The Green Brief: Who wants to kill the EU taxonomy?

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The deadline for EU countries to provide feedback on the European Commission’s proposal to include nuclear energy and fossil gas in the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy expired on Friday (21 January).

And, while Germany’s contribution attracted much attention for its overtly pro-gas stance, officials at the European Commission are likely more nervous about reactions in the European Parliament.

If not, they should be.

While it will take 20 EU countries to reject the proposal, the European Parliament can kill it with a simple majority – i.e. at least 353 MEPs – in a Plenary vote.

That is because the EU executive will legislate using a delegated act, a procedure usually reserved for technical updates to legislation. Delegated acts are so called because the Parliament and EU countries entrust their legislative powers to the European Commission, which has free reign to pass laws using a fast-track procedure (see here and here for more detail).

But while the threshold seems out of reach in the EU Council of Ministers where only four countries have publicly expressed their opposition to gas and nuclear, the bar is set lower in the European Parliament.

And Parliament is not happy. On Friday, the left-wing Socialists and Democrats (S&D) sent a letter to the Commission, saying they “cannot support the proposed delegated act with its current content” because the criteria for gas is too lax. As for nuclear, it risks “fatally undermining public trust in the taxonomy” due to lingering doubts over the management of highly radioactive waste, the S&D said.

The Greens have already expressed their discontent and are almost sure to reject the proposal as a bloc – despite the German Greens being part of a pro-gas coalition in Berlin. The Left, for their part, will also vote massively to reject the proposal, even if one or two Cypriot lawmakers vote differently due to national circumstances.

That adds up to around 256 MEPs. Together, those three political groups are roughly 100 short of the majority required to reject the proposal. This means other political groups further to the right of the hemicycle will need to join the rebellion if it is to be voted down.

While the Polish-dominated, conservative ECR group (64 MEPs) are largely supportive of nuclear and gas, the European People’s Party (EPP), the biggest group in Parliament with 177 MEPs, is divided.

Many EPP lawmakers are understood to be supportive of the Commission’s proposal – especially the French and eastern Europeans – but prominent voices such as Sirpa Pietikainen, one of the lead negotiations for the taxonomy regulation adopted two years ago, complained loudly that Parliament was not properly consulted on the proposal.

Pieter Liese, a prominent EPP lawmaker from Germany, went further, saying he would vote against the plan. “I cannot support the proposals,” he said in a statement, citing nuclear as the main reason. “Perhaps the best thing to do is to scrap the Delegated Act on taxonomy.”

Beyond the group’s 30 German lawmakers, it’s unclear how many EPP lawmakers will follow Liese. The EPP group hasn’t adopted a unified stance on the taxonomy proposal and MEPs are currently expected to vote according to their personal convictions, a party source told EURACTIV. A unified EPP position will be envisaged once the Commission’s final text is on the table, the source added. As a result, many MEPs in the centre-right group could end up abstaining, another Parliament source said, describing the EPP stance on the taxonomy as “a mess”.

As is so often the case, the centrist Renew Europe group (101 MEPs) might end up swinging the vote. With France entering a crucial election year, many believe they will close ranks and support Emmanuel Macron’s LREM, their biggest member party, by backing the Commission’s proposal. That is made even more likely because the draft is inspired by a compromise proposal put forward by Pascal Canfin, the chair of Parliament’s environment committee and one of Macron’s point men in Brussels.

“It’s never going to happen – the liberals and the right will never reject this,” quipped a Parliamentary source with knowledge of the matter. “It may be very cynical to say this, but in my view it’s going to go through. The Commission will make one or two amendments and it’s going to pass.”

In the end, the proposal might also be adopted thanks to votes from the 70 far-right MEPs from the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, whose members are likely to support nuclear and gas as a matter of national allegiance.

The ball is now in the court of the European Commission, which said it would table its final proposal before the end of January. “We will come forward with a proposal as soon as we can,” said Eric Mamer, the Commission’s chief spokesperson. “Obviously, we need a bit of time to analyse the reactions that we have received. So watch this space, as they say.”

Once the proposal is out, the Parliament and EU member states will have four months to review it. If neither of them can find a majority to kill it, the proposal will be adopted. If Parliament’s votes prove fatal, it’s back to the drawing board.

– Frédéric Simon


This week’s top stories

More stories:


News from the capitals 

VIENNA. Austria to pilot ‘green jobs’ for long-term unemployed. As the Austrian job market recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of long-term jobseekers has inspired a new pilot project to offer them “green jobs”. Read more.

PARIS. French agriculture minister manoeuvres review of pesticide residues onto EU agenda. The French agriculture minister’s ambitions to link the upcoming pesticides directive review with completely separate legislation on maximum residue limits has confused stakeholders, some of who see it as a covert way to overhaul the current framework on pesticide tolerances. Read the full story.

BERLIN. Activists block Berlin streets, decry food waste. Climate activists blocked several streets in the German capital during rush hour to demand more sustainable agriculture and reduced food waste. Many of the protesters were arrested by the police. Read more.

PRAGUE. Turów deal is illegal Czech experts warn. A newly drafted agreement between Czechia and Poland on the Turów coal mine violates EU law, Czech environment, and legal experts have warned. Read more.

LISBON. Sun in December, drought in January is the new normal in Portugal. Drought and lack of rain in winter are becoming the new norm in Portugal, environmental association Zero said on Thursday while calling for proper water management. Read more.

BELGRADE. Serbia urged to implement green energy law without delay. The World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Energy Community have urged Serbia not to delay implementation and not to amend the Law on the Use of Renewable Energy Sources – which they said is important for achieving the green transition of the country’s energy sector. Read more.

PRISTINA | ATHENS. Athens and Pristina discuss energy cooperation. Foreign Minister Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz met his colleague Nikos Dendias on Athens on Thursday and discussed how to strengthen relations between Athens and Pristina. “In this direction, moreover, we upgraded your office here in Athens last May, renaming it the “Kosovo Interest Office in Athens”, said Dendias. Read more.

STOCKHOLM. Swedish government to decide construction of spent nuclear fuel repository. The government this week will announce its decision regarding the construction in the northern Uppland region of a repository for nuclear fuel that has been removed after being used in a nuclear reactor. Read more.

PRAGUE. Prague seeks less dependency on Russian gas, plans stake in LNG terminal. The Czech government wants to buy a stake in an LNG terminal in a neighbouring country to diversify its energy supplies. With Germany and Poland being the only two neighbouring countries currently building LNG terminals, Czechia will likely favour cooperation with Berlin. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovak environment ministry to remove barriers for geothermal energy. Preparations are underway for a new environmental impact assessment (EIA) law, State secretary of the environment ministry, Michal Kiča, said. While having a lot of potential for heating, rules for developing geothermal energy currently face legislative barriers in Slovakia. Read more.

SKOPJE. National energy company takes over Skopje heating company. The state-owned ELEM/ESM energy company has formally taken over BEG – the main heating company in Skopje. BEG faces bankruptcy in the face of soaring gas prices and the regulated price they can charge from the 60,000 households they are supplying in Skopje. Read more.

TIRANA. Hydro plants suspended by Albanian high court sell power to state energy company. Two hydropower plants operated by Gener2 that were ordered by the High Court to stop operating pending the outcome of another court case have reportedly continued operating and are selling electricity to the state energy company. Read more.

WARSAW. EU Commission takes hard steps to make Poland pay Turów fines. The European Commission will deduct money from Poland’s allocation in the EU budget in response to the country’s refusal to comply with the EU Court of Justice’s ruling regarding the Turów mine, TVN24 TV station reported. Read more.


News in brief

Out of this world. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen joined German astronaut Matthias Maurer, who is onboard the International Space Station, for a #SpaceChat.

As part of the conversation, Maurer explained how the impact of climate change is visible from space. “From the International Space Station, we fly at a height of around 400 kilometres above our planet and 16 times a day we circle around our planet. We can observe a lot of details. We can see slash and burn forests, we can see droughts, so lakes that used to be on old maps we cannot see anymore. Glaciers that used to be much bigger on old maps or old astronauts tell us about, they’re now smaller. And we can also see that human mining puts a lot of scars into the surface of our planet,” he said. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

Left will vote against nuclear and gas in the taxonomy. The Left faction in the European Parliament held a meeting on Tuesday (25 January) to discuss their stance on the EU’s green finance taxonomy. After several hours of talks, the group decided they would reject the Commission’s proposal to label gas and nuclear as a “transitional” investment.

“The Left in the European Parliament cannot accept this complementary Delegated Act as it is proposed now,” the group told EURACTIV in an emailed statement. “The complementary act which aims to include nuclear and fossil gas energies into the sustainable finance framework is incompatible with the taxonomy regulation, the scientific recommendations, and the EU goal to be net zero by 2050 at the latest. We demand a Taxonomy that is science-based and not the result of political interest bargaining. We expect other groups to join us and object to the EU Commission sacrificing science for the sake of political expediency.” (Frédéric Simon  | EURACTIV.com)


Opinions


Upcoming events

3 FEBRUARY. EU methane regulation: how can policymakers raise ambition? Join Didier Holleaux from Eurogas and Dagmar Droogsma from the Environmental Defense Fund Europe to discuss how the EU can tackle energy sector methane emissions and reach its 2030 climate targets and the 2050 climate neutrality goal. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Environmental Defense Fund Europe)

9 FEBRUARY. Green steel: CBAM and ETS – do their current designs aid EU climate ambitions? Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss the impact of the CBAM and ETS mechanisms on the steel industry. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Eurofer)

22 FEBRUARY. (Re)constructing Europe: What challenges are Member States facing? The EU’s post-pandemic Green Recovery is laying the foundations for a new understanding of buildings and construction processes. The Commission aims to at least double building renovation rates in the next ten years and make sure renovations lead to higher energy and resource efficiency. Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss the new economic and environmental challenges for the construction sector, particularly for South-Eastern Europe. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Glavbolgarstroy)


On our radar

2 FEBRUARY. European Commission proposal to include nuclear and gas in the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy (tbc).

15 FEBRUARY. Proposal on sustainable corporate governance (tbc).

17 MARCH. Environment Council.

23 MARCH. Nature protection package: Revision of rules around sustainable use of pesticides and nature restoration targets.

30 MARCH. Circular economy package 1:

  • Sustainable products policy initiative, including a revision of the Ecodesign Directive
  • Review of the Construction Product Regulation
  • Proposal for a Regulation on substantiating environmental claims using the Product/ Organisation Environmental Footprint methods (green claims)
  • Strategy on sustainable textiles
  • Empowering consumers for the green transitition 

5 APRIL. Emissions and pollutants package:

  • Revision of the Industrial Emissions Directive and update of the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR)
  • Review of EU rules on fluorinated greenhouse gases
  • Regulation on substances that deplete the ozone layer
  • Development of post-Euro 6/VI emission standards for cars, vans, lorries and buses 

27 APRIL. New strategy on international energy engagement (tbc) 

27 JUNE. Energy Council.

28 JUNE. Environment Council.

20 JULY. Circular Economy Package 2:

  • Policy framework for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics
  • Review of the Packaging and packaging waste directive to reinforce the essential requirements for packaging and establish EU level packaging waste prevention measures and targets
  • Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment directive

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