Connect with us

Environment

Ursula von der Leyen must take on Europe’s biggest #Climate rebel: Germany

SHARE:

Published

on

We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you've consented to and to improve our understanding of you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Ursula von der Leyen won’t assume the European Commission presidency for another four months, but the battle that will define her tenure is already underway. After years of sluggish European progress on climate change, Von der Leyen has committed herself to a bold new ‘Green Deal’, with the goal of securing carbon neutrality by 2050. She only secured her wafer-thin Parliamentary majority after convincing skeptical left-wing MEPS of her carbon credentials.

But now, after all the promises, she needs to deliver. That means going out and securing support from all the EU’s members, including one particularly rebellious central European state. And for once, we’re not talking about one of the poorer members which have been pilloried for their regressive environmental policies.

Advertisement

This time, it’s her own home country.

Climate hypocrisy

Germany has talked a good game on climate change. Angela Merkel has even been dubbed the climate chancellor, both for her bullish rhetoric on carbon emissions and the key role she played in brokering the UN’s inaugural climate deals while serving as German environment minister in the 1990s. But faced with the lobbying might of German carmakers, Merkel and her ministers have consistently failed to match words with actions.

Advertisement

Despite spending an estimated €500 billion to revamp its energy matrix by getting out of nuclear energy and supposedly coal, it is ironic that Germany remains the biggest coal burner in Europe. Merkel even admits that coal “will remain a pillar of German energy supply for a prolonged time span.” Her government is committed to achieving a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels), yet at present that target is a long way off. When it should be plummeting, Germany’s output of polluting gases has plateaued.

Worse than that, though, Germany has actively tried to thwart some of the EU’s flagship environmental policies. In 2006, just a year into her chancellorship, Merkel decided to dole out pollution permits to her industrial powerhouses, flooring the price of the EU’s emissions trading system. She’s has since ignored warnings about the pollution emanating from the automakers’ diesel engines, and tried to block a new fuel economy standard for European cars. When the EU proposed increasing the share of renewables in its energy mix to 35%, Germany argued furiously that it should go no higher than 30%.

Condemning greenhouse gases, but preaching Nord Stream 2

Perhaps the most dangerous example of German intransigence is Nord Stream 2, the new pipeline which will convey natural gas directly from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing transit states such as Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. The plans have been met with vehement protest from these countries, not only because they stand to be cut out of the loop. Many believe that, once Nord Stream 2 is built, Russia will turn off the taps on its former satellites and ramp up its campaign of military provocation.

Still Germany stands firm, prioritizing its own energy needs over the rest of Europe, even though using natural gas – a fossil fuel, for all its claims of cleanliness – won’t help its climate track record and the emissions reductions deadlines Berlin is already set to miss by a wide margin. Nor is the carbon dioxide the only greenhouse gas European environmentalists are worried about; the production system managed by Russia’s Gazprom, which is behind the Nord Stream 2 project, has a notoriously high “fugitive emissions” rate for methane that makes its natural gas no cleaner than coal. As a 2017 Atlantic Council/Free Russia report points out, Gazprom itself has been dismissive of both renewable energy technologies and European energy transitions.

German officials, for their part, flatly deny that the pipeline will undermine gas diversification in Europe or pose a threat to Ukraine. They have even tried to prevent the EU from extending its gas liberalization rules to Nord Stream 2, which would give Brussels a measure of control over Russian energy giant Gazprom. The decision has caused a split between Germany and France, a gap at the heart of Europe which Vladimir Putin is happy to exploit.

Building a closer, cleaner Europe

Von der Leyen has set herself firmly against such division, pledging to promote a stronger, closer Europe. In fact, she was nominated for her ability to repair relations between Paris and Berlin. She’s also known for her uncompromising attitude towards the Kremlin’s divisive tactics. But will she be able to stand up to Germany – and her former boss?

It won’t be easy. Von der Leyen has long been a Merkel ally, and the German chancellor is a key figure in her own European People’s Party. The EPP, the biggest voting bloc in the European Parliament, is already suspicious of Von der Leyen because she reportedly failed to consult them over her climate plans. Yet Von der Leyen is pitched herself as a candidate capable of bold, disruptive action, and she does have a clear mandate to take on Europe’s biggest powerbrokers.

While she might jeopardise the support of conservative Parliamentarians by taking on Germany, Von der Leyen owes her election victory as much to progressive blocs such as the Socialists and Renew Europe as to the EPP. These blocs will expect her to repay their faith. A bold stand in relation to Berlin might also win the support of the powerful Green bloc, which voted against Von der Leyen because they believe her environmental strategy doesn’t go far enough.

One can’t expect Von der Leyen to block Nord Stream 2 overnight or stop Germany from burning coal any time soon, but by pushing Germany to prioritize the EU’s collective interests over its own, and by embracing a more progressive environmental agenda in line with its neighbors, Von der Leyen can deliver on her mandate to build a cleaner, greener, and more united Europe.

Opinions expressed are purely those of the author and not endorsed by EU Reporter

Agriculture

Agriculture: Launch of an annual EU organic day

Published

on

On 24 September the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission celebrated the launch of an annual ‘EU organic day'. The three institutions signed a joint declaration establishing from now on each 23 September as EU organic day. This follows up on the Action Plan for the development of organic production, adopted by the Commission on 25 March 2021, which announced the creation of such a day to raise awareness of organic production.

At the signing and launch ceremony, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “Today we celebrate organic production, a sustainable type of agriculture where food production is done in harmony with nature, biodiversity and animal welfare. 23 September is also autumnal equinox, when day and night are equally long, a symbol of balance between agriculture and environment that ideally suits organic production. I am glad that together with the European Parliament, the Council, and key actors of this sector we get to launch this annual EU organic day, a great opportunity to raise awareness of organic production and promote the key role it plays in the transition to sustainable food systems.”

The overall aim of the Action Plan for the development of organic production is to boost substantially the production and consumption of organic products in order to contribute to the achievement of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies' targets such as reducing the use of fertilisers, pesticides and anti-microbials. The organic sector needs the right tools to grow, as laid out in the Action Plan. Structured around three axes - boosting consumption, increasing production, and further improving the sustainability of the sector -, 23 actions are put forward to ensure a balanced growth of the sector.

Advertisement

Actions

To boost consumption the Action Plan includes actions such as informing and communicating about organic production, promoting the consumption of organic products, and stimulating a greater use of organics in public canteens through public procurement. Furthermore, to increase organic production, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will remain a key tool for supporting the conversion to organic farming. It will be complemented by, for instance, information events and networking for sharing best practices and certification for groups of farmers rather than for individuals. Finally, to improve the sustainability of organic farming, the Commission will dedicate at least 30% of the budget for research and innovation in the field of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant for the organic sector.

Background

Advertisement

Organic production comes with a number of important benefits: organic fields have around 30% more biodiversity, organically farmed animals enjoy a higher degree of animal welfare and take less antibiotics, organic farmers have higher incomes and are more resilient, and consumers know exactly what they are getting thanks to the EU organic logo.

More information

The action plan for the development of the organic sector

Farm to fork Strategy

Biodiversity Strategy

Organic farming at a glance

Common Agricultural Policy

Opinions expressed are purely those of the author and not endorsed by EU Reporter

Continue Reading

Education

EU announces €25 million for education in crisis contexts and €140 million to support research in sustainable food systems

Published

on

Speaking at the Global Citizen Live event, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced that the European Union is pledging €140 million to support research in sustainable food systems and tackle food hunger via CGIAR, and a further €25m for Education Cannot Wait.  

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We must join forces to beat the coronavirus and rebuild the world better. Europe is doing its share. From the beginning, Europeans have shipped 800 million doses of vaccines with the world, even when we did not have enough for ourselves. Now, we need to step up, to help end this pandemic globally, end hunger, give children all over the world equal chances. Team Europe has already committed to donate 500 million doses of vaccines to vulnerable countries by next summer. On top, the European Commission today commits €140m to improve global food security and reduce extreme poverty, and €25m to Education Cannot Wait, supporting education for children around the world living through conflict and crisis.”

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said: "We must unite to put the SDGs back on track. As we continue to witness, we can never take access to education for granted. Team Europe has to date contributed to more than 40% of the funding of Education Cannot Wait, and the new €25m contribution from the EU will further support it to reach the most vulnerable children and bring them back to education. Additionally, thanks to our substantial support of €140m to CGIAR, we will be creating opportunities for youth and women, while tackling a key challenge of today, to promote sustainable food systems. Coordinated global actions will be decisive for achieving an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable transformation of food systems.” 

Advertisement

Read the full press release, the statement by President von der Leyen and the factsheet on the Team Europe COVID-19 global response.

Opinions expressed are purely those of the author and not endorsed by EU Reporter

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Agriculture

Common Agricultural Policy: How does the EU support farmers?

Published

on

From supporting farmers to protecting the environment, the EU's farm policy covers a range of different goals. Learn how EU agriculture is funded, its history and its future, Society.

What is the Common Agricultural Policy?

The EU supports farming through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Set up in 1962, it has undergone a number of reforms to make agriculture fairer for farmers and more sustainable.

Advertisement

There are about 10 million farms in the EU and the farming and food sectors together provide nearly 40 million jobs in the EU.

How is the Common Agricultural Policy funded?

The Common Agricultural Policy is funded through the EU budget. Under the EU's budget for 2021-2027, €386.6 billion has been set aside for farming. It is divided into two parts:

Advertisement
  • €291.1bn for the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, which provides income support for farmers.
  • €95.5bn for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, which includes funding for rural areas, climate action and the management of natural resources.

How does EU agriculture look today? 

Farmers and the agriculture sector were affected by COVID-19 and the EU introduced specific measures to support the industry and incomes. Current rules on how CAP funds should be spent run until 2023 due to delays in budget negotiations. This required a transitional agreement to protect farmers’ incomes and ensure food security.

Will the reform mean a more environmentally-friendly Common Agricultural Policy?

EU agriculture accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. The reform should lead to a more environmentally friendly, fairer and transparent EU farm policy, MEPs said, after a deal was reached with the Council. Parliament wants to link CAP to the Paris agreement on climate change, while increasing support to young farmers and small and medium-sized farms. Parliament will vote on the final deal in 2021 and it will come into effect in 2023.

Agriculture policy is linked to the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy from the European Commission, which aims to protect the environment and ensure healthy food for everyone, whilst ensuring farmers’ livelihoods.

More on agriculture

Briefing 

Check legislative progress 

Opinions expressed are purely those of the author and not endorsed by EU Reporter

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending