Between Economic Growth and Environmental Protection – Interview with MEP Ismail Ertug

The economic depression is the dominant topic in Europe today. Other crucial questions often lose of their importance in the face of the overwhelming impact the crisis has had on the European Union (EU).

The recent publication of the latest report on the “State of global warming” by the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, re-sparked debates about the issue.

Ismail Ertug, Member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, answered UNITEE’s questions concerning these problems. In his work, Mr Ertug tries to find the right balance between fighting both the economic crisis, the important subject of sustainable development, and fighting global warming.

Starting with criticism on the conservative wing for its austerity policies, Mr Ertug asks for a different approach when tackling the economic conditions:

“One of the most important divides between conservative and socialist politics at EU level are the different political visions on how to overcome the crisis. Whereas conservatives see the solution in budget cuts and far reaching austerity measures, socialists believe that the balancing of national budgets needs to be underpinned by growth strategies and investments.“

In his view, giving political incentives can also help to fully integrate, ensure and promote sustainable solutions and environmental protection – key drivers of economic growth. As a member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, he gives an example from his own field of work:

“Political incentives to invest in the railway sector will generate new opportunities for building companies, new market players in the railway sector and train manufacturers – over the whole a vast potential for growth. The same goes for alternative propulsion methods and alternative fuels in the car sector. Incentives for research and innovation as well as for the acquisition of new, more environmentally friendly cars will create vast opportunities for European car manufacturers and fuel-infrastructure providers in the EU and beyond.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that it would be unwise to implement green policies putting too much strain on the industrial sector. It is an energy intensive sector, which at the same time provides employment as well as a true economic counterbalance to the banking sector.

“The current sovereign debt crises in several European states and the lack of trust of the financial markets in government bonds, make it difficult to set up a meaningful investment programme. It was the right mix of real economy and banking sector that helped some EU states to get through the crisis better than others.”

Furthermore, Mr Ertug raises concerns related to the increasingly interlinked world community. With large foreign economies doing business as usual, Europe needs to find ways to become greener without losing its global competitiveness. One important part in this strategy is using fewer resources, since this also means being less dependent on provision, price and availability of these commodities.

The MEP suggests a very in-expensive policy option with great potential: “Awareness campaigns on avoidance of waste, on reduced energy consumption and greater use of biodegradable and recycled materials”.

“To underpin mere awareness campaigns, a European refund system for plastic bottles could be a useful tool, to reduce waste, the use of fossil energy and increase production on the basis of recycled materials. The same goes for the mandatory pricing of plastic shopping bags, for which the Commission is currently conducting a study. This could greatly reduce the unnecessary use of such bags.”

When fighting against the economic crisis and implementing environmentally friendly policies, Mr Ertug stressed the importance of finding the right balance. Only the future will tell us if Europe really is up to handle this challenging task.


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