The Brief – Europe’s ‘Make the Planet Great Again’ pledge gets first acid test

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Next week, the EU gets another crack at showing that its promises to take care of the environment and honour the Paris Agreement are more than just empty words. But will the people in charge hit their marks or fluff their lines?

When Donald Trump said he was going to pull America out of the Paris accord, because it is a “bad deal” for the US, that was the moment Europe announced it would leap into the climate action leadership hot-seat.

There have been a lot of words in the six months since, with the EU agreeing with Canada and China that they would not let the US renegotiate the agreement.

But now we are into the actions, not rhetoric, phase and the end of 2017 was gloomy at best for those in the environmental camp.

During his flagship state of the union address in September, Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker only mentioned the climate anecdotally. Member states completely disappointed during marathon talks at the end of December too.

Next week, MEPs meet in Strasbourg to sign off on a number of clean energy proposals, including energy efficiency, governance and renewables. Now is a real defining moment that will really tell us whether the EU will make good on all its energy promises.

Momentum has gathered behind the European Parliament lately, as renewable prices continue to plummet, the scourge of plastic pollution becomes ever more present in the public debate and freak weather events become the norm.

If they use that support to be ambitious in what they vote on, then upcoming negotiations with the belligerent member states and cautious Commission will be easier for them.

One piece of legislation has already been decided; namely, the energy performance of buildings directive. The way that deal was brokered should act as a template for others, as it was ambitious and enjoyed support from across the political spectrum.

But next week will show what kind of cake that particular cherry will sit atop.

The Commission will also publish its long-awaited plastics strategy, which will tell us how the EU intends to approach plastic production and pollution. Previous drafts have worried green groups, who are concerned it will be nothing more than a ‘wait and see’ plan.

Public support to do more to improve recycling is there. No one can forget the harrowing images of marine creatures trapped in a plastic soup, shown by the BBC’s Blue Planet series.

China has banned us from exporting our rubbish to its shores. That’s an opportunity, not a problem. If we do more with what we already have (as in so many other sectors) and stop producing what we don’t need, our environment will thank us.

Hopefully, we will look back on next week as the point Europe actually started to make the planet great again.

The Roundup

Germany took a step closer to actually forming a government, after negotiators managed to agree on a number of key areas. Emmanuel Macron will be happy, as a lot of his ideas for Europe are backed by the 28-page policy paper.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is now championing EU enlargement. Today, he threw his weight behind Bulgaria’s plans for Western Balkan integration and pledged to help the Eastern European holder of the rotating presidency with its Schengen membership travails.

Just where will the EU find the money to fill its €13bn Brexit budget shortfall? Will Greece make it out of the dark woods of bailout and debt? What does 2018 have in store for digital matters and fake news? Take a look at the year ahead in our economic and digital policy previews.

Poland firmly relies on Hungary to block the EU’s Article 7 manoeuvring but will Budapest back Warsaw when it matters? Brussels’ anti-fraud office is looking into Hungarian PM Viktor Orban’s son-in-law, over alleged irregularities in lighting projects funded by EU money.

Ever notice how your phone or other device gradually gets slower or even fails completely? France is looking into the life-cycle of electronics but the EU isn’t interested, according to this MEP.

Food manufacturers risk falling well short of meeting new EU rules aimed at limiting levels of cancer-causing acrylamide, according to a series of new tests. Health organisations and MEPs want new drug assessments to be more transparent.

Tweets of the Week is back after its Christmas hiatus. Check it out here. Donald Trump has cancelled his trip to London, citing his displeasure at the relocation of the US embassy as the reason why. Nothing to do with the massive protests that were planned to mark his visit…

Look out for…

MEPs relocate to Strasbourg for plenary week and the European Commission presents its Plastics Strategy on Tuesday. Stay tuned for our interview with Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

Views are the author’s