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Paweł Musiałek  6 grudnia 2023

Green conservatism can help deliver the Green Deal

Paweł Musiałek  6 grudnia 2023
przeczytanie zajmie 6 min
Green conservatism can help deliver the Green Deal Roger Scruton, źródło: wikimedia commons; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

If the European Green Deal is to become the story of the whole of Europe, and not just its elite, it must be accepted by the whole society. A sincere debate and the inclusion of the demands of the Green Conservatives may provide an opportunity to attract at least some of the circles on the right, who today feel they are outside the discourse. Looking for non-obvious allies is politically necessary today, as support for the European Green Deal is becoming increasingly fragile in the EU – as shown by the change in sentiment in Germany (AfD), among others.

Although the history of EU climate policy is decades old, the breakthrough in the process was the announcement in 2019 of the European Green Deal. Unlike previous energy and climate packages, the European Green Deal is to be characterised by a holistic approach, covering not only energy sector but also other areas of the economy.

The achievement of climate neutrality by Europe has become the most important goal of the current generation and all other plans have been subordinated to it. Any new sectoral target, even if it is not to combat climate change directly, must at least not interfere with it. Climate neutrality has thus become a development paradigm in the EU, which is the filter through which all decisions on the management of public policies in Europe are passed.

Global and internal ambitions of Brussels

The issue is prioritised primarily because, in climate policy, the EU has ambitions to be a leader setting the tone in the global debate. In a situation where the EU’s role is diminishing in many areas on a global scale, playing the role of climate leader helps to maintain a sense of relevance on the international stage.

However, there is an even more important reason why the European Green Deal is leading the agenda. EU. Many see the potential of the 'green story’ as a means of 'revitalisation’ and an impetus for European integration. This positive story of a continent that was the first in the world to reach climate neutrality, convincing other countries to change and thus saving the planet, in addition making our lives healthier and our economy more innovative, appears as a cure for the pessimistic tones of recent years (Brexit, COVID-19, war).

The European Green Deal is becoming a great sense-making target that will organise politics, the economy and the ordinary lives of Europeans for decades. This process is to the liking of the EU institutions, which have thus found additional legitimacy for themselves. It is precisely the fact that they are not democratically elected that has often been the argument raised to put the brakes on the expansion of their powers. Making the European Green Deal a key challenge becomes a convenient opportunity for another transfer of power from the Member States to Brussels, which has gained justification for such a step.

Not just an opportunity, but also a threat

The stakes of a project like the European Green Deal are therefore very high, as it is a gamble on the legitimacy of the EU’s new role. For this process to be successfully led, it must gain public acceptance. If the European Green Deal is to become the story of the whole of Europe, and not just its elite, it must be accepted by the whole society.

Initially, it seemed that the process was heading in the right direction. Opinion polls indicated that Europeans in many countries were concerned about climate change and expected intensive EU activity in this field.

However, the problem started when the general support was confronted with the costs that started to be visible on the horizon. As long as the European Green Deal was a story about a green future, this was widely accepted. When realising this vision means making sacrifices, it becomes apparent that the process faces public resistance.

Today, it has clearer and clearer political contours. The rise in support for the German AFD built, among other things, on criticism of the Energiewende is a clear warning sign that even in the most environmentally-friendly societies in the EU, opposition to the costs associated with the green transition is growing. Moreover, also the reaction of the CDU, where there are more and more sceptical voices, in the face of the fear of losing voters to the AFD, shows that the criticism may not be limited to the smaller parties and will have an impact on the political mainstream.

A threat to Central and Eastern Europe?

The rise of scepticism towards ambitious green goals was compounded first by the pandemic and then by the war in Ukraine. The narrative that the war provided another argument for accelerating change became popular. Rapidly moving away from Russian energy resources has become a matter not only of importance for improving the Union’s trade balance, but also for security.

While this thesis has merit, it is questionable whether the war in Ukraine has actually facilitated the realisation of the European Green Deal. Firstly, inflation fuelled by more expensive raw materials has severely impoverished societies. Secondly, it hit the budgets of individual states, from which financial support for households and companies was commonly funded. The billions of euros that went into subsidising energy bills could have gone into investment and mitigating the costs of the green transition.

At the same time, increasingly alarming data was coming from the US and China. Both countries, thanks to their policies of subsidising their own industries, have led to a situation where the EU’s role in the race to become the leader in green industry is increasingly weakened. Under the terms of the European Green Deal, yes, the EU was to incur costs, but these were to be offset by economic benefits in the future. There is a danger now that the EU, through the regulations adopted, would become the cost leader rather than the gain leader of the green transition.

There is a particular concern about the implementation of the green transition in CEE. Despite dynamic growth, it is still a poorer region with lower human incomes, still lacking large high-tech companies with the potential to lead the green industry. The cost-benefit ratio in the case of our region is currently much less favourable than in countries that have been preparing for the green race for a long time and have adequate resources in terms of both technology and capital.

Thus, in the countries of our region, the European Green Deal is not infrequently treated as a threat to the previous economic model, which was based on the favourable ratio of inexpensive production to its quite good quality products. By forcing a hard deadline for the transition to the latest zero-carbon technologies, the European Green Deal poses a challenge to maintaining the region’s competitiveness, especially vis-à-vis Western Europe. Any gains in the EU from exporting green technologies may be concentrated in the richest EU countries, who will gain from it, and lose out to those that are not adequately hooked into this new supply chain.

Green conservatism as a hope

For the European Green Deal to succeed in our region, reflection is needed on how to prevent failure. Among the currents worth reading into, the idea of green conservatism is particularly interesting. This is a current based on Christian roots that is gaining popularity on the right, especially in Poland.

Green conservatives fully recognise the problem of global warming and the need to protect the environment for which they feel responsible. How does this mainstream differ from the green mainstream? Here are 10 differences.

1 Christian anthropocentrism instead of secular naturocentrism

Green conservatives recognise man as a distinguished being in our world, cast in the role of steward of the earth, which makes it necessary to grant him more rights than animals or plants, but also places more responsibilities on him. This position challenges the approach of so-called 'deep ecology’, which assumes that living beings have a right to live and to unfettered realisation of the possibilities given to them by nature, and that the development of non-human life forms requires the inhibition of human population growth.

2 Profound ethical change instead of moral greenwashing

Green conservatism also questions the kind of greenwashing practised by the metropolitan middle class. Its representatives often superficially internalise a green identity, often building it on fashion and a – not always conscious – sense of civilisational superiority over the province, rather than a real concern for the environment. The Christian response to this problem is to call for a reduction in the consumption of goods, and thus to rebel against the culture of overconsumption by means of self-restraint rather than top-down regulation.

3 Political realism

One of the cornerstones of conservatism is political realism, i.e. postulating what is possible under the given conditions. This assumption makes one approach the recently popular idea of degrowth with caution. The theory of necessary degrowth, which assumes that there is enough wealth in the world to meet everyone’s needs because the wasted surpluses in the rich West could be given to the needy rather than thrown away, is currently unrealistic. Still the world and Europe needs economic growth, which to some extent is still correlated with an increase in the carbonisation of the economy.

4 Genuine social acceptability

Ecological change cannot simply be imported without thought from the civilisational 'centre’, because it will provoke opposition. In order for people with conservative and localist identities, who have an anti-ecological sentiment, to express en masse their support for the necessary pro-ecological changes and, above all, the costs associated with them, it is not enough for them to be top-down instructed about the 'historical necessity.’ The language of ecological change should therefore be locally rooted, and the green offer to conservatives should be built on a foundation of oikophilia, i.e. a love of the place of one’s life that is close to the Polish provincials.

5 Economic costs taken into account

The inevitability of the high burden that EU citizens will successively bear from high increases in electricity, fuel, waste disposal, plastic and other charges makes it necessary to minimise additional charges that are not necessary at this stage. This applies to costs not only for households, but also for the state budget.

In order to make the obvious increase in energy prices and other green costs socially acceptable, the narrative of the energy transition, currently often presented in merely optimistic terms of a modernising leap, needs to be changed. However, this narrative is not accompanied by an indication of the costs required to make the desired vision a reality. Hiding this element of the energy transition not only misleads the public, but also prepares the ground for political movements questioning the transition.

6 Mature technologies instead of science fiction

A key challenge standing in the way of climate neutrality is overcoming technological problems. One of the most important problems is the inability to produce electricity from wind and solar alone, due to the unstable energy production profile resulting from changing weather conditions. In addition, the rejection of nuclear is often advocated in Green circles, making it difficult to meet climate targets.

7 Linking EU climate policy to other regions

Green conservatism does not question the role of the EU as a leader in the process of reaching climate neutrality. At the same time, it stresses the need to relate the rate of CO2 emission reductions in Europe to those in other countries. It must be remembered that these are real reductions and not those declared at successive COPs. This is needed to avoid the phenomenon of exaggerated costs for a region that generates less than 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The EU’s exaggerated ambition without appropriate climate diplomacy and domestic policy may result in CO2 emissions being exported en masse outside Europe as a result of industry relocating to lower-cost countries.

8 Assertive fight for national interests in the EU instead of submissiveness

Climate concern does not tolerate national interests and the efforts of individual countries to minimise the transformation effort. This policy should not be treated especially by CEE countries as a greedy and shameful plea for support for the wayward, but exposed both in the EU forum and in the national debate as increasing public acceptance and thus optimising the management of the most serious risks of the process.

9 Dialogue instead of exclusion towards sceptics

There is a large space between mainstream environmentalism and climate denialism. There is no reason to apply to sceptics the method of exclusion from the debate, which is unfortunately a common practice. Recognising the human impact on global warming and the need to counter it does not abolish the many questions and doubts worth raising. Engaging in dialogue with sceptics is also politically prudent.

10 Ecology is not everything

Finally, green conservatism sees a great disparity in the way public problems are viewed: both Polish and global. There is an increasingly popular tendency to subordinate all problems to the issue of global warming or, more broadly, the environmental agenda. Meanwhile, the multiplicity of problems we face does not allow us to absolutise a single challenge. Despite the importance of the climate challenge, we are not in a position to devote all our energy and resources to saving the climate, especially in countries that are still far behind in modernisation.


While the indicated protocol of ecological divergence between green conservatism and green mainstream is not trivial, the differences are not insurmountable. A frank debate and the inclusion of the demands of green conservatives could be an opportunity to attract at least some of the circles on the right that today feel they are outside the debate.

Looking for non-obvious allies is politically necessary today, as support for the European Green Deal is becoming increasingly fragile. The EU green mainstream today is not comfortable with implementing the project on its own terms. And yet it must be remembered that this is a project not for years, but decades. The European Green Deal is a marathon that we have only just begun. A good distribution of forces is therefore crucial in a situation where the finish line is so far away that we are not able to sprint there.

Polish version of the text available here.

The article is published in a project partnership with the Poland from Nature [Polska z Naturą] Foundation, which is part of the Our Common Home network.