The Green Brief: Good morning Brussels! Can we have your points please?

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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.

In many ways life in the European Parliament is very similar to Eurovision. There are lots of languages, a fanfare of cultures and an obscure points system that no one understands, but just sort of accepts.

That points system – without fountains, although occasionally with flamboyant outfits – decides which lawmakers from which political groups will take the lead negotiating role for each piece of legislation that falls into the laps of their respective Parliament committee.

If you’re an avid reader of the Green Brief, you’ll have noticed my colleague and I have fallen down the rabbit hole of this system, digging into the complex and opaque way in which the ‘Fit for 55’ climate package, tabled in July, will be divvied up between political groups and committees.

Today I was allowed the first word to let you know what we’re hearing and, for better or worse, mark myself as an odd combination of a Eurovision fan and parliamentary procedure nerd.

Briefly, each of the seven political groups in the European Parliament receive a certain number of points according to their size for each legislative period. Groups then use these points as parliamentary currency to bid on reports, like in an auction. They can even get discounts if they propose a “recognised specialist” who works in the field of the proposed legislation.

The European People’s Party (EPP), the Parliament’s biggest group, spent big on this climate package – around 20 points out of their 180 for four rapporteurs in the environment committee alone. That means half of the lead negotiators for files in the environment committee will come from the centre-right political family of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

In total, the Parliament’s environment committee will take on eight of the files (counting the revision of the emissions trading scheme as two). Of these, the EPP will have the lead role for both elements of the emissions trading scheme (ETS) revision, the climate action social fund and the effort sharing regulation.

And in true Eurovision fashion, the ETS revision – one of the most controversial files – will see a reunion. Peter Liese for the EPP, Michael Bloss for the Greens and Jytte Guteland for the S&D – who were already the Parliament’s negotiators for the European Climate Law earlier this year – will join once more to draft Parliament’s negotiating stance.

In a nod to France’s interest in the carbon border adjustment mechanism proposal, environment committee chair, Pascal Canfin, who hails from the French ruling party, will help draft Parliament’s stance on the new proposal, with a “shadow rapporteur” role. Mohammed Chahim will lead negotiations for CBAM on behalf of the S&D.

The Greens, meanwhile, will take the lead role on the revision of legislation surrounding land use and carbon sinks (LULUCF), with Finnish MEP Ville Niinistö taking the reins. And the centrist Renew Europe group will take on the file on CO2 standards for cars and vans, led by Dutch MEP Jan Huitema.

The big spending, however, took place in the energy committee. The renewable energy directive was snatched up by the EPP for 22 points. Meanwhile, EURACTIV has been told that the S&D paid an eye watering 27 points for the lead negotiator role on the energy efficiency directive where’s an expert to give you a discount when you need one?

Alongside the reports, created by the lead committees, opinions can be drafted by other committees, who do not have the lead role, but still have something to contribute. The opinion on the revision of the LULUCF, however, was a little abandoned, taken by the EPP for just one sad point.

When it comes to opinions, the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists look set to play a larger role in the energy committee, spending nine points for the opinion on the climate action social fund and on the carbon border adjustment mechanism.

So what exactly happens now? Well, the legislative process of the EU is a multifaceted and confusing venture. Entire degrees can be spent focusing on a single aspect.

But to simplify it – or at least to borrow once more from the Eurovision metaphor – imagine the European Commission as the Eurovision host country, putting forward the theme for the year. For the last Eurovision, that theme was Open Up. For the climate legislation tabled by the Commission in July, perhaps it would be Step Up.

The European Parliament and EU leaders then debate that legislation. Rather like the little postcards before the songs in Eurovision, some debates remain closer to the theme than others. Some veer off and lose much of the ambition of the original or, indeed, increase it.

Then we get to the trilogues – intense negotiations between Parliament lawmakers and EU countries all held behind closed doors. Take that as the points procedure, where you see little of the debating process that led to the decision, but a very flamboyant announcement of said decision.

Finally, much later into the night than you originally planned to stay up, we have a winner – the finalised legislation that will go on to shape European policy and randomly pop up in different places over the next few years.

– Kira Taylor

 

Top stories

 

This week’s stories

 

News from the capitals

PRAGUE. Poland faced with daily fine over Turów coal mine. The European Court of Justice ordered Poland to pay a daily €500,000 fine because it has not followed its interim measure and continues with mining in Turów, a lignite mine located at the Czech-Polish borders. Czechia considers the decision a success but prefers to strike a deal rather than benefit from fines. Read more.

LONDON. Johnson calls on international community to do more to tackle climate crisis. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday that “history will judge” if international leaders fail to act now to tackle the climate crisis. Read more.

DUBLIN. Ireland’s Taoiseach travels to New York to deliver statement on climate. Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin has landed in New York, as the country currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of September. Martin is set to chair a high-level discussion on climate and security in the Council and will address the UN General Assembly – gathered in New York for its 76th session – on Friday to deliver Ireland’s National Statement. Read more.

HELSINKI. EU should stay away from Finnish forests. Forestry should be based on local conditions and knowhow in each member state, the Finnish government’s ministerial committee on EU affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, said on Friday, highlighting that forest policy belongs to the competences of member states. Read more.

BUCHAREST. Journalists beaten during illegal logging investigation in Romania. Two journalists and an environmental activist were attacked last week while filming a documentary about illegal deforestation in Romania, Greenpeace has said. They were severely beaten by around 20 attackers, some of whom were later arrested. Read more.

PRISTINA. US, Kosovo in conflict regarding the gas pipeline. Economy Minister Artane Rizvanolli has said the government needs additional time to decide on building the infrastructure for the distribution of US natural gas. Read more.

MADRID. Spain’s energy prices continue to hit record highs despite government intervention. The seemingly unstoppable surge of wholesale energy prices in Spain continued on Thursday with a new record of €188.18 per megawatt-hour, a rise of 22% this week, despite government efforts to bring down costs amid public outcry, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. Read more.

BUCHAREST. President Iohannis wants Romgaz to extract Black Sea gas. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has backed the partnership between OMV Petrom and Romania’s state-owned natural gas producer Romgaz in the offshore project Neptun Deep. The Black Sea deepwater perimeter, which is currently equally owned by OMV Petrom and US giant ExxonMobil, has estimated reserves of 42-84 billion cubic meters of gas. Read more.

SOFIA. The European Commission wants a clear plan from Bulgaria to close its coal-fired power plants and ensure that European funding for the regions does not go only to the capital, Sofia. These are the two conditions set by Brussels for consideration of the Bulgarian Recovery Plan and the Partnership Agreement for the 2021-2027 period. Read more.

MADRID. Power companies clash with Spanish government after measures to reduce electricity bill. Spain’s biggest power companies, such as Iberdrola and Endesa, have warned against any intervention in the electricity market by the Spanish state, following the socialist government’s decision to implement urgent measures to bring down soaring energy bills, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reports.

BUCHAREST. Romania discusses energy price caps. The Romanian government will discuss a way to cap natural gas prices after a significant increase this year, Prime Minister Florin Citu said on Wednesday. In August, Citu said that introducing a cap on energy prices was off the table. Read more.

 

News in brief

EU taxonomy: Nuclear-gas alliance gets French nod. The French ambassador to the Czech Republic, Alexis Dutertre, triggered angry reactions from environmental activists when he posted a message on Twitter suggesting that France will back the inclusion of gas – in addition to nuclear – in the EU’s green finance taxonomy.

The message, posted on Monday (20 September), shows Dutertre posing next to Czechia’s deputy environment minister, Vladislav Smrz, and Rene Nedela, the country’s deputy minister for industry and trade with responsibility for energy. It reads: “Gearing up for French and Czech presidencies in 2022: like-minded on #nuclear energy & #gas to be included in the upcoming delegated act on #taxonomy”.

The inclusion of nuclear power in the EU’s green finance taxonomy is a matter of national interest for France, which has formed a coalition of seven pro-nuclear countries also including Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

The European Commission is expected to table a proposal in the coming months, and the inclusion of nuclear is “the most likely” outcome in view of recent scientific reports submitted to the EU executive in the past months, experts believe. 

Germany, meanwhile, leads an anti-nuclear camp of five EU countries, which led some to speculate that Paris and Berlin are preparing a “grand bargain” that would include gas and nuclear, under certain conditions.

In its April communication on the taxonomy, the EU executive indeed said it “will adopt a complementary delegated act” that “will cover nuclear energy” under certain conditions and “will also cover natural gas and related technologies as transitional activity”.

France will hold the EU’s six-month rotating presidency in January 2022, followed by the Czech Republic in July. Read our latest report here. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com).

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LEAK: Draft plan to ban imported deforestation draws concern. A leak of the draft impact assessment for a European Commission proposal to ban products related to deforestation entering the EU has been criticised for its narrow scope. The leak focuses on deforestation rather than wider ecosystems, which critics argue need to be included, like the Cerrado savanna in Brazil.

“On a positive note, the Commission finally seems to propose a European supply chain law based on mandatory due diligence obligations to effectively fight against deforestation,” said Delara Burkhardt, a member of the European Parliament for the socialists and democrats.

But she added, “The proposal should go beyond forests alone and should also cover other important ecosystems, such as the Cerrado savannah or the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil, that are as well converted for the production of agricultural commodities sold on the European market.”

“Enlarging the coverage to other ecosystems would jeopardise implementability by making monitoring of deforestation and forest degradation criteria more difficult. Also, the policy options are based on an assessment of the relevance of forest from the perspective of climate change and biodiversity loss. A different assessment of different ecosystems would entail a different policy intervention proposal,” according to the leak.

There is also a risk that banned products will simply go elsewhere in the world, like to China. Therefore, the EU also needs to engage in dialogue with producer countries and countries like China, according to Nicole Polsterer from the forestry NGO Fern. Read the Guardian’s full article on the leak here. Read the leaked document here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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‘No ECT’ petition draws over one million signatures. Over one million people have signed a petition demanding that the European Union and its member states collectively withdraw from the 1991 Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). The petition was handed over to EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson and the Slovenian energy minister ahead of a meeting of the EU’s Energy Council in Kraj starting on Wednesday (22 October). “We believe the ECT is outdated and undermining climate policies,” said Paul de Clerck from Friends of the Earth Europe, which led the petition. (Check out pictures of Kadri Simson receiving the petition here).

In the NGO’s firing line are private arbitration tribunals set up under the ECT, which have allowed energy firms such as Uniper and RWE to sue the Dutch government this year over the country’s coal exit. According to de Clerck, fundamental reform of the treaty’s so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause is off the agenda of ongoing treaty modernisation talks because of obstruction by Japan.

Any reform of the ECT requires unanimity among the treaty’s 53 signatories. “So the best option is for the EU and member states to leave the ECT and have an agreement between EU member states to stop intra-EU ISDS cases based on the ECT. France, Poland, Spain are already asking for Commission to prepare such exit strategy, so this is a reasonable option,” de Clerck said. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com)

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EU offers ‘Green Alliance’ with Indo-Pacific nations. The fight against climate change was featured among the top political objectives of an ‘EU strategy for cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region’, presented by the European Commission last week (16 September). The EU’s engagement in the region – which includes countries as diverse as Australia, China, India, Japan, Thailand, or New Zealand – “is designed to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, tackling climate change and supporting connectivity with the EU,” an EU statement said.

On environmental matters, the EU’s key proposal is to “conclude ‘Green Alliances’ with like-minded partners that have signed up to the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 and other ambitious climate and environmental objectives”. The first ‘Green Alliance’ was agreed with Japan in May 2021 as part of a broader trade deal, which put the Paris Agreement at the centre of bilateral relations.

The document makes no mention of the EU’s planned carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), which is seen as targeting environmental dumping from China. And while ‘Green Alliances’ are open to other countries, it’s not clear whether China would currently qualify as sufficiently ambitious. Beijing has signalled its intention to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2060 but has not made any detailed plans yet on how it intends to achieve this target. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com)

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German public procurement bans purchasing single-use consumables. Starting 1. January of 2022, German public officials are banned from purchasing single-use dishes and single-use packaged beverages. 

Minister of the economy Peter Altmaier touted the effectiveness of pushing for innovative and climate friendly technologies and products via public procurement. German public procurement is estimated to be at around 100 billion Euros a year by the OECD, he added.

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Orsted and Uniper enter into green hydrogen partnership. Danish power company Orsted and German company Uniper have agreed to jointly develop offshore wind with hydrogen. A hydrogen plant with a capacity of 70 MW is expected by 2025, said to be expanded to 410 MW by 2030. The energy required will prospectively come from Orsted offshore wind turbines. The project is set to be built in WIlhelmshaven. 

“Green hydrogen from offshore wind power is the driver of German decarbonization,” said Orsted Germany managing director Jorg Kubitza on 20 September.

 

Opinions

 

Upcoming events

29 SEPTEMBER. Is green hydrogen really carbon neutral? As the EU moves away from its dependency on fossil fuel, hydrogen is expected to play a key role in our future energy systems. Join the debate to discuss how. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Environmental Defense Fund)

30 SEPTEMBER. COP 26 – can renewed political will result in concrete actions? With a month to go until the big climate summit, join Jytte Guteland from the European Parliament’s environment committee, María Mendiluce CEO of We Mean Business, Simone Tagliapietra, senior fellow Bruegel and more to discuss what solutions are needed to reach global decarbonisation. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Iberdrola)

 

On our radar

22-23 SEPTEMBER: Informal meeting of transport and energy ministers. Officials will hold a first exchange of views on the EU’s revised renewable energy directive and energy efficiency directive during an in-person meeting in Kranj, Slovenia (see meeting page).

6 OCTOBER: Environment Council. The meeting includes a first deliberation on the ‘Fit for 55’ package, and a public debate on the EU’s position for COP26 as well as the bloc’s forest strategy (see meeting page for full agenda).

21-22 OCTOBER: EU summit. Agenda includes preparations for COP26 in Glasgow (climate) and COP15 in Kunming (biodiversity). (See meeting page).

31 OCTOBER – 12 NOVEMBER: COP26, Glasgow.

2 DECEMBER: Energy Council (meeting page). 

14 DECEMBER: Fit for 55 – part 2. 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.

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