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Do you have the stamina for ‘Fit for 55’?

Neither an exercise regime for the middle-aged or a rather niche dating-app, ‘Fit for 55’ is the European Commission’s huge package of proposals to tackle climate change and energy use.

This really matters – to anyone living or working in the EU, and to anyone trading or planning to trade within the EU. Taken as a whole, and enacted in full, these proposals would fundamentally change the way of life for all citizens and businesses across Europe (and many beyond). 

The proposals cover everything from energy, land use, transport to energy taxation policy. Under these proposals at least seven existing EU laws will need to be revised, and as many as five new areas of legislation enacted. The scale of change, government intervention and increase in costs for individuals and businesses is unprecedented. 

Fit for 55 is ambitious, heroic and potentially very high risk for the credibility of the EU. 

The name actually comes from the headline objective to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels; which is key to helping the EU realise its ambition to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

At last Wednesday’s launch of ‘Fit for 55’, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was very clear about what she sees as the scale of the global climate challenge and the enormity of the package of solutions she is recommending. Von der Leyen wants to position Europe as a global leader on climate change. In her words, “Europe is now the very first continent that presents a comprehensive architecture to meet its climate objectives … to combine the reduction of emissions with measures that preserve nature and put jobs and social balance at the heart of this transformation”.  And at the heart of this is a philosophy that (in the words of Vice-President Frans Timmermans), “puts a price on carbon, and a premium on decarbonising”.

But does the package – or indeed any of the 12 proposals –  stand a chance of making its way into law? At the launch press conference, von der Leyen was flanked by six fellow commissioners. It was a concerted effort to show strength and unity. But, according to sources, as many as a third of all commissioners expressed concerns about the package in private, and Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn (Austria) went so far as to vote against it.

 

Fit for 55 is the successor to the European Green Deal. But where the Green Deal (announced in December 2019) was easy rhetoric; long on vision and short on specifics, Fit for 55 is a battleplan. It sets out the details and makes clear the costs and compromises that will come with change, and how some of those costs will fall disproportionately on different countries, companies and critically, citizens. The easy consensus has already been lost, and the Commission knows that they will face trenchant views on multiple fronts. 

Many in Brussels are already asking whether the Commission has been overly ambitious in designing a programme with so many interlocking elements, where failure in one area may well jeopardise the success of the whole. 

I certainly doubt whether any of the proposals published today will emerge from scrutiny without significant amendments, and we should expect months, if not years, of deliberation in Brussels and across the Member States, as the proposals are debated. 

But the broader case for action has already been won, and will not be reopened. We are no longer talking about if, but rather exactly how, exactly where and quite how fast. 

Politicians will continue to talk about opportunity – about the “win win” of green technology and sustainable investment. There is truth in that; I too am an optimist at a macro-level. But, any period of profound industrial and social change makes losers as well as winners, and will require compromise and sacrifice. We need to learn the lessons of previous industrial and social revolutions. Change needs to be just and fair, proportionate and timely. 

Ultimately, change can only be delivered with the support – actions, innovations and investment – of businesses and the people who work for them.  The countries and companies that emerge most successfully will be those that engage from the outset, understand what is at stake, and consciously plan for what is ahead. 

So, if you aren’t already, now is the time to get Fit for 55. We need to get this right, and the work starts now.

If you want to find out more, please get in touch with Jon Rhodes.

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