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Belgium’s De Croo slams degrowth, joins call for a regulatory break

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo criticised the idea of not growing the economy for environmental reasons, joining calls to stop environmental and health-related regulation to prevent overburdening companies

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, May 23, 2023

As an example, De Croo cited the new Euro 7 norms for cars and trucks, aiming to reduce air pollution from combustion vehicles as of 2025, while carmakers would instead concentrate on scaling up the production of electric vehicles.
As an example, De Croo cited the new Euro 7 norms for cars and trucks, aiming to reduce air pollution from combustion vehicles as of 2025, while carmakers would instead concentrate on scaling up the production of electric vehicles.

by Anne-Sophie Gayet and Jonathan Packroff

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Monday (22 May) criticised the idea of not growing the economy for environmental reasons, joining calls to stop environmental and health-related regulation to prevent overburdening companies.

As EU industry transforms towards net-zero emissions, it should not be burdened with additional regulation, De Croo (Open VLD/Renew) told a conference hosted by the Wirtschaftsrat der CDU, a business group with close ties to the German conservative CDU party (EPP affiliated).

“Let’s not try to do everything at the same time. Let us focus on what is the most important,” De Croo said, calling for a focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As an example, De Croo cited the new Euro 7 norms for cars and trucks, aiming to reduce air pollution from combustion vehicles as of 2025, while carmakers would instead concentrate on scaling up the production of electric vehicles.

De Croo also mentioned the upcoming revision of the EU’s chemical safety regulation REACH and the planned EU nature restoration law.

“Is it actually the right time today to put all these legislations together, knowing that the crucial element is the energy transition?” he asked.

“If we are overburdening people with rules and regulations, we risk losing the public support for the green agenda,” De Croo warned.

De Croo is joining similar calls made by French President Emmanuel Macron and the European People’s Party (EPP), who urged for an EU-level “regulatory break” to give companies more breathing space.

This call was also echoed in Germany, with Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP/Renew) saying last week that he wants to work with France to reduce the bureaucracy burden on companies.

De Croo also slammed the idea of reducing economic activity to fulfil environmental targets, known as “degrowth”.

“We sometimes hear people saying that the solution would be de-growth, the myth that we could combat climate change with a strategy of less: Less growth, less investment, less consumption, probably also less job creation,” De Croo said.

“This will never work,” he added, arguing that a “strategy of less” would be “completely contrary to our human nature”.

Last week, the European Parliament hosted the “Beyond Growth” conference in Brussels, which featured speakers from the “Degrowth” movement who call to reduce economic activity, such as Jason Hickel and Timothee Parrique.

“The contrary is actually true, and the contrary is a strategy of more – but better,” De Croo said, citing the possibility of decoupling economic growth from CO2 emissions.

On the contrary, the Belgian prime minister advocated for a “European Industrial Deal” to reinforce the European Green Deal, calling for more industrial incentives, or “carrots” as he called them – as opposed to “sticks” -to support clean teach investments, taking the American Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as an example.

He insisted on the need for a unified EU approach as this would avoid a subsidy race that could undermine the single market – perhaps a subtle reference to the German subsidy programme for industries some member states have already criticised. For De Croo, such measures must be targeted and run for a limited period.

At the end of last year, Belgium’s prime minister called for a unified approach, deploring that some member states play “a game of [who has] the deepest pockets”.

Additionally, for De Croo, more energy is needed, but it should be cheap and green.

The prime minister notably called for phasing out fossil fuels by investing in renewable energy and hydrogen infrastructure and connecting national grids – elements underlined by the leaders at the North Sea Summit in Ostende last month.

According to him, nuclear energy should not be abandoned and should make a comeback, especially when it will be safer and less wasteful, as “a reliable and carbon-free baseload for our grids”.

For its part, Germany recently completely phased-out nuclear energy, while Belgium – which recently closed two of its seven reactors – is now debating whether the two other nuclear plants should be extended.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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