The Green Transition and the Future of Social Europe

Will the EU ensure no one is left behind?

M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies


Graduate Assistant Francesca Ragonese (EUPS 2023) sat down with Dr. Mario Munta to discuss his work at the EUI focusing on greening and policy integration in the EU’s socio-economic recovery and resilience framework. Below is a summary of their interview:

This semester, the JMU European Union Policy Studies (EUPS) graduate program welcomed a new faculty member, Dr. Mario Munta. In his work at the EUI, Prof. Munta studies the Green Transition, NextGenerationEU (NGEU), and other contemporary eco-social policies. The Green Transition is one of the most salient policy issues facing the EU, and it is an area through which President Von der Leyen wishes for the EU to leave a legacy. The recent energy crisis has only exacerbated the need for Europe to diversify its energy sources and has accelerated the transition to greener energy and practices. On January 26th, the President of the EU Commission spoke at the “Future of Europe” business event and announced EU initiatives to implement offshore wind farms in the North Sea. This is both a strategic geopolitical move to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels, and another step toward achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. In the past year, the EU has encouraged its citizens to improve their resource efficiency, and energy consumption declined by about 20 percent. By achieving this level of reduction and diversifying its energy sources, the EU has been able to defeat the economic argument that it must take a  lenient approach to Russian aggression because of energy dependency. According to Prof. Munta, it is likely that by 2030 “Russia will no longer be in the picture for EU fossil fuel sourcing, thus defeating Putin’s agenda to spur divisions within Europe.” 

Prof. Munta highlighted that the wind farm initiative is just one small piece of the EU’s response to the energy and climate crises, but “there is huge potential for energy sourcing from offshore wind farms.” This is one example of the Commission’s consistent efforts to help businesses reduce their costs in developing green technology to aid the transition. An important consideration in making this transition is ensuring interconnection among the different grid systems of member states, and development of infrastructure and technology that supports a smooth transfer of energy to electricity grids. While energy security is crucial to the EU at this time, I was curious about Prof. Munta’s thoughts on the social consequences that could arise from the implementation of this sort of technology. He expressed concern that social issues are becoming a second-order issue to those of energy security and the green transition. 

Following up on these concerns, he discussed the just transition - how can the EU ensure the green transition is inclusive and equitable for all member states and communities? It is important to first recognize that EU member states are diverse in terms of resources, capacity for new infrastructure, and potential for renewable energy. The EU institutions must support member states in different ways to ensure no state is left behind. Prof. Munta’s proposed approach is heavy investment in the democratization of the green transition. He believes that local communities and people should be the central actors of the transition. If the EU does more to incentivize energy communities and cooperatives, it would increase the security and energy independence of small communities and individual households. However, Prof. Munta noted that this reaches a point of contention when it begins to challenge the power of big energy players. Despite this contention, “ensuring that local communities own the energy and benefit the most from it is the best way to ensure a just transition.” To make certain the green transition is fair for everyone, and not just some, the EU needs a more comprehensive answer to the consequences of the transition. Thus, environmental standards must remain high and ambitious. One way that the EU is holding member states accountable to reaching climate targets is through the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) of NextGenerationEU funding. As member states achieve certain social and environmental milestones set out in the RRFs, they are awarded recovery funds. Not only does this help states to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it assures that they are progressing toward Green Deal targets so they are not left behind, but are rather more resilient to future crises.   

Another important topic throughout all of the EUPS courses this semester has been the transition to a circular economy. While it seems like a key part of the solution to tackling the climate crisis, a central debate existed around the effectiveness and efficacy of the model. Due to globalization, diverse supply chains, and the ways in which different sectors overlap and influence each other, the implementation of a circular economy is especially complicated. Prof. Munta agreed that the circular economy as a concept moves away from the harmful practices of a linear economy, but it does not consider the dominant growth paradigm. The key indicator of social well-being remains growth in this scenario, and therefore the EU needs to find ways to decouple emissions from growth. It also needs to utilize other indicators of economic and social well-being besides just economic growth. 

Whether the EU will deliver on its promises and how it will do so is dependent on the EU’s approach to supporting not only clean energy and resource efficiency, but also local communities and social investment. Thank you, Prof. Munta, for taking the time to talk about your work and these crucial issues. You have been a wonderful addition to the JMU faculty this semester and we look forward to engaging with your work in the future! 

Prof. Mario Munta received his PhD in Political Science from the Central European University, focusing on the influence of the European semester on domestic employment policy. Originally from Zagreb, Croatia, he is a full-time professor at the University of Zagreb, where he teaches courses in EU studies. He took a year off from this position to pursue a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS) at the European University Institute in Florence. He is working on democratic legitimacy, as well as the greening and systemic policy integration in the EU’s socio-economic recovery and resilience framework. This past spring semester, Prof. Munta joined the EUPS faculty, teaching the economic and social policy track course.

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Published: Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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