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EU leaders recognise increasing damages due to climate change and biodiversity loss

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Alongside the endorsement of Ursula von der Leyen for a potential second term as President of the European Commission, the European Council adopted a new set of priorities, emphasising the importance of continuing the green transition. At the same time, concerns have emerged about backsliding on environmental standards, as EU leaders seek to reduce administrative and regulatory burden.

European leaders made crucial decisions about the leadership and strategic direction of the EU for the next five years. They endorsed Ursula von der Leyen for a potential second term as President of the European Commission, pending approval by the European Parliament. Additionally, leaders appointed key positions, including the future President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and adopted the European Council’s Strategic Agenda, shaping the EU’s political priorities for the future.

Thumbs up for von der Leyen to continue with green transition

The reappointment of von der Leyen as the European Council’s preferred candidate for the Commission Presidency gives hope for the European Green Deal, which was her flagship initiative in the past mandate. But she now faces the challenging task of securing an absolute majority in the European Parliament, requiring the support of at least 361 MEPs.

Following the EU elections, the number of MEPs critical of the European Green Deal has grown. Despite ongoing concerns over a more anti-environmental European Parliament, WWF’s analysis of EU political parties’ commitments for the next term shows that a large political majority remains supportive of continued action on climate and nature.

Ester Asin, Director of the WWF European Policy Office, said, “Ursula von der Leyen should now demonstrate consistency in order to find support in the Parliament. She must provide ironclad guarantees that the European Green Deal will remain central to her policy agenda and resist any calls, including those from her political allies, to regress on environmental standards, in particular those on nature protection and restoration.”

Von der Leyen’s actions in the months ahead of the elections cast doubts over her commitment to her own agenda, as she scrapped environmental rules to please the agro-industry and only meekly defended the Green Deal during her campaign as EPP Lead Candidate.

The Strategic Agenda recognises the unprecedented challenge of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution

In addition to the top job appointments, European leaders agreed on a strategic plan for the coming years to be implemented by the EU institutions. The Strategic Agenda highlights the essential nature of the green transition for European prosperity and competitiveness.

European leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a just and fair climate transition, aiming for climate neutrality by 2050. With the recent adoption of the Nature Restoration Law, they have also committed to continue to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems. These commitments send strong signals to the European Commission and its future President. In particular, the emphasis placed by leaders on oceans and water resilience must now be followed up.

However, the Strategic Agenda also calls to reduce bureaucratic and regulatory burden and reform administrative procedures, including permitting.

Ester Asin, Director of the WWF European Policy Office, said, “Previous attempts to simplify legislation have often weakened environmental rules and standards that are designed to protect people and the nature we all rely on. Instead of undermining existing environmental laws, EU leaders and the Commission must focus on making a success out of the policies they have agreed upon, as stated in their strategic plan. In the past decade, most issues with environmental legislation have been due to poor national implementation and a lack of political commitment, rather than flaws in EU laws.”

Overall, the new Strategic Agenda does seem broader and less detailed than the 2019 agreement, including regarding climate and environmental policies. More specific initiatives will now need to be outlined by the future Commission President.

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