official. Divisions, conflicting interests, and arrogant national behavior often prevent the EU from pursuing a clear foreign strategy – something that can also hamper climate diplomacy.

While von der Leyen delivered an impassioned speech about the Green Deal in Glasgow on Monday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis far criticized “dangerous” European plans that could cost citizens dearly and drive them to extremism. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also used his Glasgow podium to threaten to sabotage the Green Deal if Brussels financially punishes his country for violating the rule of law.

While Europe wants to radiate the image of the frontrunner who will lead the way, this creates cracks in the positive self-image.

Read also: All eyes are on Glasgow

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