Commission president hopeful Ursula von der Leyen tried her hand at a spot of climate diplomacy on Wednesday (10 July) but her efforts fell flat. Finland’s EU presidency showed her how it’s done today.
As part of an ongoing campaign to convince MEPs she’s the right person for the job, von der Leyen told the Greens, whose support is critical to her presidency’s legitimacy, that she would enact a climate law to increase the EU’s 2030 emissions cuts target from 40% to 50%.
To the uninitiated, that looks like von der Leyen throwing the Greens the hefty concession needed to get their blessing. After all, current boss Jean-Claude Juncker is against an increase, as are some of the member states.
But Green MEPs like Bas Eickhout and Ska Keller are initiated and the idea was not well received.
That’s because the Parliament already agreed this year that the EU should set at least a 55% target. That number comes straight out of an early draft of the Commission’s 2050 climate plan, which aims for full carbon neutrality.
Every percentage counts and translates into millions of tonnes of emissions, so this is not the Greens making a fuss over nothing.
Von der Leyen’s 50% plan actually pleases no one. Current Commission officials, many of whom will stay on, will flinch at the number, as a recent analysis shows that 45% is the limit of current policies and that the EU is at risk of falling short even there.
Member states would also be split between those that think it is asking too much and those that think it is not enough for the EU to live up to the Paris Agreement. UN chief Antonio Guterres urged the bloc last month to embrace 55%.
Some of von der Leyen’s other ideas on emissions trading and green finance sounded more up the Greens’ alley. But she had already given them the excuse they needed to say no. “So you are asking us to lower climate ambition,” Eickhout summed up.
The German candidate should have taken a leaf out of Finland’s book, which today hosted an informal meeting of EU environment ministers. Top of the agenda was the climate and a pending agreement on the 2050 strategy.
Finnish minister Krista Mikkonen told EURACTIV before the meeting that her counterparts would have a “safe space” to have a frank and honest conversation with one another.
The behind-closed-doors meet-up was meant to prevent ministers doing the real talking on the sidelines “where others might be excluded”. Recent leaders summits were defined by pictures of big western countries locked in exclusive chats with one another.
The Council has given the Finns the mandate they need to get the 2050 deal done and dusted by the end of the year. There will need to be frank talks on financing in order to get the Czechs, Estonians, Hungarians and Poles on board, so this meeting was a good start.
Very few observers harbour doubts that the Finns will pull it off in time for the Council to adopt the plan early next year. But it’s looking less certain that the big moment will happen under a von der Leyen presidency.
Her own moment of truth will come on 16 July at 6pm, when MEPs will say yes or no.
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Look out for…
Informal Environment Council in Helsinki, Finland.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]