Slovenia faces mountain of climate legislation as it takes on EU presidency role

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen pose for a photo with participants at the official meeting of the European Commission at Brdo castle and Congress center, near Kranj, Slovenia [TOMI LOMBAR / EPA-EFE]

As Slovenia takes over the EU Council presidency from Portugal on Thursday (1 July), it faces an avalanche of climate legislation, both inherited from its predecessor and from the European Commission which is due to table a massive legislative package on 14 July.

At a press conference on Thursday, environment state secretary Metka Gorišek said one priority will be to finish negotiations on the trans-European energy networks (TEN-E) regulation, which determines cross-border energy projects eligible for EU funding.

“When it comes to energy, we will focus on the completion of negotiations on trans-European connections,” she said.

The European Commission’s proposal is clear: no more EU funding should go towards cross-border fossil gas pipelines. But EU countries are divided when it comes to the role of gas in the TEN-E regulation and the European Parliament is yet to decide its negotiating stance, suggesting tense discussions are lying ahead.

Infrastructure dispute reveals deep divisions in Europe over gas

The EU’s 27 energy ministers on Friday (11 June) came to an uneasy compromise on the revision of EU rules covering investments in cross-border energy infrastructure, the so-called TEN-E regulation. The fraught debate sets an unwelcome precedent for future debates over gas.

Asked by EURACTIV about this, neither speaker at the press conference elaborated on the tensions that could arise around fossil gas, saying only that the regulation would be fully compliant with the European Green Deal.

The Slovenian Presidency will also inherit negotiations on the Aarhus regulation, which ensures access to justice for civil society on environmental matters.

EU countries and the European Parliament are divided on this and the Slovenian Presidency did not elaborate when asked by EURACTIV about a potential compromise solution.

EU negotiators still far apart on environmental justice rights

EU countries and the European Parliament are at loggerheads over the revision of the Aarhus regulation, which allows individuals and civil society to challenge law in court on environmental matters, sources familiar with the process have told EURACTIV.

New challenges ahead

But more importantly, Slovenia will chair the first exchanges between EU member states on the Commission’s upcoming ‘Fit for 55’ package of climate laws.

Expected on 14 July, the package owes its nickname to the EU’s objective of reducing emissions at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, a target which is now legally-binding since the EU officially adopted its European Climate Law.

Much of the package will pass onto the French EU presidency, which starts in January 2022, but Slovenia is “anxious to see” what the package will include and will host informal discussions on the plan at ministerial level in late September, Gorišek said.

“We expect an intense discussion on this legislative package. Within the relevant working groups, we are going to have harmonisation and coordination between sectors and then also among member states,” said Gorišek,

Discussions are likely to be tense. EU leaders struggled to reach an agreement on the bloc’s 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target and there will be many more opportunities for friction between EU countries as negotiations move forward.

Gorišek said the Slovenian presidency will aim to reach a broad consensus on the package, admitting that this would be very demanding because opinions are currently diverging. The timing will also depend on when translations of the various texts are available, she said.

The first exchanges will take place during an informal meeting of the Energy Council on 21-23 September. The presidency said it will focus the meeting on the revision of the emissions trading scheme and the revision of the so-called LULUCF regulation dealing with agriculture, land use and forestry.

The Slovenian presidency will also be at the helm during two international summits. Firstly, the biodiversity summit in China in October, where Gorišek said she expects a new global strategic framework on biodiversity, including updated goals for halting biodiversity loss.

There will also be the COP26 climate summit in the UK in November where Gorišek expects the European Union to “present itself as a leading player”.

Portuguese progress

Slovenia will be the third in the latest ‘trio’ of presidencies, which has seen Germany, Portugal and now Slovenia develop a common 18-month programme.

“We’re going to continue with the realisation of objectives set within the trio presidency. In particular, with the ambition in the field of climate change, biodiversity and circular economy,” said Gorišek.

Slovenia’s predecessor, Portugal, faced the monumental task of passing the EU’s climate law, which saw divides between the European Commission, EU countries and the European Parliament.

Signing the climate law, which cemented Europe’s 2030 climate goal as well as the EU’s long-term objective of reaching net zero by 2050, was a “big step”, according to the Portuguese government.

The European climate law is a path without retreat because no country will be willing to lose European funds for failure to meet the climate targets, Portuguese environment minister, João Pedro Matos Fernandes told Lusa news agency.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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