A post-coronavirus green economy? France and Europe face difficult choices | Voice of america

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PARIS – France emerged from the lockout this week roughly as it entered – with blue skies and cold winds in the capital, where Parisians were enjoying the newly found freedoms.

This is where the similarities end. As its curve flattens, the number of coronavirus cases in France has increased to almost 180,000 and masks are now part of everyday life. The metro and roads remain half empty. And the government is facing a monumental task of reviving an economy paralyzed by two months of detention.

Analysts say the way forward for recovery by French and other European Union governments will be essential to meeting their climate and environmental commitments.

“This could truly be an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate towards a sustainable and competitive economy,” said Annika Ahtonen, sustainability expert at the Brussels-based European Policy Center, noting the massive bailouts that countries are preparing.

But she added: “We also know that member states are under enormous pressure to save businesses without conditions.”

As in other European capitals, pollution levels dropped sharply in Paris during the confinement of coronaviruses. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

As in other European capitals, pollution levels dropped sharply in Paris during the confinement of coronaviruses. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

The pressure is on in France, where the economy shrank 5.8% in the first quarter of this year, its strongest contraction since the Second World War. The EU’s overall projection is even darker, with estimates that its economy will shrink 7.4% this year.

Yet officials swear a green restart.

“The abandonment of policies to fight climate change will be among the greatest temptations of the coming months,” wrote the Minister of Economy Bruno Le Maire in a book published this month, adding: “We must do exactly opposite “.

More bikes, fewer flights

Local and national authorities have already taken some immediate steps. Bikers in Paris now dominate the iconic rue de Rivoli, a main thoroughfare that has been closed to most vehicles for the time being. The city has announced kilometers of bike paths and additional pedestrian streets. The state is also subsidizing bicycle repairs to encourage green travel and reduce the risk of getting coronavirus in crowded public transport.

Rue de Rivoli in Paris, closed to most traffic except bicycles. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

Rue de Rivoli in Paris, closed to most traffic except bicycles. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

The government has also conditioned bailout funds on companies that adopt more environmentally friendly policies. These include the flagship airline, Air France, which must cut certain domestic flights to receive nearly $ 7.6 billion in loans and become “the most environmentally friendly airline on the planet”, said The Mayor.

Public pressure for green action is also high. French climatologists, movie stars and business leaders have signed various petitions for a change in the status quo.

But environmentalists fear that France’s pro-business government will associate rhetoric with tangible change, highlighting its inability to achieve its own emission reduction goals, among other promises.

“We need to approach climate change in a much more ambitious way,” said Greenpeace France spokesperson Clément Senechal. “The government is reluctant to do so because it prefers to protect the acquired rights of industries and the financial markets.”

An opportunity?

These concerns are reflected elsewhere in Europe, as States plan post-COVID-19 recovery strategies.

In Brussels, the EU’s executive branch wants its green accord to achieve zero net emissions to be part of the regional recovery.

The Tuilleries gardens still closed in Paris. A two month lockout allowed him and other green spaces to recover. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

The Tuilleries gardens still closed in Paris. A two-month lockout allowed him and other green spaces to recover. (Lisa Bryant / VOA)

“We can turn the crisis of this pandemic into an opportunity to rebuild our economies differently and make them more resilient,” said European Commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen.

“The commitment is there,” said analyst Ahtonen, distinguishing what she called “strong messages” from the most powerful members of the EU – France and Germany. “My concerns boil down to what happens when it comes to action. “

According to her and others, a first immediate test will be the next long-term EU budget, which is due to start next year and which must include a response to the pandemic.

“My concern is that, as always, it will become a huge showdown” among member states that care about national interests instead of the common good, said Ahtonen. “The budget alone will not solve the problems of the EU, it is minor. But it sends a signal about what matters to the EU. “

Energy and climate analyst Milan Elkerbout of the Brussels-based Center for European Political Studies is concerned that some countries may choose the easiest and cheapest recovery routes.

“There are a lot of member states willing to spend big right now, just to break the deflationary spiral,” he said. “So there is a real attraction for any type of investment project ready to start, but which is not necessarily compatible with the climate.”

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