EU Commission nominee backs 50% carbon cut by 2030, fails to win Greens’ support

Ursula von der Leyen the nominated President of the European Commission, gives a press briefing following a meeting of Political groups Presidents at European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 10 July 2019. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

Ursula von der Leyen said Europe should become the world’s first climate neutral continent, as she sought lawmakers’ backing for the top job on Wednesday (10 July). EURACTIV’s media partner Climate Home News reports.

The nominee for the EU’s top political job said she supported raising climate targets, making aviation and maritime polluters pay and introducing a carbon border tax to make Europe the first climate neutral continent.

“The clock is ticking,” said Ursula von der Leyen as she pitched for the support of three European parliamentary groupings at back-to-back hearings on Wednesday.

“I want us, as the European Union, to be the first continent that is climate neutral,” the potential next European Commission president told the liberal Renew Europe bloc.

To the Greens, she said she would introduce legislation to toughen up the EU’s 2030 target of a 40% emissions cut below 1990 levels.

“I’m convinced that we can do more, be more ambitious. I know that you have goals that you want to see, but looking at the facts and the figures I feel confident that we can reach 50% of reduction in the year 2030,” von der Leyen said.

On Twitter and in private to Climate Home News, MEPs who were at an earlier closed meeting with the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group said von der Leyen had told them the same.

The nominee, who is currently German defence minister, also said:

  • She would support a 2050 net zero emissions target for the EU
  • The EU would “have to debate the option of a carbon border tax. That has to be introduced. I know that it is not an easy part, but it is something that we have to take on”
  • The EU emissions trading system, in which pollution credits are being traded at an increasingly high price, was working well, but should be expanded to include shipping and aviation
  • Nuclear energy was “clean” but “dangerous”, echoing the attitudes of her domestic political ally Angela Merkel
  • A “council of scientists” should be formed to monitor and report on the progress of European member states in meeting their commitments to cut emissions
  • The European Investment Bank should become a “European climate bank”

Von der Leyen endures day of grilling by MEPs ahead of confirmation vote

German nominee for Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, continued her charm offensive with European political families on Wednesday (10 July), as MEPs tried hard to pin her down on climate protection, rule of law and reform of the bloc’s institutional structures.

An increase to the EU’s 2030 target, which underpins its pledge to the Paris Agreement, has been backed by the outgoing climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete and the European Parliament. The target proposed by the last parliament was 55%.

Outgoing commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, on the other hand, said earlier this month the EU should focus on delivering what it has agreed, rather than introducing new targets.

In briefing documents, seen by CHN, for a meeting of environment ministers this week, the Finnish presidency of the European Council reminded member states of the commission’s advice that 45% was achievable with current policies and asked: “what steps/process do you envisage for preparing the communication or update of the EU’s [Paris commitment]?”.

A spokesperson for social democrat MEP and the grouping’s former leader Udo Bullman told CHN Leyen’s proposal for 2030 was “just one of several non-binding prospective positions. Mr Bullmann would not overstate it.”

Von der Leyen is from the conservative European People’s Party, but will need backing from at least two other major blocs as she seeks the majority needed to be confirmed by parliament.

The Brief – Parliament's Revenge

MEPs made no secret of their unhappiness at how names for EU top jobs emerged last week.

At the European Parliament’s constitutive meeting in Strasbourg, lawmakers did not attempt to hide their disappointment at being simply swept aside, especially after polls …

Green resistance

She will meet resistance from the Greens, who have made their support for von der Leyen contingent on a strong climate policy package.

Ahead of her hearing with that grouping on Wednesday, MEP Bas Eickhout tweeted: “So after climate elections [von der Leyen] offers a lower target than the previous Parliament positioned itself on… What is she thinking?”

“This is a huge step forward” compared to the 40% target that has been agreed by the EU’s three decision making bodies, von der Leyen, responded to Eickhout’s question in the hearing.

The Greens later said they would vote against her, saying she lacked concrete proposals on climate policy and the rule of law.

Von der Leyen will also have to overcome scepticism from the S&D and Renew Europe groupings, who are furious after their own candidates for the job were ignored by the European Council.

In recent weeks, a push to raise Europe’s 2050 target to net zero was delayed by central and eastern European states. At the Renew hearing, von der Leyen proposed using the EU’s energy transition and globalisation adjustment funds to ease the burden on workers and communities affected by the shift to cleaner energy and agriculture.

“If we want to make it to these ambitious goals we have to take every member state and we have to take the people and the economy with us,” she said.

[With additional reporting from Frédéric Simon]

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