Wishful thinking, Brussels style

Green growth: not always a good thing

The Brussels institutions seem to have an unlimited capacity for self-delusion.

We’ve had “subsidiarity”, which is supposed to mean devolving decision-making in the EU to the lowest possible level — while in reality the minutiae of our every-day lives are controlled in ever more detail from Brussels.  I’ve been in the European parliament for thirteen years, and I’ve yet to see subsidiarity in practice.  Yet the word is trotted out time and again, to reassure doubters and sceptics that the EU is really user-friendly, and not controlling at all.  The meaningless phrase “with due regard to subsidiarity” crops up again and again, as a sort of knee-jerk cliché.

Then there’s “the social market”.  As EU social policy, health and safety and environmentalism squeeze the life-blood out of enterprise, as we create a new corporatist nightmare economy, we still try to kid ourselves that it has something to do with a market.

Or how about “flexsecurity” — the absurd pretence that coining an ugly neologism tells us something about the real world, or that two totally incompatible objectives, in this case job security and labour market flexibility, can be achieved simultaneously.  But if we repeat it often enough, surely it will come true?  No.  But we may manage to fool ourselves into a state of unreality.

Angela Merkel wants to believe that saving the €uro is compatible with getting herself re-elected, and that closing down German nuclear power stations is compatible with keeping the lights on.

Last night it was a dinner debate on “Green Growth”.  A lovely, alliterative phrase.  And another attempt to prove the impossible: that extreme environmentalism is somehow compatible with growth and prosperity.  It’s not.  Yet we had a room full of highly paid folk convincing themselves of it — and only me (and the redoubtable Alexandra Swann) to point out a few hard truths.

Of course part of the discourse was unexceptionable.  They want resource efficiency and recycling.  Few will argue with that.  I’m all in favour of recycling, where it makes economic sense.  All too frequently it does not.  Yesterday I got a mailing from the glass industry, claiming that by using recycled glass they could save 5% of the CO2 emissions associated with starting out with raw sand.  Big deal.  And how much CO2 was emitted by all the diesel trucks that went to every home in the land collecting the glass, sorting it by colour, and trucking it to the factory?  As we know, of course, much of the glass that we careful sort out by colour gets mixed together again, crushed and used as hardcore, which probably makes more sense.

The plain fact is that our green policies are undermining growth.  They talk about “green jobs”, although study after study shows that each green job costs several real jobs in the real economy, as green projects drive up energy costs.  Already the high price of energy in the EU is deterring investment, and forcing energy-intensive businesses to look at the more rational markets of the USA, China or India.  Meantime we see families and pensioners forced into fuel poverty, while profoundly regressive green subsidies take money from the poor, who can’t afford it, and give it to rich land-owners and corporations, who don’t need it.

Around the world, the dream of “green growth” is unravelling, while governments scale back their pointless subsidies.  It’s just that no one seems to have told Brussels about it yet.  As my old mother used to say, “None so blind as those who won’t see”.

I think it was Mark Twain who said “Your saying so don’t make it so”.  That’s especially true of Brussels propaganda-speak.

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