German EU-Presidency: Empty wording on the Green Deal

The Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. This is where the work of the German Council Presidency from July onwards is coordinated and prepared. [TK Kurikawa | Shutterstock]

The first draft programme of Germany’s EU Presidency contains mainly empty wording. There are no concrete goals for the Green Deal, with new initiatives only in the case of hydrogen. The coronavirus pandemic is to blame. EURACTIV Germany reports.

2020 was supposed to be a momentous year for international climate policy. Firstly, the first cycle of the Paris Climate Convention will end, and Germany, like all signatories, must register increased climate targets before the end of the year. At the same time, the EU’s Green Deal is taking shape: numerous initiatives and strategies are seeing the light of day.

The German Council Presidency, set to begin in July, should have been particularly ambitious in terms of the environment.

However, two and a half months before taking office, a first draft programme, which was made available to EURACTIV, is very vague. Empty words cover two pages without going into the details of when, how or how much.

The intention is to “comprehensively accompany” the implementation of the EU Commission’s Green Deal and to present some of the upcoming initiatives to the Council. These include the Closed Substance Cycle and Waste Management Action Plan presented in March and the Chemicals Strategy due in late summer. The German government has formulated no new goals and positions in this regard.

The document also notes that the Council will monitor the offshore wind strategy, which will be announced by the Commission in July, and reach an agreement on a European regulatory framework for joint construction projects.

Coronavirus to weigh on every aspect of Germany's EU presidency

The coronavirus crisis comes just as Germany was about to finalise its rotating EU presidency programme, which begins on 1 July. EURACTIV Germany obtained a draft of the programme, which shows how much of a role the virus is set to play during the six month stint in charge.

Strategic expansion of hydrogen markets

The only subject for Germany’s Council Presidency not already prescribed by the Commission’s work programme deals with hydrogen. According to the programme, Germany wants to press ahead with the creation of the necessary markets and infrastructures for hydrogen within the EU during its six months in charge.

This is not surprising, as the country has high hopes for hydrogen as an important means of decarbonising its heavy industry. Germany should become “the number one in the world” for hydrogen technologies in the future, said Economics Minister Peter Altmeier (CDU) in February, when he presented a draft for a German hydrogen strategy, which promised over €1 trillion for research purposes.

During the German Council Presidency, the aim is soon to win “partners for green energy imports,” the draft programme continues. In December, Germany signed an energy agreement with Morocco, which aims at importing hydrogen and methanol.

German Environment Ministry awaits Croatia’s progress

Criticism of the plans comes from Hans-Josef Fell, a former Green party member in the Bundestag. He tells EURACTIV that the fact that Germany will rely primarily on blue hydrogen in the near future is “clearly a push from the natural gas industry, which, via methane, is at least as climate-friendly as coal and oil”.

The current programme of the German Council Presidency contains “no concrete statements, but high-flown rhetoric, which is not backed up with sufficient measures, but with completely inadequate goals,” Fell continued.

France, Germany join group of 10 EU countries calling for green recovery

Paris and Berlin have added their names to a growing list of EU capitals asking for the European Green Deal to be placed at the heart of the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan.

When asked about this criticism, the German Ministry for the Environment announced that the “so far still relatively vague formulations” were due to the fact that it is still unclear what progress the current Croatian EU Presidency could achieve in the climate dossiers. “However, this will determine which goals we can realistically set for ourselves as the next Council Presidency,” a spokesperson said.

Green Deal is being overshadowed by the coronavirus

In fact, the programme so far seems to be more of a model, with all references to the coronavirus pandemic in empty brackets and a reference to the now cancelled COP26 in Glasgow, where the EU should have been an ambitious actor.

Since then, however, the situation has changed significantly. A letter seen by German newspaper Der Spiegel and written by German EU Ambassador Michael Clauß to the Chancellery and several ministries a week ago warned that the consequences of the pandemic would cause the German EU Presidency to implement much less.

He said that it would probably only be possible to deal with urgent dossiers such as the budget negotiations, while issues such as the Green Deal would “inevitably be overshadowed or completely pushed into the background.”

EU says green finance will be 'key focus' of post-virus recovery phase

As EU countries fight the coronavirus pandemic, they “must not lose sight” of the EU’s climate neutrality objective, the European Commission reminded on Wednesday (8 April).

Nevertheless, the German Environmental Ministry emphasises that the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, for which the emission targets for 2030 are also to be raised this year, will be pushed forward as far as possible.

Marie-Luise Dött, environmental policy spokeswoman of the centre-right CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag also expressed optimism. As the EU Commission has so far stuck to its timetable in this area, climate protection will also play an important role during the German EU Council Presidency, she writes.

[Edited by Britta Weppner]

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