With climate change near the top of the international political agenda, the European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has made the Green Deal plan, together with the transition to a truly Digital Europe, into a key policy goal for her administration. The Green Deal is the action plan to make the EU economy more sustainable, while transforming Europe into a more resource efficient and competitive economy.
Central to this goal is the ambition for the EU to be climate neutral by 2050. In order to reach this target, the Commission envisages all sectors of the economy making efforts to become more sustainable in their operations by boosting the efficient use of resources, investing in environmentally friendly technologies and moving to a cleaner, circular economy. Competition policy will also have its role to play.
In reference to the Green Deal, Commission Executive Vice-President, Margrethe Vestager, who has responsibility for competition, commented: “To succeed, everyone in Europe will have to play their part – every individual, every public authority. And that includes competition enforcers.”
EVP Vestager announced her intention in September to launch a discussion on how EU competition policy can best support the Green Deal. According to Mrs Vestager, competition policy cannot replace environmental laws or green investment, but the question is whether more can be done to apply competition rules in ways that better support the Green Deal.
In its approach to this subject, the Commission's DG Competition will be mindful of the way that competitive markets can encourage firms to produce at the lowest cost, to invest efficiently and to innovate and adopt more energy-efficient technologies. EU State aid rules can also enable R&D and investments in environmentally sustainable industries.
DG Competition has begun work on incorporating aspects of the Green Deal into its policies:
In parallel to the European Commission, national competition authorities have been debating the interplay between competition law and environmental objectives. The Dutch ACM published draft guidelines on sustainability agreements and the Hellenic Competition Commission published a paper on sustainability issues and competition law.
The debate on competition law and sustainability is only just kicking off, but it is clear DG Competition is seriously exploring the ways in which competition policy can contribute to the effectiveness of environmental policies. Bird & Bird will keep you posted on its developments in this (green) field.