Influx of right wing climate sceptics after May election could see EU’s plans to decarbonise threatened
By Ed King
Europe’s credibility as a climate leader could be damaged if right-wing parties are successful in next month’s parliamentary elections.
That’s the finding in a new study from the Brussels-based Climate Action Network (CAN), which has assessed the voting patterns of all MEPs since 2009.
In an analysis of 10 key votes, it found centre-right and right-wing parliamentarians across the continent were largely hostile to policies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
“We can conclude that there is a relatively clear right left division in the voting results,” say the authors. “The more to the right a political group is, the more likely they are to have scored badly on climate.”
The European Parliament is currently viewed as ‘progressive’ on climate change, having recently pushed for tough 2030 decarbonisation targets.
But that support could change after May’s votes on a new five-year parliament, with many pollsters predicting significant gains for right-wing parties.
Both are rated by CAN as “very bad” for abstaining or voting against clean energy policies.
While national leaders at the European Council still have a final say over major decisions, the parliament’s powers to approve EU positions and legislation are significant.
Decisions on the region’s emission reduction target, Millennium Development Goals and negotiating positions at the annual UN climate summit are all debated and ‘rubber stamped’ in Strasbourg.
CAN’s analysis rates the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest bloc in the European Parliament (EP), as ‘bad’, with its 274 MEPs voting positively for just 45% of climate-related measures.
In contrast the 195-strong Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) is a supporter of carbon cutting laws, having backed 83% of those put forward.
On a national level, MEPs from Estonia, Portugal and Sweden are praised for their support of tough environmental regulations, but those from Czech Republic, Hungary, United Kingdom, and Poland frequently block or abstain from votes on the issue.
While the S&D and EPP look set to retain the majority of seats, the role of smaller parties may be critical in determining who gains overall control if the vote is close.
“We’re all interested who will become the biggest coalition or fraction in the parliament – because they will likely be able to appoint the new head of the European Commission,” CAN-Europe’s Wendel Trio told RTCC.
Supporters of tough action on climate change say they are concerned about the influence UKIP and other parties could have on the political process within the EU.
“What’s really worrying is that people like this will be the owners of a vote in the European Parliament,” UK Green Party MEP Keith Taylor told RTCC.
“We need to be setting the pace – there’s no point coming back in 100 years and saying shall we do something about climate change?”
New MEPs will have time to scrutinise the region’s next tranche of energy and climate targets up to 2030, which are due to be signed off in October.
Already the subject of intense debate from both sides of the political spectrum, the 40% greenhouse gas emission reduction goal, combined with renewable and efficiency measures, will form the basis of the EU’s contribution to a global climate deal, due for approval at the UN in Paris next year.
But opponents of tough climate action say the new influx may not be so keen to back the EU’s current role as a low carbon leader.
UKIP MEP Roger Helmer, who says he’s confident his party will do well in May, hopes the arrival of new MEPs sceptical of climate change could start to reverse the EU’s efforts to decarbonise its economy, and change the balance of power in Parliament.
“That will not make a majority, but it will make it harder for them to get through that kind of action,” he told RTCC.
He added: “At the moment there is a substantial majority in favour of the orthodoxy, what I call the IPCC position, and the belief that investment in renewables will influence the terrestrial climate.”
Other analysts say the impacts of the forthcoming elections are more likely to be felt in the long run, and dismiss any immediate threat to the 2030 targets.
“It’s safe to say it’s not going to derail the process,” said Brussels-based Manon Dufour, a Senior Policy Advisor at the European thinktank E3G.
“The only thing is that currently the parliament is the most progressive voice, their position is the most ambitious position compared to the European Commission and most member states.
“The only thing we risk is having a less progressive voice that drives the debate”