The Green Brief: Hat-trick for the German Greens

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After 16 years in opposition, the Germans Greens are back in government, taking the reins of three powerful ministries an unprecedented feat, which also strengthens their hand in Brussels as they now have a direct link to the new government in Berlin.

Following the announcement of Germany’s new ‘traffic light’ coalition last week, there are three new names on the energy and environment scene: Economy, Energy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, Environment Minister Steffi Lemke and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir. 

The one thing they have in common is that they all belong to the Green party. With the stroke of a pen, the balance of power in Berlin, and to some extent Brussels, has shifted significantly towards the environmentalists.

“Now we have a great opportunity to make a unified policy on energy, the economy, the environment, agriculture and nutrition for the first time,” Özdemir told national newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

For almost a decade, the environment and agriculture ministries were divided between the German conservative union CDU/CSU and the social democrat SPD. Now those of us active in the climate field should beware of a sudden whiplash.

Yes, the underlying ministerial staff won’t change. But there is something to be said about the Greens’ inherently more open approach to communication and their determination to get their policies through that is likely to spice up climate policy both in Berlin and Brussels.

The German Greens are a relatively young party that has adapted quickly. Founded in the 1980s on the back of a wild mix of participative democracy, pacifist and anti-nuclear movements, they have, for the most part, become less radical over time.

Their last stint in the German federal government, starting in 1999, saw eruptions of violence and bags of red paint thrown at party chiefs following the German intervention in the Kosovo conflict.

Such a thing would be unthinkable nowadays because the Greens have become more pragmatic. One only needs to look at the recent usurping of Anton Hofreiters, who was widely expected to become agriculture minister, but was supplanted by popular pragmatist Cem Özdemir.

The Greens’ hat-trick of nabbing the key climate government positions will also have ripple effects in Brussels. In the European Parliament, Green lawmakers will be empowered by the domestic success of their counterparts.

For the longest time, the European People’s Party backed by Angela Merkel was the single most influential faction in the European Parliament, counterbalanced only by left parties teaming up against them.

Now, in environment, climate and energy policy, it is the Greens’ turn to benefit from domestic backing. The Greens/EFA faction of the European Parliament, which consists of 69 lawmakers, stands to benefit from the bolstered position of its 25 German members.

The Greens/EFA group’s co-chief, Ska Keller, is German. The hitherto third-most influential MEP, Sven Giegold, formerly the head of the German Greens in the EU Parliament was one of the new core negotiators of the new Government.

Giegold is now one of the four most-senior public officials in the newly-created economy, energy and climate super-ministry in Berlin, giving the European Greens a direct line to vice-chancellor Habeck.

No matter how this shakes up the European Parliament, the German greens are now clearly in a position to influence EU policy making like never before. It might be time to brush up on your German or at least learn your basics: “Atomkraft? Nein danke.”

– Nikolaus J. Kurmayer


This week’s top stories


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News from the capitals

SARAJEVO. BiH’s mining sector could face new financial shock. Coal miners who protested in Sarajevo last week set the conditions that would make them return to work. Still, these are too expensive and would cause a new financial shock for the industry, Nermin Džindić, Energy, Mining and Industry Minister of Federation BiH (Bosniak-Croat entity), said. Only two of seven mines are currently making a profit, the minister added.

Admin Andelija, director of the Electricity Supply company (EP BiH), said that “difficult moments” are ahead of the electricity sector.  He recalled that the mines had become part of the company since 2009, and they were in a “neglected” state at the time. He stated that one of the problems was the excessive number of workers and noted that more than 300 million KM (€153 million) had been invested in the mines to date. Andelija again called on the miners’ union for talks to “end the agony and commit to restructuring the mine for the benefit of the state.” Coal accounts for more than 60% of the country’s energy mix. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

LONDON. Government short on green jobs. The UK is falling well short of its ambitious green jobs target, according to the latest ‘green jobs’ report by accounting giant PwC. Last November, the government announced it would spend £4bn to create two million green jobs by 2030, as part of its promise of a ‘green industrial revolution’. After researching jobs advertised online, PwC found 124,600 positions related to sustainability, the environment or tackling climate change, equivalent to 1.2% of all advertised roles in the year to July 2021. Scotland, London and the southeast of England accounted for the majority of the new jobs. (Benjamin Fox | EURACTIV.com)

BRATISLAVA. Slovak government greenlights construction of country’s biggest solar park. The government has announced that a solar park will be built by the state nuclear energy company of Slovakia next to the nuclear power plant Jaslovenské Bohunice. Read more.

TIRANA. Environmental organisations slam construction of new airport in protected area. Twenty Albanian nature organisations have condemned the start of works on a new airport in Vlora, in the south of the country, saying it is illegal and environmental assessments were unprofessional, reports Exit.al. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovak progressives pushing for ‘climate cheque’ to compensate for green transition. The liberal Progressive Slovakia party has proposed a new system of compensation to work towards the transition to a carbon-neutral economy and combat rising energy prices. Read more.

BUDAPEST. Environmental damage investigation closed, no punishment for Orban-ally. The investigation into the environmental damage caused by a billionaire close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will not be pursued further, prosecutor general Péter Polt’s reply to opposition MP Bernadette Szél revealed on Thursday, Telex reported. Read more.

SOFIA. Benel nuclear plant: Bulgarian far-right leader threatens to send opponents to a labour camp. Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the pro-Russian far-right party ‘Vazrazhdane’ (Revival), started his first term as an MP by threatening to deport all those who oppose the Belene nuclear power plant to the town’s communist-era forced labour camp. Read more.

BELGRADE. Vucic after meeting Putin: Gas price for Serbia to stay the same in next six months. The price of Russian gas will remain at $270 per 1,000 cubic metres for Belgrade in the next six months, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said in Sochi on Thursday after meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Read more.

SKOPJE | PARIS. French company to build solar park. French renewable energy power producer and developer Akuo Energy Sas Paris plans to invest €270 million in constructing a solar park in North Macedonia with local company Ostor Solar, the government in Skopje said. At the session on Tuesday, the government adopted a Decision on determining the status of a strategic investment project of the “Ostro Solar” and “Akuo Energy”. The capacity would be from 350 to 400-megawatt hours. Akuo Energy Central Europe is the partner in IEL OIE Balkan Renewable Energy’s 85 MW Bašaid wind farm project near Kikinda in Serbia. The French firm has an advanced project for the Çiçavica wind farm of 100 MW in Kosovo. Earlier this year, Akuo bought five hydropower plants in Bulgaria with a total capacity of 15.5 MW.  (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

DUBLIN. Hauliers protest rising fuel prices in Dublin. Traffic ground to a halt in Dublin on Wednesday as a convoy of truckers and hauliers gathered in the city to protest record increases in fuel prices this year. Read more.

SOFIA. Russian nuclear reactors could affect stability of future Bulgarian government. The decision to use the two already paid for and delivered Russian nuclear reactors will be a major problem for the stability of the future governing coalition in Bulgaria. The other big problem is the veto on the European integration of North Macedonia. Read more.

BELGRADE. Serbia to seek cheap gas price from Russia. The presidents of Russia and Serbia, Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vučić, will meet in Sochi on Thursday to discuss a solution to the Kosovo crisis, Russian News Agency TASS has reported, citing a release from the Kremlin. For its part, Belgrade aims to achieve lower gas prices. Read more.


News in brief

LEAK: New EU state aid rules and the role of gas. Draft EU state aid rules on energy and environment, seen by EURACTIV, open the door for too much gas, according to the environmental NGO Client Earth. 

The rules, expected to be published later this month and come into force in 2022, cover aid for reducing greenhouse gas, clean transport, resource and energy efficiency investments and nature restoration as well as energy investments, like renewables, phasing-out coal and natural gas. This revision, which updates rules from 2014, is meant to align them with the EU Green Deal.

But Client Earth is concerned that the draft is not “fully aligned” with the Green Deal. “There’s a lot of room left to gas and to low carbon hydrogen, and sometimes even unabated hydrogen, which is even worse and that is because the Commission acknowledges that it’s a transition fuel,” Stéphanie Nieuwbourg, a lawyer at Client Earth, told EURACTIV.

The European Commission will only consider aid compatible with the internal market if the positive effects outweigh the negative effects. According to the leak, this will create a hurdle for fossil fuels, particularly “the most polluting”, which are “unlikely to create positive environmental effects”. 

For EU countries to give aid to natural gas, they will need to demonstrate that the investment “contributes to achieving the Union’s 2030 climate target and 2050 climate neutrality target” and that there is no lock-in effect. 

The leaked rules emphasise the importance of aid measures to phase out coal, saying: “Member States may need to combine the phase out of the coal, peat or oil shale activities with a simultaneous investment in more environmentally-friendly generation, such as natural gas”.

However, these investments must be “part of a credible and ambitious decarbonisation strategy, including the prevention of stranded assets in view of the 2030 and 2050 targets,” the draft says. Read the leaked document here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Deforestation drama. The left-wing Socialist and Democrat Group (S&D) has lashed out at the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) for wielding its political power to snatch the top negotiator position for the new legislation on preventing deforestation in supply chains.

Contrary to the political custom that the group that led on a topic should continue the legislative work, the EPP took the file from the S&D, according to Delara Burkhardt, the S&D lawmaker who was responsible for drafting the Parliament’s stance on the legislation earlier this year.

“Behind this act of the EPP, we fear the intention to weaken the Commission proposal in the legislative process. Even when drafting the (non-binding) parliamentary resolution 2020, the CDU shadow rapporteur Hildegard Bentele advocated for a parliamentary proposal that was as soft as possible and friendly to the agricultural industry,” continued Burkhardt.

The EPP won the file by outbidding the S&D – more about the European Parliament’s auctions for its legislative files here.

“I do understand the disappointment of the rapporteur of the initiative report, but it is a known fact that forests are a priority of the EPP group and the file was taken according to the regular procedure of distribution of files,” Bentele told EURACTIV in response to the criticism. “The EPP fully embraced the introduction of mandatory due diligence, but also feels the need to make it actionable for operators.” (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Lawmakers to finish debate on ETS by July. Lawmakers in the European Parliament should have agreed their position on the revision of the EU emissions trading scheme by mid-summer 2022. 

Dates for your diary:

  • 14 JANUARY. Consideration of draft report
  • 16 FEBRUARY. Deadline for amendments
  • 16 MAY. Committee vote in ENVI
  • JUNE. Plenary vote

(Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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RIP EU taxonomy, activists say. NGOs gathered outside the European Parliament on Monday (29 November) to hold a mock funeral for the European sustainable finance taxonomy and call on EU countries and the European Parliament to reject the “politicised version of the EU taxonomy”. The legislation sets out a list of sustainable investments, but environmental campaigners have warned that the expected inclusion of fossil gas and nuclear energy could divert billions of euros away from green investments and harm the environment.

“At its birth, this list of green investments had so much to offer and held so much promise. But the taxonomy had barely passed its first birthday when it was attacked – attacked and undermined by governments which care more about their pet industries than they do about science,” said Henry Eviston, spokesman on sustainable finance at WWF European Policy Office. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Benchmark EU carbon price hits fresh record over €75/t. The benchmark European carbon price hit a fresh record on Thursday (25 November) afternoon, touching €75.04 a tonne. Prices were extending gains from Wednesday, having risen after Germany’s incoming coalition government said it would prevent carbon prices in its country from falling below 60 euros a tonne, traders said.

“The general fundamental picture remains tight due to the high gas prices, but the gains last week and this week were driven by technicals and sentiment,” said Florian Rothenberg, EU power and carbon markets analyst at ICIS.

High gas prices make it more economical for power companies to burn coal, which emits twice the amount of carbon dioxide as gas power plants, requiring more carbon permits. Some traders have also said progress on the role of carbon markets at international climate talks in Glasgow earlier this month had boosted confidence in their use to meet climate goals, further adding to the bullish sentiment. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters).

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Parliament backs greater ‘autonomy’, EU mining for critical raw materials. The European Union needs to become more self-sufficient on the supply of critical raw materials needed for the green and digital transition, the European Parliament said in a report adopted on  24 November.

Under the Parliament’s proposals, more critical raw materials will have to be sourced from within the EU and its neighbourhood, while sources of supply will need to be diversified, and more research should focus on sustainable alternatives to these scarce materials.

“We must…build the political framework to enable sustainable mining in Europe and in non-EU countries,” said Hildegard Bentele, a German MEP who was the lead author of the report on behalf of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

Green lawmakers, however, were left disappointed by an amendment to the report which allows for raw materials mining in Natura 2000 and nature protected areas under certain conditions. “Europe will need a certain share of critical raw materials for the transition to a climate-neutral economy,” admitted Henrike Hahn, a German Green MEP. At the same time, she said mining poses a threat to local people, biodiversity and the climate, and needs to be restrained.

What both the Greens and EPP agree on is the need to bolster recycling and the internal EU market for so-called secondary raw materials. More info here, text adopted here. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com).

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Revised EU state aid rules for green projects. The European Commission on 25 November adopted revised state aid rules for so-called IPCEIs, or Important Projects of Common European Interest.

Projects with IPCEI status can receive state subsidies without having to observe the EU’s usually strict state aid guidelines. Examples of existing IPCEIs include support for innovation in the battery value chain as well as a rail-road link in Denmark. 

The IPCEI state aid rules were revised to allow more participation from SMEs and align with EU policies such as the European Green Deal. “To accelerate the EU’s green transition, the revised IPCEI Communication requires Member States to provide evidence of compliance of the notified projects with the ‘do no significant harm’ principle,” the Commission said in a statement announcing the decision. 

IPCEIs are funded from the national budgets meaning EU governments are in the driving seat. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com).

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UK unveils £20m annual support scheme for tidal power. The UK government on 24 November announced it will invest £20 million per year in Tidal Stream electricity as part of its flagship renewable energy auction scheme. The new scheme will kickstart “a brand-new chapter for the tidal industry” and is Britain’s biggest investment yet made in tidal power, the government said in a statement.

As part of the scheme £20m (€23.7m) per year will be ringfenced for tidal stream energy in the governments ‘Contracts for Difference’ revenue support programme for renewables, said Ocean Energy Europe, a trade association. “This has been a long time coming, and is a huge win for the sector as a whole,” said Amy Parsons from Ocean Energy Europe. “It is now time for the European Union to implement its 2020 Strategy on Offshore Renewable Energy and join the drive to create a global ocean energy market,” said Rémi Gruet, CEO of Ocean Energy Europe. (Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com)

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EU clears €2.27bn Greek state aid to boost renewable power. The European Commission has approved a €2.27 billion aid scheme proposed by Greece to boost renewable power generation, it said on Wednesday (24 November). The measure will help Greece meet its renewable energy targets, without unduly distorting competition, the executive arm of the European Union said.

Greece, aiming for renewables to account for 61% of final electricity consumption by 2030 from 29% last year, wants to shorten its permitting process to about two to three years. That’s down from the eight years more typical for such schemes in Greece. The new scheme that Greece has proposed to support 4.5 gigawatt of installed electricity capacity from onshore wind, photovoltaic, biomass, hydroelectric power and other renewable energy sources includes joint competitive tendering and direct awarding. It is open until 2025 and can be paid out for a maximum of 20 years. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters).


Podcast

This week our Beyond the Byline Podcast focuses on the energy crisis and its impact on Europe’s economy and citizens on low to middle incomes. Our very own Frédéric Simon took to the mic to explain it. Listen here.

Don’t forget to subscribe on Spotify!


Opinions


Upcoming events

8 DECEMBER. Energy poverty: how to reduce inequalities? Join Adela Tesarova, Head of Unit, Consumers, Local Initiatives and Just Transition, DG Energy, European Commission, Masha Smirnova, Campaign Manager European Green Deal, EUROCITIES and more  to discuss how addressing energy poverty can help reduce inequalities in the European Union and the role that Member States should play in protecting vulnerable citizens. Programme and registration here. (Supported by PKEE)

8 DECEMBER. EU taxonomy for sustainable activities – should nuclear energy be left out? Join Thomas Pellerin-Carlin from the Jacques Delors Institute and other speakers to discuss the role of nuclear power in the green transition. Programme and registration here. (Supported by REplanet)”


On our radar

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:

  • Improving environmental protection through criminal law

16-17 DECEMBER. EUROPEAN COUNCIL. EU leaders will meet once again and energy prices are back on the agenda. This time, however, it will be after the gas package has been tabled.

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