Fear of rapid change could lead the West “to the dark side,” EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans warned Wednesday, saying the challenges facing Europe have “everything to do with a world that is changing profoundly.”
Speaking at the annual POLITICO 28 gala on Wednesday, Timmermans compared the disruptions facing society — including those that are needed to tackle climate change — with those of “the first industrial revolution” and warned of the potential for massive backlash.
“We are faced with fundamental challenges to our way of life, to the way we are organized politically in society,” said the Dutchman, who is in charge of implementing the bloc’s plan to transform its economy away from fossil fuels.
Timmermans added: “Our main task as politicians … is to prevent the Western world from sliding into the dark side. And that’s a real threat. I hope people will understand how close we can get to the dark side if we don’t mobilize people of goodwill.”
Paraphrasing the Star Wars character Yoda, he warned: “Insecurity leads to fear and fear leads to anger and anger leads you to hate and hate leads you to the dark side.”
Timmermans, who is included in POLITICO’s 2022 ranking of the most powerful people in Europe, is trying to push through a set of reforms that would drive rapid cuts in emissions across the bloc to meet the EU’s aim to cut its emissions by 55 percent by 2030. That will involve shuttering some industries and starting new ones. At a household level, it will become more expensive to drive a petrol or diesel car or heat a home with gas.
At a time when energy prices and inflation are a major political issue, Timmermans said he expects blowback.
“This is an age of disruption, of profound revolutionary change. And that’s going to create a lot of unrest in our population worldwide,” he said. “The art of politics will be: How do we organize ourselves in such a way that our citizens have the feeling and have the understanding that we’ll guide them through this age of transformation?”
To soften the blow of new climate policy, the Commission has proposed establishing a roughly €70 billion Social Climate Fund that would help poorer EU citizens clean up their cars, homes or lifestyles.
Some of the countries that would receive the largest share of that funding are Poland and Hungary, which have veered most closely to the illiberality Timmermans referred to as the “dark side.”
Asked whether adherence to the rule of law would be a precondition to accessing the new fund, Timmermans brought up Brussels’ approach to disbursing funds from the EU’s pandemic recovery package. Earlier this week, the Commission announced it won’t approve the Polish and Hungarian recovery plans this year, as they don’t meet reform requirements.
“One of the demands that has always been clear for Poland is respect for the rule of law,” Timmermans said.
That raises the prospect that Brussels’ dispute with Warsaw could widen in the months ahead.
“Sometimes we just have to say ‘to here and not one step further,’ to make them understand that the EU cannot function if we don’t respect the rule of law,” he said.
Suzanne Lynch contributed reporting.