“There cannot be a green Europe in a brown world. Getting the EU’s ecological transition right means becoming global too.”
After years of focusing on Europe’s global role and its strategic autonomy in a contested international order, Nathalie Tocci has found in the Green Deal a new personal research path, as well as an axis providing new meaning for the future of the European political project.
Tocci’s latest book, A Green and Global Europe, reflects this change in focus. She developed the idea during a visiting professorship at the Harvard Kennedy School in late 2021. While on the other side of the Atlantic, she managed to “break my own mental silos and bring what I had learnt in one area of my professional life into the others”.
Currently director of the Rome-based think tank Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), honorary professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany, and an independent non-executive director of Italy’s Eni, one of Europe’s biggest oil and gas companies, Tocci brings to the table a wide range of experience in policy, research and corporate governance.
However, she is perhaps best known for serving as a long-time special adviser to two High Representatives of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – first Federica Mogherini and, until recently, Josep Borrell. In this capacity, she drafted the European Union’s 2016 Global Strategy, a major policy roadmap for the international projection of the Union.
“Europe’s rationale in the 21st century can only be global in nature,” Tocci argues in the preface to A Green and Global Europe, and “nowhere is this clearer than on climate change and the energy transition”. A green Europe, she writes, “represents a normative, strategic, economic and political project all at the same time”.
Green and global are “two sides of the same coin”, Tocci tells The Parliament, adding that the Green Deal can potentially mend the cracks made by a long sequence of crises closer to home, from the failure of the Constitutional Treaty to the rise of nationalistic populisms.
“Against the backdrop of the pandemic and the war in [Ukraine], and the renewed sense of solidarity among Europeans they brought about, the EU’s green agenda has given the Union a new lease of life and a route towards the re-legitimisation of the EU project as a whole,” she says.
For the Italian foreign policy expert, “it is like killing two birds with one stone – by doing something that is needed to save us and the planet, while rejuvenating and reigniting the European integration project at the same time”.
The Green Deal is key to the EU’s strategic autonomy and energy independence, and to spearheading the bloc’s new growth model – as the European institutions often argue.
But a green Europe only makes sense if embedded in a decarbonising world; such an agenda will succeed only if it makes Europe the first net-zero continent and spurs the rest of the planet to follow suit.
“Today, the EU is ahead of the global green curve. It represents under eight per cent of CO2 global emissions, and that figure is fast declining,” the analyst notes in her book.
Energy transitions have been remarkably differentiated worldwide, from India to China, but “it is the direction of travel which must be the same; there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach”, Tocci says.
In A Green and Global Europe, she argues that “Europe shall keep the ambition of being a climate leader – but there can be leaders to the extent of which there can be followers”. In this sense, “the EU is best positioned to develop policies vis-à-vis third countries to accelerate the journey of different world regions without having the arrogance and the presumption of knowing and defining what those transitions should look like”.
“Often the EU hides behind strategy-making when the moment rather requires action”
Tocci takes the historic agreement at COP27, the most recent United Nations climate conference, to pay poorer countries for loss and damage caused by climate change as proof the green transition will need to be addressed through the lens of global co-operation, not geopolitical competition (such as the United States-China rivalry).
“In the COP27 negotiations, the EU sided with the Global South, perfectly aware that decarbonisation is poised to slow down unless the major cleavage between developed and developing economies is bridged,” she explains. “And Europe knows well it will have to do a lot of financial heavy lifting in this respect.”
Looking back at her previous stint in drafting the EU’s Global Strategy, Tocci recognises climate and energy as being part of a holistic roadmap featuring diplomacy, development and defence as well as other policy areas such as finance and education.
“The difference between then and now is that today climate and energy are not just part of the nexus. They are at the core of it, the top priority through which to address all other issues. Now the EU is far more involved in the business, and acting in a way that can accelerate progress in a particular direction,” she says.
It is one of the reasons she does not recommend indulging in the creation of a Global Strategy 2.0: “Often the EU hides behind strategy-making when the moment rather requires action. At present, we should be far more in the business of just doing it.”
To succeed, however, the EU administration must start firing on all cylinders, Tocci argues in her book. Whereas climate increasingly features in the work of different EU institutions and can count on the co-ordinating role of a dedicated Executive Vice-Presidency of the European Commission, the green transition has yet to become a priority both internally and externally for those services not expressly tasked with the matter.
“Now there are around five or six people in the EEAS, the EU’s diplomatic arm, dealing with it. It is by far more than just a few years ago, showing the trend is moving in the right direction. But this is peanuts compared to what is needed,” she says.
A green Europe is taking shape, and the next stop is going truly global.