The Green Brief: East-West EU split again over climate

Subscribe to EURACTIV's Green Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering energy & environment from across Europe.

Greetings and welcome to EURACTIV’s Green Brief. Below you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering energy & environment from across Europe. You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter here.

As the energy price crisis continues to bite, Central and Eastern European countries blame the EU’s carbon market for their woes. These countries are more reliant on fossil fuels and have pointed at the higher cost of transitioning to clean energy.

But simply dismissing these calls as the cries of populists would be ill-advised as EU leaders meet in Brussels for a two-day summit starting tomorrow where energy prices will be high on the agenda.

A round-up of the responses by European capitals to the energy crisis, published by EURACTIV over the weekend, shows that central and eastern member states are also quick to blame the EU’s climate policies for the current rise in energy prices.

The attacks were unusually ad hominem, targeted straight at Frans Timmermans, the European Commission executive vice-president in charge of the Green Deal.

“I think the real responsibility belongs to Timmermans,” said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán earlier this month. “[He made] a very bad calculation, and now the people of the European Union are paying an extra price.”

Orbán’s criticism targets the EU’s carbon market, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which he claims has been wrongly designed.

“The ETS system must be cancelled or suspended. The price will go up every day if this stupid plan is not withdrawn,” he declared.

“We have to go back to reality. Otherwise, we’ll have to pay an extra taxation for your car, for your flat and the price of everything – even food – will go up. And everybody will suffer, so that crazy idea must be stopped,” he continued.

Of course, Orbán’s inflammatory comments have to be seen in the context of next year’s parliamentary elections in Hungary. Over the weekend, an alliance of six opposition parties selected their candidate for the election due to take place in spring 2022 or earlier. Orbán is no doubt looking over his shoulder at what could be a serious challenge to his almost 12-year grip on power.

But Hungary is not alone in its criticism of Europe’s green ambition and can expect support from other countries, like Poland and Czechia.

Ahead of this week’s summit, Warsaw circulated a “non-paper” urging the EU to “revise or postpone” key parts of Europe’s climate proposals, including the ETS.

“The three of us – the Czechs, the Poles and the Hungarians – have made it very clear that we demand the withdrawal of the rules that have contributed to the current high prices,” Orbán told national radio on 8 October.

Proposals to shelve EU climate plans are likely to be squarely rejected by richer western European countries, like Germany, which has placed the green transition at the centre of their economic growth strategy.

Yet, the demands of Poland and Hungary cannot simply be ignored. While suspending EU climate policies seems out of the question, concerns over the social impact of the green transition won’t merely go away.

Energy prices are likely to stay high in the long term precisely “because of the environmental transition,” warned French economy minister Bruno Le Maire. In other words, volatile energy prices are likely to become a feature of the green transition as investors turn away from riskier fossil fuels.

“During the transition phase, we will face both old – fossil fuel-related – and new threats,” the Polish paper says. “We should be ready to address both,” it adds.

EU leaders would be well-advised to keep this in mind when they thrash out their response to rising energy prices tomorrow.

– Frédéric Simon

 

News from the capitals

PARIS. Leftist candidate Mélenchon suggests ‘freezing’ energy prices. As prices for fuel and electricity are soaring across Europe, La France Insoumise candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon said he wants to go back to pre-price-hike-levels by blocking prices and redistributing profits. Read more.

LONDON. UK’s ‘net zero’ programme underwhelms. The UK plans to invest £90 billion and create over 440,000 jobs over the next ten years to meet its ‘net zero’ climate targets, the government announced on Tuesday (19 October). Read more.

MADRID. Spain urges EU to take energy crisis measures ‘beyond winter’. Ahead of this week’s EU summit, Spain has urged the bloc to implement urgent and coordinated measures to mitigate rising energy prices, warning of a “risk” that energy shortages could last beyond next winter in Europe. Read more.

LISBON. Portugal among group of six countries to adopt measures to tackle energy prices. Portugal is one of six EU countries that have put forward support measures to address the energy crisis after guidance from the European Commission to curb rising costs, an EU source told Lusa. Read more.

ZAGREB. Green, digital transition have strong transformative effect on Croatian economy. Green and digital transition can have a strong transformative effect on the Croatian economy, Finance Minister Zdravko Marić said at the conference ‘Possibilities of the European Green Deal’ in Zagreb organised by the European Investment Bank (EIB) and its Croatia office, the European Commission Representation in Croatia. Read more.

LJUBLJANA. Leaked tape casts shadow on Slovenia’s environment minister. Slovenia’s embattled government has a new scandal on its hands. A recording leaked by a TV station appears to show Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak, a close aide of the prime minister, cosying up to a businessman in 2007 and offering advice on how to avoid paying tax. Read more.

LONDON. Firms to face new regime on environmental impact. Businesses in the UK will be required to disclose the impact of their activities on the environment under new rules to be introduced by ministers. Read more.

LISBON. Portuguese minister: Government wants to influence fuel marketing margins. It is “necessary” that the government can “act on fuel marketing margins” to cope with price increases, despite not having “the capacity” to do so, Environment Minister, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, said on Monday. Read more.

BUCHAREST. Energy price increases a major concern for Romania. The significant increase in energy prices is a major concern for Romania, given its impact on citizens, businesses, and vulnerable consumers, President Klaus Iohannis said in a videoconference with European Council President Charles Michel and other EU leaders on Monday (18 October). Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria finally sends its recovery plan to Brussels. The Bulgarian recovery plan includes 59 investment projects and 46 reforms. It was approved by the caretaker government on Thursday and was formally sent to the European Commission on Friday. It has seen changes over recent months, including a significant strengthening of the focus on decarbonisation. Read more.

TALLINN. Estonia is having second thoughts about the pro-nuclear statement made by nine EU countries backing France. Initially considering the joint statement as “premature”, Estonia now says it is not ruling out the use of more nuclear power in its energy mix. Read more.

OSLO. Norway’s new government unimpressed with EU’s Arctic drilling pledge. The country’s incoming centre-left government has said it will seek to grow its lucrative oil and gas industry while striving to cut carbon emissions. The comments came only a day after the EU pledged to pursue a ban on exploiting new fossil fuel deposits in a new regional strategy. Read more.

MADRID. Experts: No end in sight for rumbling La Palma volcano. A spike in seismic activity was recorded on Thursday on the Spanish island of La Palma where the Cumbre Vieja volcano continues to rumble 26 days after it first started erupting. Read more.

ATHENS. New storm paralyses Greece. Greece is bracing for the second day of heavy rain and floods as the stormy weather front dubbed ‘Ballos’, which has been pounding the country since the early hours of Thursday, is expected to worsen. All schools in the Attica region and other parts of Greece will also be closed on Friday. Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria risks running out of gas. The Bulgarian state gas company Bulgargaz risks running out of money to pay for supplies from Russia and Azerbaijan after 25 October. The crisis is due to reported debt owed by the company that manages the central heating system in the capital – Toplofikacia-Sofia. Read more.

BUCHAREST. Romanian energy watchdog fines suppliers. Romania’s energy watchdog ANRE fined several natural gas suppliers for increasing the price of gas delivered under fixed-rate contracts. Read more.

ZAGREB. Croatian government caps retail price of petrol and diesel. The government passed a decree capping the retail price of petrol to 11.10 kuna (€1.48) per litre and the price of diesel to 11.00 kuna (€1.46) per litre for the next 30 days. Read more.

BELGRADE. Serbia and Russia discuss long-term gas supply. Mining and Energy Minister Zorana Mihajlovic and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak held talks in Moscow on Thursday (14 October) about the process of concluding a new long-term agreement to supply Serbia with gas. Read more.

HELSINKI. Finnish forest companies inspected for suspected EU antitrust violations. The European Commission is inspecting several Finnish forestry firms to ascertain whether some have pursued cartels or other restrictive business practices. Read more.

ATHENS. Greece and Egypt sign deal on ‘mega’ electricity cable. Greece and Egypt are set to sign on Thursday a preliminary deal to build a large electricity cable connecting the two countries. It will be the first such agreement between Europe and Africa in the southeastern Mediterranean. Read more.

PRAGUE. Major Czech power company shuts down due to soaring gas prices. Bohemia Energy, one of the largest energy suppliers in Czechia, announced an immediate shut down due to soaring natural gas and electricity prices. The company has been supplying energy to around 900,000 customers. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovakia to avert energy crisis in Ukraine. Ukraine is in danger of being cut off from Russian gas supplies, which could lead to another energy crisis. The European Commission wants to secure stable supplies for it in the future, with help from Slovakia, by increasing the capacity of reverse gas flow and supplying to Ukraine. Read more.

 

News in brief

Emergency EU ministerial meeting over energy prices. There will be an extraordinary meeting of the Energy Council in the final week of October to discuss the rising energy prices and the European Commission’s ‘toolbox’ of measures to tackle them.

The meeting will be held on the morning of 26 October in Luxembourg, a week after discussions on energy prices in the European Council. Energy ministers will have a public exchange of views on the toolbox and give the Commission their opinion on the communication’s short and long term plans. According to a leak of the presidency background paper for the meeting seen by EURACTIV, ministers will discuss two questions:

  1. How could EU level action support and complement the immediate measures taken by Member States to mitigate the impact of rising energy prices on EU citizens and businesses?
  2. According to the Member States, are the medium-term measures proposed by the Commission sufficient to address the challenge of future energy price fluctuations? What further measures at EU and Member State level, including the use of EU financial tools, could be envisaged?

(Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

////

Germany reaffirms opposition to nuclear’s inclusion in EU taxonomy. Germany continues to push for the European Union not to classify nuclear power as a sustainable energy source, the country’s environment ministry spokesperson told a press conference on Wednesday (13 October).

“In the event of an accident, entire regions would become uninhabitable and many future generations of taxpayers would have to pay for the damage as well as deal with the waste. All this is obviously not sustainable,” the spokesperson said. He added that nuclear power is more expensive than renewable energy, and said new construction projects take too long in light of the need for urgent solutions to the climate crisis. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters)

////

Breaking the taboo. Last week, green campaign group Zero Waste Europe called on the European Commission to persuade EU countries to eliminate taxes on menstrual products, ensure the availability of reusable options, push for the phasing out of hazardous toxic chemicals in period products and ensure free products to those in need. The call came as part of #environmenstrualweek – an annual campaign run by the Women’s Environment Network to put the spotlight on periods.

The majority of period products are single use and contain 90% plastic. On average, people who menstruate use around 11-12,000 disposable products in their lifetime, which can cost between €1,500 and €7,500 depending on the EU country. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

////

German coal plant to switch to gas by 2026. German utility EnBW wants to transform its polluting coal plant in Altbach/Deizisau to run on gas in the medium-term and greener gases in the long-term. The plan is to build a low-emission combined cycle gas turbine plant (CCGT plant), powered by natural gas. It should generate up to 750 megawatts of electrical power and around 170 megawatts of heat, according to a statement by the company

“We view natural gas as a bridging technology on the way to climate neutrality by 2035. A flexibly manageable gas power plant is on standby at the touch of a button and therefore perfectly complements the renewable energies,” said company board member Georg Stamatelopoulos. (Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de)

////

South Korea backs coal moratorium at COP26. Seoul will back a moratorium on new coal power plants at the COP26 in Glasgow, the country’s trade Minister Yeo Han-Koo told EURACTIV’s Janos Ammann.

Yeo however expressed worries over EU plans to introduce a carbon tariff on imported goods, warning of the potential “chaos” it could create. “I think Korea and the EU are like-minded countries when it comes to climate change. But I think what some of our industries are concerned about is the possibility of this kind of new measures to function as new trade barriers. I think it’s a legitimate concern,” Yeo warned. “If the EU, and maybe also country A, country B, and country C begin to compete to introduce these new measures, I think it’s going to be chaos.”

Yeo also suggested that the South Korean emissions trading system – modelled after the EU’s own ETS – would put his country in a position to collaborate with the EU. “I’m going to discuss with EU officials how Korea and the EU can work together to make this system WTO-compliant and prevent it from functioning as a new trade barrier,” he said. (Janos Ammann | EURACTIV.com)

 

Opinions

 

Upcoming events

25 OCTOBER. Media partnership – waste-to-energy: the beauty or the beast? What will European waste management look in the next 30 years? Join speakers from the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants and NGOs to find out. Programme and registration here. (Organised by ESWET)

27 OCTOBER. Closed loop recycling in Europe: what helps and what hinders? Closed loop recycling, where packaging is collected and recycled into new packaging, has an essential role in the transition to a circular economy. Find out more from speakers, including Sirpa Pietikäinen, member of Parliament’s environment committee and industry representatives. Programme and registration here. (Supported by FEVE)

9 NOVEMBER. Working towards a stronger circular economy – how much regulation is needed? Come along to discuss the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan and whether its new initiatives, such as the digital product passport, will achieve the transparency for products that policymakers are looking for. Speakers include William Neale, advisor for circular economy at the European Commission, Joan Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe, Emma Watkins, senior policy analyst for low carbon and circular economy at IEEP and Karl Haeusgen, president of VDMA. Programme and registration here. (Supported by VDMA)

 

On our radar

21-22 OCTOBER: EU summit. Leaders will hold a discussion on rising energy prices, based on the “toolbox” prepared by the European Commission. They will also agree the bloc’s position for the COP26 in Glasgow (climate) and COP15 in Kunming (biodiversity). (See meeting page).

26 OCTOBER: Extraordinary Energy Council. European energy ministers will meet in Luxembourg to discuss the European Commission’s ‘toolbox’ to tackle rising energy prices in Europe.

31 OCTOBER – 12 NOVEMBER: COP26. Global leaders will meet in Glasgow, UK, with more ambitious climate pledges and with the aim to finish negotiations around Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

17 NOVEMBER: Deforestation and waste shipment proposals. The European Commission will propose its revision to the waste shipment regulation and a proposal on minimising the risk of imported deforestation.

2 DECEMBER: Energy Council. EU energy ministers will meet in early December in the second session since the Fit for 55 package was tabled. (meeting page). 

14 DECEMBER: Energy, climate, transport and nature protection package. Following the publication of its huge package of climate proposals in July, the European Commission is expected to table more energy-related files, including regulations on natural gas, and proposals on the circular economy. It will also put forward proposals on nature protection. See the full list here:

Climate and energy:

  • Reducing methane emissions in the energy sector
  • Revision of the third energy package for gas
  • Revision of the energy performance of Buildings Directive
  • Commission communication: Restoring sustainable carbon cycles
  • Council Recommendation to address the social and labour aspects of the climate transition

Efficient and green mobility package:

  • Revision of the Regulation on the trans-European transport network
  • Revision of the Directive on Intelligent Transport Systems
  • New EU urban mobility framework
  • Rail freight corridors initiative

Nature:

  • Protecting biodiversity: nature restoration targets
  • Improving environmental protection through criminal law

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe