How the EU can tackle the climate threat

Europe used to be seen by many in the Swedish labour movement as a capitalist project. But now more people on the left are starting to view the EU as a forum for tackling issues like climate change, argues Ove Andersson, of the Swedish Labour Movement Think Tank.

The 2003 referendum on joining European Monetary Union was practically the last time Sweden debated Europe. Not quite everyone has been silent since then, of course – a few battle on to argue both for the euro and for enlargement – but the public’s attention is now focused far away from Brussels. Swedes got tired of hearing about the EU after the disruptive battle between Yes and No camps.

Yet a lot has happened since 2003. When Sweden entered the EU there were 15 member states; now, 11 years later, there are 27. More are on the way, such as Turkey.

Back then, before 1995, observers could view the EU as principally a capitalist project focused on letting the market, not politics, make the decisions. These days, however, the political dimension is widening its scope. The Right does not like this – they loved the Treaty of Rome’s paeans to the free movement of capital.

The EEC-enthusiasts of that era are becoming more and more Eurosceptical, while those of us who dreamed of the supremacy of democracy – that is to say popular influence and the social dimension’s increased scope – have moved from being strident opponents of the EEC to being (somewhat critical) EU-enthusiasts. We are believers in the idea of a borderless Europe, a development in line with our social democratic dreams of a borderless and classless world.

This might sound a bit utopian, but it is not just about creating a utopia – there are plenty of practical and immediate results that can be achieved within the EU partnership. Environmental and climate policy is a case in point. If we are going to get a grip on carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the greenhouse effect from melting away the last glaciers, we will need to cooperate across borders in both environmental and energy policies.

We will need to change the way we do things in many areas – transport being a good example. A radical rail policy could give us fast trains across Europe, replacing much of the current air and long-distance truck transportation.

Sun-seeking Swedish families currently tend to fly to the Mediterranean. Business travellers fly from Stockholm to Berlin and Paris. With the low emission high-speed trains of the future we can get there nearly as quickly, but infinitely more comfortably, both when travelling for business and for pleasure. With an average speed of 250 kilometres per hour the train will take you from Stockholm to Paris in six or seven hours.

Europe’s politicians, businesspeople and investors will need to put their heads together to make this a reality. To set about building a new generation of railways will require a carrot and stick approach. The carrots will be the prospect of a new source of growth-driven profit and a good green conscience, while the fear of the catastrophic effects of climate change will be the stick.

Does it even need to be said that it is only through the European Union that we can make this happen? That Swedes will be able to take an express train to Istanbul in less than 15 hours?

Ove Andersson

Director, Swedish Labour Movement Think Tank