Europeans call for climate-friendly EU budget

Financing the transition

Member States are currently developing their plans on how to spend the EU’s long-term budget 2021-2027, together with its recovery instrument (Next Generation EU). CAN Europe members assessed 16 Member States’ draft spending plans to see whether they live up to the Green Deal promises and put over 50 “good, bad and ugly” measures included in those draft plans to a public vote. Europeans have voted for the top measures that should be replicated, the biggest missed opportunities to be urgently addressed and the ugliest projects that should be scrapped. 

CAN Europe’s Cash Awards have awarded the good measures that help accelerate the Renovation Wave, support energy communities and ensure a just and sustainable transition in these Plans :

Belgium’s Wallonia region and Poland are awarded for planning to use the Recovery money respectively for the renovation of social housing and public buildings and to improve energy efficiency in buildings, which are often still heated with coal. Spain has also found its place on the podium for its funding for the sustainable transformation of cities and municipalities. Bulgaria, Czechia and Hungary are awarded for planning to use EU regional funds to support decentralised, community-owned renewable energy projects. Poland’s Eastern Wielkopolska region and Estonia’s Ida-Virumaa region got applauses for their ambitious Just Transition Plans, while Italy joined them on the podium with its plan to use the Recovery money for cycling paths in cities and transitioning to sustainable mobility.

Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe said: “ It is encouraging to see some Member States using the EU funds for investments and projects that can contribute to the fight against climate change and create more prosperous communities across Europe. The worrying part is that these good examples remain marginal compared to all other measures that miss the opportunity for climate action and aim to keep burning fossil fuels and destroy nature.
In their negotiations with the Member States, the European Commission must stay strong to ensure that the EU does not miss out on this important opportunity for the transformation to a greener and more inclusive future.” 

Jana Maussen, project manager at Centre for Transport and Energy, Czech Republic: “We are glad about the bronze medal for the project in good measures which was created by mobilising people from bottom up. Local action groups managed to prepare a pre-registration for a project worth €1.6 bn which aims to increase the share of renewable energy sources with formula 1 citizen per 1 kw of RES.”

In the ‘bad’ category, measures that are missing the opportunity to fully tap the climate action potential of spending plans and provide transparent decision-making processes are awarded. Germany, Bulgaria and France were top on the list for missing the opportunity on energy efficiency in buildings and homes in their Recovery plans. Croatia, Estonia and Czechia made it on the podium for their lack of transparency and side-lining civil society from Recovery and Just Transition planning processes. Poland and France are awarded for missing golden opportunities to invest in sustainable mobility measures (respectively for cycling and trains) but decided to build more roads. While Estonia, Hungary and France are reminded that they are intending to put their Just Transition and Recovery money to neither clean nor just transition measures; Italy, France and Latvia failed to use EU funds for more renewables.

On a positive note, some of the missed opportunities identified in the EU Cash Awards were already withdrawn by governments. Slovenian plans to bail out aviation companies and build more roads are excluded from the most recent draft due to public pressure. On a similar note, the Portuguese government excluded proposed projects to expand road infrastructure. Also good to note is that the German government has reached its climate spending quota of 37% in the final Recovery plan.

Taj Zavodnik, Focus, Association for Sustainable Development (Slovenia), said: “We welcome the Slovenian government’s withdrawal of road projects and the establishment of a national airline from the Recovery and resilience plan as a result of pressure from the European Commission and civil society. However, it is regrettable that at the same time, when excluding unsustainable projects, the government is giving up €2.4 bn in repayable funds. This is even more worrying given the current poor state of affairs regarding railway infrastructure and the use of solar and wind energy.

We, therefore, regret the exclusion of civil society from the planning process, as together we could identify additional projects that would benefit both the pursuit of more ambitious climate goals and the improvement of the quality of life of the people of Slovenia.”

Daniel Thomson, EU policy officer for biodiversity at Bankwatch, said: “Seeing people power improve the recovery plans highlights just how much can be achieved with active public participation. One wonders what might have been in the plans that were opened up from the outset. Now the European Parliament and the Commission must get the right safeguards in place so there is as much attention to the recovery of the economy as there to the resilience of climate and nature.”

In the ‘ugly’ category, Europeans awarded projects and measures that are devastating nature and accelerating the climate crisis. Germany and Belgium’s Flanders region received awards for “fossil fuelling the transport sector” respectively for subsidising fossil mobility and investing in hybrid buses. Bulgaria made itself an “ugly” place by planning to build two motorways in protected areas and accompanied in the “dedicated to destroying nature” category by Portugal who aims to use EU funds for a useless dam. The measures that are chosen as the ‘ugliest’ ones for burning the climate with EU funds are Bulgaria’s waste incinerator, Romania’s fossil gas distribution and Italy’s investment plans for favouring fossil gas heating. Finally, France and Czechia are warned by Europeans to not give EU funds to big polluting companies.

Julian Schwartzkopff, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, Germany said: “Recovery spending can only be truly sustainable if it makes an ambitious contribution to climate protection and avoids making the climate crisis even worse. Germany has a particular responsibility to lead by example and show how money from the Recovery and Resilience Facility can be invested in the transition towards climate neutrality. It is a shame that the Recovery Plan adopted by the German government this week does not meet this standard. The plan fundamentally lacks ambition and provides little-to-no additional funds for climate protection. Instead, it mainly refinances existing recovery measures. Being awarded EU Cash Awards in the “bad “and “ugly” categories highlights that German recovery spending is woefully inadequate where energy renovation of the building stock is concerned and that Germany continues to subsidize fossil-driven mobility out of public coffers. This should be addressed before the Commission greenlights the German Recovery Plan.”

Wojciech Szymalski, ISD Foundation, Poland said: “I am happy to see Polish measures are awarded not only in bad and ugly categories but also for the good. In fact, there are many local and regional communities in Poland that want to tackle the climate crisis, but they face many shortages, among them financial. I hope that the final Polish national recovery plan and other Member States’ spending plans will be much better after public consultations which have been held since April and thanks to awards like that.

We already see a positive trend that some good projects will appear in renewed plans, such as bicycle infrastructure. Bełchatów coal mine might be ceased by 2035 just a little bit later than an awarded case from Eastern Wielkopolska. It should be possible with much better use of Just Transition Funds. Poland might easily get back on a climate positive track.”  

Neil Makaroff, EU Policy Officer for Réseau Action Climat France said: “France is using its Recovery plan to give big polluters a blank check of €20bn in tax cuts. Instead, the Government could have seized the opportunity of the recovery to invest in renewable energies, to fight against energy poverty or to regenerate the railway system. The EU Cash Awards are a sounding reminder that European citizens do not want to replicate the same mistakes of the past and want to use the recovery to accelerate the green transition. The European Commission must call France on respecting its commitments to the European Green Deal and revise its €100bn recovery package.”

Alexa Botar, climate and energy campaigner at NSC-Friends of the Earth Hungary, said: “EU funding for just transition must foremost benefit the local communities, municipalities and enterprises as most affected by transition in the coal regions, not the big polluters. We hope that the Hungarian decision-makers draft the plans accordingly, we see some openness for it. Numerous communities, municipalities and NGOs were looking forward to seeing the support of energy communities in the draft national Operational Programs, which can mean a green light for community energy in Hungary, if it will be complemented by a proper enabling and supporting framework.” 

Edoardo Zanchini, vice president of Legambiente, Italy said: “Citizen participation will be decisive to accelerate the climate transition and this vote demonstrates how important it is for Italy not to make mistakes in the projects to be financed. Several studies show that the use of bicycles as the main means of transport can greatly increase thanks to the construction of new cycle paths. For these reasons, it is important that the Government provided resources in the Recovery and Resilience Plans in favour of soft mobility, even if more could be done. Obviously, we are not glad that the “super bonus”, of which we are asking for an extension, plans to subsidize in full fossil fuels plants. The same goes for the funds allocated to hydrogen from fossil gas. Two measures in contrast with the European decarbonization objectives and with the interest in pushing renewables and efficiency of a country as Italy”.

Radostina Slavkova, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria) said on the Golden Award Good Practice for Residential RES Program: “We were happy to see fully developed RES program in the third version of National Recovery and Resilience Plan, without the air conditioners of doubtful quality that were promoted in the second version. That came at the price of fewer participating households. The overall low budget and the reduction of the number of beneficiaries needs to be properly addressed. In our opinion for such RES measures (solar PV and solar collectors, but also good heat pumps and storage) much more public funds should be spent, making the measures accessible for everyone. It is worth mentioning that the RES energy poverty focus is seen for the first time in Bulgaria.”

Radostina Slavkova, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria) said on the Golden Award Bad Practice for energy efficiency: “In the society, there are high hopes that the upcoming renovation program focused on residential buildings will not be a synonym of corruption and low quality works. The program should be much more widespread and should do its part in backing up good long-term effects for households, cities, and the natural environment and climate as a whole. With some relatively small fixes in the financing and implementation mechanism, such positive effects could be secured. We request such fixes to be introduced for the final version of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.”

Desislava Stoyanova, Economic Justice Campaigner at Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria) commented on Bulgaria’s nature destructive measures: “One of Europe’s richest biodiversity hotspots, along the Struma river, a key river where rafting and kayak community gather, is about to be destroyed with EU tax payers money and a motorway. The NGO community has fought for over 20 years now to Save the Kresna gorge, the European Commission should act now!”

Danita Zarichinova, Zero Waste Campaigner at Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria) commented on the Sofia Incinerator, ugly winner “Burning the climate”: “Building this facility, which plans to burn 180,000 RDF per year will prevent Bulgaria from reaching the EU’s new waste management goals by 2030, 65% recycling, and will doom Sofia to burn waste for the next 29 years. Bulgaria should rather invest in integrated systems for separate collection, recycling and composting installations, information campaigns.”

Katerina Rakovska, Bulgarian “For the nature” coalition: “EU Taxpayers hardly expect to destroy EU protected species like bear breeding habitat with EU money. Similarly to the Kresna gorge project, a 3 km. tunnel right through the path of the bear is a project with a great environmental issue that must be redone.”



Goksen Sahin, Project Manager,


Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s leading NGO coalition fighting dangerous climate change. With over 170 member organisations from 38 European countries, representing over 1.500 NGOs and more than 47 million citizens, CAN Europe promotes sustainable climate, energy and development policies throughout Europe.


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