As the polls open, RTCC speaks to MEPs on what the next European Parliament could – and should – achieve
By Sophie Yeo
Across the EU voters are starting the process deciding who should represent them in the European Parliament up to 2019.
The result will help determine the region’s climate policies over the next five years – a critical period, as it encompasses UN attempts to sign off an international climate treaty.
The EU has so far played a critical role in these negotiations, but the rise of anti-climate right wing groups means that this agenda could be under threat.
RTCC has asked current MEPs from across the political spectrum how the outcome of this election will impact Parliament’s climate decision-making, and what they think its future priorities should be?
The answers were varied, ranging from curbing black carbon to opposing fracking, demonstrating the crucial role that this week’s elections will play in determining European – and global – climate policy for years to come.
Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy – Alliance of Liberals and Democrats
Despite what many people believe – that the EU is a front runner on climate change in the world, that we have to fear our competitive position vis a vis the rest of the world because of our ambitious climate policies – it’s the other way around.
The US, China and other parts of the world are becoming much more ambitious. China is investing much more in clean technology than we do in Europe, so I fear that if we do not speed up in Europe in the future our industry will have to buy its clean technology in countries like the US and China, which will definitely damage our competitiveness.
The 2030 package was not a legislative resolution, and in the end we have to put things in legislation, so that we can force each other to really do what we promise. That is going to become a very difficult process because it’s much easier to agree on a non-legislative text than on strong legislation, so that is going to be a very difficult battle in the coming years.
We have to get rid, in the EU, of hidden and non-hidden subsidies on fossil fuels, because the fossil fuel industry is always complaining about subsidising clean energy, but the subsidies that are going into the pockets of the fossil fuel industry are much higher, and that is something we have to tackle as well if we want to tackle climate change.
Eiija-Riitta Korhola – European People’s Party
I think we should concentrate on reducing black carbon. It should be a priority instead of CO2 because it is the most urgent problem of the moment. It melts away the glaciers and it has fatal consequences on human health. If it were the basis for the next global agreement in Paris, it could be more fruitful because for China it’s necessary to reduce black carbon pollution particles.
Our first priority is to have a global agreement, otherwise our own efforts will be counterproductive. We have increased the share of total emissions in the EU if we take into account imported products, and therefore it is fruitless to continue in this track.
In the 2030 climate package, my political group is going to concentrate on one target. We would like to have one clear emissions reduction target, but we are reluctant to tighten the target to 40% if we don’t get a global agreement, because in that case our efforts are counterproductive.
Jill Evans – Greens/European Free Alliance
The economic crisis pushed climate change right down the EU agenda. Europe has to re-establish itself as a global leader. The political nature of the parliament will be critical in this respect. We need MEPs who will take ambitious action on climate change and building a sustainable economy.
The priorities should be higher and binding targets on emissions and energy efficiency are essential. I will continue to oppose fracking and work for much greater investment in renewables, especially from the Horizon 2020 research programme.
Jo Leinen – Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
I hope that the next European Parliament will be as ambitious as the previous one. Nevertheless, I have some doubts because we will have political forces in the next Parliament that are not really friendly to climate policy. We have a lot of populists and nationalists that deny the climate problem or don’t encourage a common solution on the European level, so it will be most probably harder to get ambitious climate protection decisions.
We will have the next big global summit in Paris 2015, and I think the world expects Europe to be a leader in climate protection, so we have to decide the next milestone – the targets for 2030 – and they should be in line with our long term 2050 goal to decarbonise our industry and society. The 40% CO2 reduction will only be met if you have other targets like renewables and efficiency.
There are a few other big questions, like the reform of the emissions trading system and refining the goal of biofuels in our strategy, to make biofuels compatible with biodiversity and preserving natural capital. These are the cornerstones of policy in the next few years. I also want to preserve the Ecodesign directive and to continue to have benchmarks for our energy consumption according to technological progress, because there are a lot of populist arguments against this.
Bas Eickhout – Greens/European Free Alliance
The real problem lies in the centre.
Whenever we have made a progressive environmental policy in the past it was because we could play the two middle parties apart from each other, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, but maybe because of the oncoming election results, we won’t be able to do that because there will not be majority possible with one of the two.
This means you will always get the grand coalition in the centre, with the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats teaming up together on every point, and you get very grey policies, especially on environmental issues. We fear that Europe will not be as outspoken as we have been over the last five years.
Of course the push for more coordination with energy is certainly now on the agenda because of the Russian situation. There the extremes will become stronger. Both right wing and left wing extremes, they are very understanding towards Putin, to say the least, so that doesn’t help, but nevertheless there you see that energy is on the political agenda.
But the big question is if you hear people plea for an energy union, for example Tusk is doing that, the big question is what kind of energy union? If I hear Tusk talking about an energy union, he’s mainly talking about coal and nuclear. Very clearly that is absolutely not the energy union that we are talking about.
Chris Davies – Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
The growth of the fringe groups will mean the only way to secure a qualified vote will be to have support of the European People’s Party and, as things stand at the moment, they are unlikely to support the ambitious steps necessary to introduce measures to respond to climate change. The EPP, while they may well endorse the principles, they will not want to endorse the practical measures necessary, especially not while many of the European continental economies are in the doldrums and unemployment remains very high.
My solution is we need to stop the top down approach and work with industry. I suspect there are more companies than we realise who are prepared to endorse and who would be enthusiastic in supporting an ambitious environmental agenda which was genuinely committed to building a competitive low carbon economy.
If I’m re-elected, then early next week I start making calls to a whole range of business organisations because I want to see the formation of a cross party group within the Parliament to press for progressive measures that are beneficial to business and can also promote a low carbon agenda. Absolutely top of my list on a whole range of environment issues is Unilever.
Pavel Poc – Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Everything depends on voters. Conservatives and Eurosceptics are not much interested in the climate change issue. If the socialists and democrats group is major in the Parliament, there is hope we may go further.
As the worldwide consensus on climate policy is far away, in my opinion we should see adaptation as the priority. Climate change is accelerating and we have to be prepared for the results. Our species has not yet been confronted with the hot state of the Earth and we can only estimate what will come in a few decades. We can easily be called to preserve our civilisation. And if we don’t succeed, discussion about mitigation or even reversing the processes we started is pointless.
Satu Hassi – Greens/European Free Alliance
The thing I’m worried is if the right wing parties, EPP, ECR and the national parties, together have a majority in the parliament. In that case, the forecast for climate policies is pretty bad because the right wing national parties have been most strongly against ambitious climate policy.
It could have a real impact globally. It could prevent EU continuing its role as the locomotive of international climate protection. In the international climate negotiations there has never been progress without the EU being the driving force, taking initiatives, formulating proposals and encouraging other countries to join. But if the majority of the European Parliament says no, then the chances for the European Parliament and the Commission continuing the role of EU as driving force of climate policy are greatly reduced.
The recent news that most probably the melting of western Antarctic ice sheet is already irreversible is a very strong alarm bell showing that that it cannot wait. The more and more we delay action in reducing emissions, the more we are taking risks of irreversible, really huge changes on the planet which will have a dramatic impact on human society.