Just 11 days into the EUs top job, Ursula von der Leyen is laying her cards on the table on her most high-profile policy initiative.
The European Commission president will on Wednesday unveil in the European Parliament her plan for the European Green Deal, aiming at making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
She should gear up for a fight.
The Green Deal is expected to include a climate law committing the bloc to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and a plan to up the blocs mid-term climate targets for 2030; a carbon border mechanism to make importers pay more for polluting products; a financing mechanism of up to €100 billion to pay for the transition; and initiatives spanning agriculture, transport, energy, chemicals, construction and more.
Von der Leyens announcement will take place a day before EU leaders gather for a European Council summit to discuss the 2050 climate-neutrality goal.
“We know that if von der Leyen is serious about the Green Deal, she will not have 100 percent of the EPP, 100 percent of socialists and 100 percent of the liberals on board” — Philippe Lamberts, Greens co-leader
“I want us to agree on the commitment for the EU to become climate-neutral by 2050,” European Council President Charles Michel told leaders in his invitation letter, released Tuesday evening, to the first EU summit hell chair. He added: “However, we must also recognize that it will require efforts from all member states. We will put in place a framework and the necessary resources to chart a fair and balanced path towards our objective. This means taking into account the different national realities and starting points.”
In a preview of the political battles ahead, three countries — Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary — still have to agree on that broad target, advancing demands for more financial support from Brussels.
“Given the very different starting positions, reaching climate neutrality will require more investments for some Member States … we have to be sure that the incentives and the enabling framework to be put in place, especially adequate funding, are provided to cover the costs of such a transition,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš this month wrote to von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, in a letter seen by POLITICO.
Von der Leyen and Frans Timmermans, the Commissions executive vice president in charge of the Green Deal, will defend the plan in front of European lawmakers at a special plenary session Wednesday.
Getting the Parliament on board will be easier than for some EU countries that perceive the new green ambitions from Brussels as too expensive and hard to swallow. The Parliaments major groups already backed the principle of a climate-neutral continent as the basis for Europe to be a role model in the fight against climate change.
“I expect the Green Deal to be a game changer,” said French MEP Pascal Canfin, the chairman of Parliaments environment committee and a prominent member of the centrist Renew Europe group. “We need to have a pre-Green Deal situation and a post-Green Deal situation.”
Pupils carry a banner reading “Theres no planet B” during the “Fridays for Future” protest against coal and for climate protection, on January 25, 2019 in Berlin | Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images
But political fights are likely to arise when the Commission comes up with milestone targets for how to get there, the details of financing and actual legislative proposals — particularly around the EUs Emissions Trading System, the blocs flagship carbon market, and the Common Agricultural Policy.
“We know that if von der Leyen is serious about the Green Deal, she will not have 100 percent of the EPP, 100 percent of socialists and 100 percent of the liberals on board,” Philippe Lamberts, the co-leader of the Greens said, referring to the conservative European Peoples Party and the other biggest groups in Parliament.
“We will have a catalog of good intentions […],” Lamberts added. “What we need to see is what concrete legislative proposals we get out of the Commission in the next month, in the next two months, three months, four months and so on and so forth.”
Von der Leyens decision to present the centerpiece of her policy program firsthand to the Parliament is an unusual step for a Commission president. It shows an effort by the German politician to involve the Parliament in the Commissions policy-building. It is also a way to signal to MEPs that their approval is crucial to its implementation.
The Commission generally introduces its policy proposals to the press and in the Commissions premises.
Pulling in opposite directions
When it comes to the most controversial plan to increase the EUs emission reduction target — from the current goal of a 40 percent cut by 2030 to 50 percent, or even 55 percent — even a parliamentary majority could be difficult to win.
“It must be cost-efficient and to really have an effect, it must be aligned with other major economies” — Peter Liese, EPP spokesperson on climate issues
The S&D and Renew Europe support a 55 percent goal. But the Greens and the far-left GUE have called for even more ambitious targets, deeming that one underwhelming. The Greens target a reduction of 65 percent by 2030 and GUE even higher.
“The goal of a 55 percent CO2 reduction by 2030 is the minimum for us,” Iratxe Garcia, the leader of the S&D, said from Madrid, where she was participating in the ongoing COP25 climate summit. “We hope we can move even faster towards a carbon-neutral society, hopefully even before 2050, but appropriate measures to accompany the social impact must be put in place.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, groups including the conservative EPP fear a 55 percent target would be too far-reaching and could undermine economic growth and threaten jobs.
“I think von der Leyen has a right balance, including when it comes to the target,” said Peter Liese, the EPPs spokesperson on climate issues. But “we are not in favor of going to 55 percent without any condition,” he continued. “It will be very ambitious and maybe we will lose jobs when we do it too fast and thats why we can only do it after a careful analysis.”
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