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Rightward Shift After Election Could Limit Future EU Climate Policies

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A more rightward-leaning European Parliament will make it harder to pass ambitious EU climate policies, but the majority of Europe’s current world-leading green policies are likely to stay put, lawmakers, officials and analysts said.

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Provisional results in the European Parliament election on Sunday night showed centrist parties holding a majority, but gains for right-wing and far-right parties skeptical of the EU’s “Green Deal” package of environmental policies, and heavy losses for Green parties.

“I don’t think that we’ll be rolling back on (climate) policies. But I do think that it will be more complicated to get new policies off the ground,” Bas Eickhout, head of the European Parliament’s Greens lawmaker group, told Reuters.

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EU climate measures over the next five years will depend on the incoming European Commission, which is responsible for proposing EU laws. But the newly elected European Parliament will get a say on every new green policy.

Sunday’s election result signals tougher maths to approve new EU climate measures.

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“All new policies will be harder to pass. But backsliding is very unlikely,” Krzysztof Bolesta, Poland’s secretary of state for climate, told Reuters.

“It is possible that new ambition will be delayed, mostly for populistic reasons,” agreed Julian Popov, who until April was EU member Bulgaria’s environment minister.

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That could have consequences for an upcoming 2040 EU climate target, needed to steer the EU towards its 2050 net zero emissions target. The EU Commission has suggested the 2040 goal should be an ambitious 90% emissions cut, but it needs approval from both EU countries and the Parliament.

The upcoming European Commission and Parliament will also face tough decisions on whether to introduce new policies to push industries towards that 2040 target.

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That includes farming, a sector whose emissions have barely fallen since 2005. But after months of protests across Europe by angry farmers, there is little political appetite to target the sector with new rules, especially if the cost of complying with them would drive up food prices for citizens already dealing with the biggest jump in living costs in a generation.

Shares in renewable energy companies were knocked lower by concerns the election results could slow the green energy transition.

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Wind turbine makers, Vestas VWS.CO and Nordex NDXG.DE, were down more than 3% on Monday. Orsted was down 0.5%.

No Big U-Turn

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While new climate measures might face a tougher ride, a full-scale reversal of the dozens of EU climate policies passed in the last five years would be legally difficult.

Those policies – which include renewable energy targets and a strengthened carbon pricing regime on power and industry – are fixed into EU law and already being rolled-out across the bloc’s 27 member states.

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Many are already working. EU emissions are down by nearly a third from 1990 levels, and Europe is installing wind and solar energy capacity at record speed.

Still, the election campaign saw mounting calls from the right to scrap some Green Deal policies – with a prime target the EU’s 2035 ban on new petrol and diesel cars. That policy has a 2026 review clause, on which the Parliament will get a say.

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“It was an ideological folly, which absolutely must be corrected,” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told online magazine Open last week.

Three EU diplomats singled out the 2035 car policy as one that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will face significant pressure to weaken, including from some lawmakers in her center-right European People’s Party who want it scrapped. Von der Leyen needs support from a majority of lawmakers in the new European Parliament to win a second term.

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But broad climate policy rollbacks are unlikely, officials and analysts said. That’s partly because the EU’s existing climate measures add up to deliver its 2030 climate targetto cut net greenhouse gas emissions 55% from 1990 levels – which national governments and lawmakers both approved into EU law.

Graphic provided by Reuters

“There might well be changes in individual pieces of legislation, but what will be important to watch is how this adds up,” said Mats Engström, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

Don’t Call It a ‘Green’ Deal

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Contrary to the last EU election in 2019, when millions of young climate protesters took to Europe’s streets, this year’s campaign saw climate change usurped by issues including immigration, economic woes and struggling European industries.

Meeting the EU’s 2030 climate target will require investments of 1 trillion euros per year, a jump of around 356 billion per year compared with 2010-2020, according to the European Investment Bank.

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Investing in local industries was a campaign pledge across the political spectrum, as competition sharpens with the U.S. and China to produce green tech like low-carbon steel and electric cars.

Graphic provided by Reuters

Some analysts said this focus would see the EU pass more funds and policies to support climate-friendly projects – but with the focus on helping industry, rather than being “green” and “clean.”

“If it’s about scaling up manufacturing of green technologies here in Europe, then that may be done in the name of ‘industrial competitiveness’ and not for the climate,” said Linda Kalcher, Executive Director at think-tank Strategic Perspectives.

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“It might be that we see the rhetoric shifting, but the action on the ground being the same,” Kalcher said.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni, Julia Payne; editing by Toby Chopra)

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Photograph: The industrial backdrop of a BP refinery and a Uniper coal-fired power plant are seen in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on March 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

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