In political U-turn, Czechs back EU’s green recovery plan

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives for a Special European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 20 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON]

A draft statement from the Czech government calls on the EU economic recovery plan and long-term budget to fall in line with the European Green Deal, marking a U-turn from Prague’s earlier positions.

“The Czech Republic continues to support the EU’s long-term target to achieve climate neutrality by 2050,” said the draft statement, which the government is expected to approve on Monday (25 May).

While the coronavirus crisis has made social and economic concerns more pressing, the “implementation of some of the European Green Deal objectives may represent an opportunity for an effective process of economic recovery,” it added.

The statement has already been endorsed by Czech environment minister Richard Brabec and is due to be formally approved by the full cabinet later today, according to Czech media reports.

If confirmed, the move would mark a U-turn from previous government positions. In March, as the coronavirus pandemic started spreading across the continent, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš urged Europe to “forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead”.

Czech PM urges EU to ditch Green Deal amid virus

The Czech premier, whose country depends on nuclear energy and coal, said Monday (16 March) the European Union should ditch its landmark green law seeking carbon neutrality as it battles the novel coronavirus.

Caution on 2030 climate target

Despite the change of tone, the Czech government still voices concerns about the bloc’s higher climate ambitions for 2030.

The European Commission has promised to raise the EU’s emissions reduction target to 50-55% by 2030, up from 40% currently. The proposal is due to be released later this year, after the EU executive completes a detailed cost-benefit analysis.

And the Czech Republic is clearly reserving its final position based on the outcome of that study, which Prague insists should incorporate the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

“In order to make a responsible decision regarding the 2030 targets, it is first necessary to quantify the actual impact of the current pandemic on the economy of member states and of the EU as a whole,” the draft statement said.

“Only then it will be possible to start a debate on potential new targets for 2030, which will be not only ambitious but above all realistic, in order to avoid considerable repercussions for the competitiveness of member states and of the EU as a whole.”

Moreover, “it is important to ensure that the common environmental commitments are met globally, and not merely on the part of the EU,” the statement adds.

EU cost-benefit study seen backing 55% emissions cut by 2030

In the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak, the European Commission published last week what would have otherwise been a high-profile initiative: the launch of a cost-benefit analysis of increasing the EU’s climate ambition for 2030 in view of reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century.

EU funding opportunity

That said, the Czech government also sees an opportunity to obtain more money from the EU budget by signing up to the European Green Deal, said Aneta Zachová, editor-in-chief of EURACTIV.cz.

In addition, Czechs seem broadly supportive of climate action. According to a survey published in March, 84% of Czech people think that climate change caused by human activities threatens their future. And 79% believe the Czech Republic should aim to achieve net-zero emissions, the survey found.

Pascal Canfin, a French lawmaker who chairs the European Parliament’s environment committee, welcomed the Czech declaration as good news.

“Despite some initial strong statements, the Czech Republic admits that investing in the green recovery and the green deal are the way forward for all EU member states,” Canfin said.

“You just need to have a look at droughts and their consequences on agriculture in Central Europe to realise that heavy investments in climate adaptation and agroecology, for instance, are necessary,” he told EURACTIV in emailed comments.

According to Canfin, the Czech endorsement of the Green Deal is also “a good sign” for the upcoming negotiations on the EU’s next seven-year budget for 2021-2027.

“Any agreement will be easier to reach if additional money goes to green projects and investments,” he said.

The Brief, powered by BP – A green bridge over the EU’s East-West divide?

A grand bargain is on the table to persuade Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to sign up to the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality goal. It’s an offer they would be foolish to refuse. Here’s why.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

> Read the full Czech paper below or download here.

EGD_CZ statement _finalEN

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