European Union (EU) leaders introduced the bloc’s most comprehensive plans yet to combat climate change. Unveiled by the European Commission, a dozen of directives would make the bloc’s goal of reaching climate neutrality by 2050. The EU institutions are better placed than national governments to set green standards but, are they as green as they said?
Against this background, our recent article provides an objective framework by which we can measure or quantify the green effort done by many European institutions. To put it differently, it allows us to shed light on the green actorness of EU institutions. Our research is relevant because it primarily focuses on the differences between the EU institutional triangle – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. In doing so, we rely on the EU’s green purchasing power: Green Public Procurement (GPP). In the EU governance framework, GPP is a voluntary, not an obligatory instrument, which suggests that if EU institutions are implementing green policies in their procurement this could be interpreted as evidence not only of their green commitment but also of their broader pledge to push for green policies.
We draw on the Tenders Electronic Daily (TED) database, which contains all active calls for tenders published in the Supplement to the Official Journal (OJS) in the European Union from 2009 to 2019. The methodology we employ is to conduct a word search in all the awarding criteria in the contract award notices and in each of the EU’s official languages for terms related to green award criteria.
Two core findings stand out in our article when it comes to which institutions are greener, where the following two figures help us illustrate this claim.
The first figure shows the proportion of GPP at every government level. As a surprising result, EU institutions present the lowest adoption rate (3%), while local government present the highest adoption rate (8.7%). Why are these findings relevant? On the one hand, the results are pretty straightforward in proving, once again, that municipalities are the level of government that is most committed to improving our everyday life, but also the level of government that will could a major role in shaping the green European future. On the other hand, results pave the way to the question that even though EU institutions have the lowest adoption rate, is there any difference in the level of adoption between institutions?
More to the point, analyzing the GPP level in every institution is crucial to identify who is the front-runner and who is the laggard. As Figure 2 shows, two big groups can be identified. As front runners, we identify the European Parliament, the European Central Bank, the European Investment Bank and the European Court of Justice. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we find the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, among others. The results already point out the already well-known Parliament’s green identity and help to shed light on, from the perspective of leading by example, how the European Investment Bank is moving to become the EU’s climate bank. Another interesting result is while the EP seems to be increasing the implementation of GPP over time, in the EC the Juncker mandate had a negative impact on its GPP adoption.
Nevertheless, the results of the European Commission are nothing but worrying. First of all, during the drafting period, the Barroso Commission, in 2011, considered that GPP should not be a mandatory tool. Such a decision already highlighted its decreasing green dynamism. Secondly, with the new Juncker’s Commission, the institution performance vis-à-vis GPP adoption diminished. Two factors explain the low performance of Juncker’s when compared with Barroso’s Commission. In overall terms, Juncker’s considered environmental policy as simply one element among many others in his growth and job creation agenda; and the new organizational structure resulted in the suppression of environmental initiatives that were either promoted by Commissioners or originating at the service level. In this vein, Juncker’s accelerated the bureaucratic normalization in environmental policy, where this low appetite for GPP may be due not to institutional constraints but to a lack of intention.
All in all, our results show that the myth of a Green Europe, from the perspective of European institutions, is just that, a myth. On that note, the EU should start moving away from the world of words and entering the world of action. This is highly relevant in the field of sustainability. The European Parliament seems, in our paper on GPP, to be slowly moving towards this world of action, where every year they are increasing its GPP adoption. We consider this to be of critical importance as the Parliament is the only directly elected institution of the EU, and thus open to citizens queries and concerns. But it remains to be seen what role can be expected from the Von der Leyen’s Commission, the most important actor as it holds the exclusive competence to submit a legislative proposal to the Parliament and the Council of the EU, as in our research the Commission was reducing every year its adoption of GPP.
Diego Badell is a Ph.D. candidate at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and Predoctoral Fellow at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (IBEI). His research focuses on European Union foreign policy and norm contestation, with a particular focus on multilateral institutions.
Jordi Rosell is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics at Universitat de Girona, Spain. His research focuses on public policy evaluation (environment, transportation and governance). He has published in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Energy Economics and Public Management Review, among others.