The 2019-2024 European Union Mandate – what will happen in the Energy and Sustainability sector?
The European Elections
The 2019 European elections changed the power balance and the status quo in the energy and sustainability sectors across the bloc. The rise of radical parties with a weak agenda in terms of energy or environment may turn out to be quite influential in the new European Parliament mandate. However, the Greens are now the fourth biggest group, representing a crucial partner for the bigger groups to form a majority in the Parliament. Although both the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) anticipated that they would set out an energy and sustainability action plan after the elections, it is uncertain which will be the line of the European Union in the 2019-2024 mandate.
This article will seek to anticipate what will be the European Union’s main actions vis-à-vis climate change and the energy sector, putting under the spotlight some of the EU’s biggest Member States, namely Germany, France and Italy. The paper will also provide a 360-degree analysis of the European Union Institutional state of play, providing the main action agenda of each European Institutional body, from the European Parliament, to the European Commission, from the European Council to the Council of the European Union. The paper will also provide key legislative initiatives in the energy sector, causal power relations between the European Council and the Parliament, the agenda of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and the agenda and the nature of the individuals which will be heading the main institutional organs of the EU.
The new Parliament
The newly-elected European Parliament is the first one in the history of the EU to not have the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats (S&D) constituting the majority of the Parliament (Europarl.europa.eu, 2019). The so-called “Green Wave” grew popular in northern-European countries, while Italy, France and Central and Eastern European States saw an increase of support of far-right radical parties. This has completely changed the balance between parties in the Parliament. The equilibrium within the Parliament that political groups will agree on will pave the direction of future European environmental and energy security policies. The majority coalition will lead the agenda of the new mandate, but the majority parties already disagree on many issues. Regarding climate change, the Greens are firm advocates of setting 2030 emissions cut target (Morton, 2019). While S&D and Renew Europe (RE) agree, the EPP disagrees with the aim, although it agrees on reaching climate neutrality by 2050.
The Greens are eager to bring forward their main issues, aiming to bring up to 45% Europe’s energy consumption in electricity, and make heat and mobility supplied by renewables by 2030 (Hennicke et al., 2019; European Greens, 2019). Their manifesto also dictates that by 2050, the European Union’s energy security must be fueled 100% by renewables. CO2 emissions must also be reduced by at least 55% by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels). These aims are unlikely to be achieved completely, as the EPP does not share the same goals, and it still is the biggest political group in the Parliament, numerically indispensable to form a majority (Europarl.europa.eu, 2019). Rather, the agenda of the EPP focuses on different objectives. For example, the German Conservative Party (CDU) pushes towards a European energy union, an energy single market and an improved pan-national power grid. CDU also insists on diversified energy sources to ensure the security of supplies in the EU.
The European Council
One of the only few issues that seems to bring together the four largest parties in the European Parliament, the 2050 climate-neutrality target, also separates EU Leaders in the European Council. At the European Council on 20-21 June 2019, leaders from four countries rejected the target (European COuncil, 2019). Worryingly, leaders whose parties are affiliated with the EPP also rejected the objective, spreading uncertainty over whether there will be a serious commitment to reach such aim. Eastern European countries are pushing the European institutional organs to fund the development of the infrastructure needed to align to such targets, before actually setting them.
Germany, France and Italy
However, the CDU-EPP German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing towards a European energy union, stressing that the increase in the share of renewables should be taken by all Member States. The party also wants to establish a functioning energy single market and an improved pan-national power grid, as well as diversified energy sources to ensure security of supply. LREM–RE President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron is more ambitious, insofar as he aims to accelerate the ecological transition, establish the Bank for Climate and increase air transport taxation and to foster the transition toward clean transports. Both Germany and France are leading the EU batteries strategy in line with the EU aims and energy supply differentiation. Emanuel Macron’s national party is also working towards putting an end to fossil fuel-based car sales by 2040, closing all fossil power-based energy plants and removing all hydrocarbons from the economy by 2050 (Financial Times, 2019).
On the other side, the party that got more votes at the European elections in Italy – the League – did not deliver a detailed agenda on energy and environment policies. However, judging from its actions in the European Council and in the Council of the EU, it seems to be in favor of the 2050 carbon neutrality target. The 5SM and the League coalition government has backed the candidate for presidency of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (EPP, Germany) at the European Council level, but the League MEPs did not support her at the elections in the European Parliament. However, the newly formed M5S-PD coalition clearly set energy transition as a top target in Di Maio’s 10 conditions to form a coalition with PD for the new executive (Mejstrik, 2016; Sky, 2019).
The European Commission
Remarkably, in her struggle to gain support from the majority of the Members of the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen (EPP, Germany) stretched her promises to reach climate neutrality, and introduced a far more ambitious timeline than her own European group, the EPP. Indeed, in her agenda for Europe, von der Leyen suggested the launch of a “green new deal” within the first 100 days of her mandate to boost the bloc’s emissions cuts to 55% up from 40% by 2030, and to make the EU’s 2050 emissions reduction target legally binding (Friendsofscience.org, 2019). Von der Leyen’s plan also aims to extend the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to cover the aviation and maritime sectors. She also plans to tackle climate change by introducing a Carbon Border Tax, and to review the Energy Taxation Directive (von der Leyen, 2019).
In an interview at the end of July 2019, Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, the Deputy-Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy (DG ENER) also suggested that the taxation system will be amended, as well as the Emissions Trading System (ETS). The aspiring Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson (EPP, Estonia) is a strong advocate of the Green New Deal, but also noted how atomic energy will be included in the energy mix, although nuclear power plants should be more secure and more waste should be better managed. Regarding the 2030 targets, Commissioner Simson was reluctant to assign a definite percentage of emissions cuts and increase of renewable energy during her hearing at the European Parliament, as negotiations amongst Member States were still taking place. Accordingly, many MEPs an NGOs have criticised her estrangement and her failure to concretely condemn fossil fuels.
The Council of the European Union
On 1 July 2019, Finland took over the 6 months rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, meaning that it will set the agenda until December 2019. The Romanian presidency’s most remarkable effort in the sector goes by the name of the Gas Directive, which aims to ensure that the rules governing the EU’s internal gas market apply to gas transmission lines between a member state and a third country.
However, the Finnish presidency committed to go all in, and aims to make the EU the global leader of climate change. On 23 July, Finnish Environment and Climate Change Minister Krista Mikkonen presented the program of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union to the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). She underlined that “the key priority of the Finnish presidency is the EU’s global leadership in climate action” (Valtioneuvoston kanslia, 2019). The Finnish Presidency also aims to get the bloc to agree to climate neutrality by 2050. Regarding the 2030 emissions cuts target suggested by the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Minister Krista Mikkonen welcomed the ambitious initiative, but prioritizes the 2050 target.
Following these policy expectations, in 2024, the European Union could be the global leader in the fight against climate change, on the right track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This means that industry sectors working with renewables, particularly with batteries, will be facilitated economically in relation to parts of the industry sector not complying with the aims set by the European Union. Member States which were leading the struggle to tackle the increase of CO2 emissions, and taking the first places in the development of national infrastructure in the morning of the European election’s outcome could potentially increase their diplomatic importance in the global arena. On the other hand, eastern European countries such as Poland and the Visegrad nations are expected to get a financial aid from the European Union to implement European policies at the national level.
However, in order for this scenario to become reality, the European Union bodies will have to make an effort to turn words into binding law, and to make sure Member States will comply with the aims set by the European institutions. Certainly, this picture can only take place once European bodies have reached enough experience and confidence to work accordingly. The European Parliament, where a lot of MEPs are in their first mandate, will have to find the right balance to bring forward or push back certain policies. Additionally, the European Commission will have to increase its expertise in the energy transition, finding the right recipe to make the European Council agree on a hard and strict set of laws granting the achievement of zero emissions by 2050. This will require negotiations, money and mostly time.
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Autore dell’articolo*: Sam Andrea Williams, studente in ‘International Relations’ alla University of Kent, nonché visiting student presso la Bogazici Universitesi, Istanbul.
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