We explore the hypothesis that a dynamical dark energy is related to a time-variation of the fundamental mass scale. A dilatation anomaly induced by quantum fluctuations could explain the small value of the present dark energy. Reformulated as a scalar field theory this would predict a quintessence potential which asymptotically relaxes to zero rather than to a nonvanishing constant. An observable consequence of such a scenario results in "early dark energy " contributing a few percent to the energy density of the Universe even at high redshift. Quintessence would be related to a new "fundamental" macroscopic force and induce a small time variation of fundamental constants.