Positioning & Advocacy

EU ‘Green’ Election fever: Give us a green transition we can afford

Euroconsumers new election survey takes consumers' temperature on the green deal and finds consumers want more green measures, but worry they don’t have the money to pay for them.

In the run up to the 2024 EU election, Euroconsumers new survey reveals what consumers think about the EU. We surveyed over 4,000 consumers in Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal to find out their views on what the EU has delivered for them and what they want from it in future.

This blog focuses on consumers’ complicated attitudes towards the EU’s performance on delivering the green deal, and what should top its sustainability to-do list for the next five years.  

A redrawing of the Green deal consensus?

The 2019-24 European Parliament has been the Parliament of the Green Deal.  In 2019, turnout amongst voters was higher than ever and has been credited with delivering a mandate to MEPs to take urgent, future looking action on climate change and put society and economy on a sustainable footing. 

This time around, things could be very different. Pundits suggest there will be a redrawing of the familiar center ground that has more or less held in the Parliament since 1979 – a center ground that has helped bring in multiple sustainability measures via the green deal. 

Polling shows growing support for more populist, anti-establishment parties that paint the need for green measures as exaggerated, costly and out of touch with people’s everyday reality. 

At the same time, key stakeholders like farmers have mobilized against environmental measures and the automobile lobby has successfully watered down emissions and electric vehicle targets.

This all seems to be making politicians nervous about pushing the ambitious environmental policies that are so needed to reach net zero for fear of losing the support of business and consumers.  

Taking consumers temperature on sustainability 

But what do we find when we take consumers’ temperature on the importance of a sustainable future, how well the EU has done on delivering a sustainable, green transition; and what do consumers expect them to deliver in the next mandate?

Concern about climate change overshadowed by financial worries

Make no mistake, climate change still weighs heavily on the minds of 45% of individuals, a figure that rises to just under 50% among those with higher incomes or those aged over 55. 

This puts it on a par with worries about the Russia and Ukraine war (47%), fears of a new world war, and the stability of energy supplies and prices amongst those surveyed. 

However, we find that all of these issues are overshadowed by financial worries (64%) – concerns about inflation and the escalating cost of living exceed them by 19 percentage points. 

Environmental policies impact people’s view of the EU

Only 26% assess the activity of the EU over the past five years as good, with a third saying it was poor. A deeper analysis of the data reveals that environmental sustainability and green transition have a big influence on how  people view EU performance. It is the second most important factor right after immigration.

Bear in mind though, that the survey also revealed most people are in the dark about how the EU actually works, and therefore how it contributes to meeting challenges. This is true for all areas, including sustainability.

A mid rating for Green Deal delivery

Over a third of consumers (36%) rate EU activity to deliver on the Green Deal positively, and 28% rank it as very poor. While neither of these figures look great, they actually compare favorably to other areas judged as important, such as immigration or addressing the cost of living. On these issues, only 1 in 10 think the EU is doing a good job, and over 60% think they are performing poorly. 

But  there is much more positive feedback when people are asked about specific policies that contribute to sustainability. There’s plenty of agreement on their importance but not much awareness of the details or the EU role in putting them in place.  

  • New right to repair obligations were seen as very or extremely important by 57% of consumers, but only 18% felt well informed about it, and only 38% knew it was an EU action.
  • Fight against misleading greenwashing by companies was seen as very or extremely important by 55% of consumers, with 42% aware it originated in the EU but only 13% felt well informed about it.
  • Action on CO2 vehicle emissions had the most recognition.  57% of people thought putting stricter limits on cars’ emissions was important, two thirds of people knew it was an EU action, and 28% felt well informed.

So, the EU seems to be stuck in a difficult position where people agree action on green issues is important, but aren’t always aware of what the EU is doing. This could be leading people to think the EU has a worse record on sustainability than is actually the case, and lowering their view of its overall performance. It’s a thankless task but someone has to do it!

High expectations for the next five years

Looking ahead to the next Parliament, two thirds of consumers (65%) believe EU policy on the green transition is important for their future. Yet only 19% of those surveyed trust in the EU to address the challenge of climate change. 

But consumers are even more insistent that the people they vote in keep the long term in sight and not be swayed by short-term electoral cycles. 

An overwhelming majority (80%) found that when taking decisions, the EU should always consider the impact of its decisions on the future generation. 

The consumer related sustainability priorities presented to respondents all got a lot of support, with over half labeling them as a high priority. Top of the list for the next five years are essential building blocks of a sustainable consumer economy including: 

  • Promoting healthy, affordable and sustainable food options (76%) 
  • Making sustainable and affordable travel available to all (62%)
  • More access to affordable, energy efficient heating and cooling systems (71%)
  • Guaranteeing trusted, verifiable green claims on all goods and services (56%)

This should boost decision-makers confidence in pushing forward with the best intentions of the green deal. Expectations of consumers are high, and people don’t want leaders who only prioritize short term interests.

Cost is key

Does this resounding mandate from consumers to keep on with sustainability measures and deliver the green transition mean full steam ahead? Not exactly. Consumers may say they want bold, long term action that will serve future generations and slow climate change but the shift to a green economy will involve short term costs and some bumps along the way as new systems embed. For example, investing in home energy technologies, switching to an EV when the charging infrastructure is not quite there, getting used to paying more for appliances even though you know they will last years longer than the familiar, cheaper models.

The survey emphasized what we already know – that money is very tight, the everyday costs of living are rising and people are very worried about it. The constant, daily experience of living with high costs and little financial security has put this at the top of their list of concerns, by a long way.  

Add to this that over half of those surveyed (54%) have the impression that the EU is making their lives more expensive, and 41% think it serves business interests over theirs.

If the EU cannot deliver on genuinely affordable, sustainable options, and shift incentives and subsidies away from polluting industries and into consumers’ hands, then faith in the institution could fall even lower. 

Consumer view of the EU

The survey shows that the EU is walking a tricky tightrope.  One with low satisfaction on past performance, high expectations for its future delivery coupled with a lack of faith that the institution can deliver on some of the biggest challenges of our time. 

However, perceptions take a different turn when people consider tangible green measures that the EU has delivered. They like them, they appreciate them and they think they are vitally important to their lives. But the association with the EU as the driving force behind these changes is not there.

So what should the 720 new MEPs take from these insights?  

Any social and economic transition needs the backing of consumers.  The green transition to a competitive, circular and sustainable – even more so. As the demand side in markets, consumers have a lot of power so we need them to be on board, any other outcome will backfire. 

To improve the market transition to a green economy, consumers must be empowered to take action on the things they care about at a cost they can afford.

Consumers know how important the green transition is, they care and they want to play their part.

The MEPs elected next month can take from the survey results a straightforward ask:  Make it happen, and make it work for us. 

Rewatch Euroconsumers Start Talking EU Election Fever: taking consumers’ temperature