Timmermans promises green recovery to EU lawmakers

First Vice-President of European Commission Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands delivers his speech during the debate on sustainable investment plan, just transition fund and Roadmap on Social Europe at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 14 January 2020. [EPA-EFE | Patrick Seeger]

The European Commission’s Green Deal chief, Frans Timmermans, assured EU lawmakers on Tuesday (21 April) that “every euro” spent on economic recovery measures after the COVID-19 crisis would be linked to the green and digital transitions. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“Every euro we invest must flow into a new economy rather than old structures. We must avoid that at all costs,” he told the European Parliament’s environment committee during a video conference.

“The European Green Deal is a growth strategy and a winning strategy,” the Dutchman said on Twitter after the meeting.

The exchange with Parliament took place two days before EU heads of state and government hold a video summit to agree a recovery plan after the coronavirus crisis.

A proposed “roadmap for recovery” was circulated ahead of the summit by European Council President Charles Michel and the European Commission. It says “the Green transition and the Digital transformation will play a central and priority role in relaunching and modernising our economy.”

This will include a “European Recovery Fund” to be financed by the EU budget although details on finance still need to be fleshed out by European leaders at the summit.

“The European Union needs a Marshall Plan-type investment effort to fuel the recovery and modernise the economy,” the roadmap says, adding: “This means investing massively in the Green and Digital transitions and the circular economy”.

Von der Leyen: 'We now need to build a resilient, green, and digital Europe'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen believes the “real Europe is standing up” to the coronavirus crisis now. In a written interview with EURACTIV’s media partner Efe, she spoke about a broad range of issues, from the challenges facing the Eurogroup earlier this month to the expectations for the summit of European leaders this week.

The European Commission is currently working on a recovery plan for Europe and intends to present a new proposal on 29 April for the EU’s seven-year budget, known as the multi-annual financial framework (MFF).

But Green MEP Bas Eickhout expressed concerns during the Parliament meeting, saying “we are worried that the debate on the EU budget will focus more on extrapolating the necessary investments instead of making the MFF really greener.”

During the exchange with MEPs, Timmermans stressed that the EU climate law would play a key role in Europe’s economic regeneration after the pandemic.

“We can help after the crisis, for example by installing more solar panels, helping families buy new and clean cars or by ensuring farmers work in a more environmentally friendly way. But for that we need the discipline of a climate law,” Timmermans said.

As planned, an impact assessment on the EU’s updated 2030 climate targets should be available by September, which according to Timmermans, will incorporate the latest economic data. The Dutchman said he was exerting maximum pressure within the Commission to ensure that the timetable is met.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the Commission is currently in the process of re-arranging its work programme for 2020. The farm-to-fork and biodiversity strategies, which were initially due to be presented at the end of March, were later postponed until 29 April and will likely suffer further delays.

However Timmermans assured EU lawmakers that it will take “not months but a few weeks” to present both initiatives.

Which world do we want after COVID-19?

The coronavirus crisis has caused a lot of suffering and uncertainty, but its aftermath offers us an opportunity to break with old habits and build a circular, sustainable and highly competitive economy, write Frans Timmermans and Bertrand Piccard.

Timmermans rejects lobbying demands

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, some MEPs have called for postponing or suspending some environmental laws.

Italian far-right MEP Silvia Sardone was among them. “Numerous companies are closing, many people do not know what to do next and you want to talk about plastic cups or whether we should raise our climate targets to 50% or 55%,” she told Timmermans during the exchange.

Several business groups have called for environmental laws to be relaxed or delayed during the pandemic. In a letter sent two weeks ago, EU employers’ group BusinessEurope called for all “non-essential” elements of the Green Deal to be postponed, including the climate change bill, a tightening of emission limits for industry or the reform of the EU’s carbon trading scheme, the ETS.

The trade association European Plastics Converters (EuPC) has also recently approached the Commission and pleaded for postponing the ban on disposable plastics.

“I was not at all pleased about these letters,” said Timmermans.

EU dismisses industry calls to lift ban on single-use plastics

Deadlines have to be respected, says the European Commission in response to calls by industry to lift an EU-wide ban on some single-use plastic items because of health and hygiene concerns raised during the COVID-19 outbreak.

BusinessEurope later sought to clarify its position, telling EURACTIV it was not opposed to the Green Deal.

“Our view is that the Green Deal is essential for Europe’s recovery and its long-term economic competitiveness,” said Peter Sennekamp, communications director at BusinessEurope.

“We are not calling to postpone any of the Green Deal ambitions, but simply to extend some of the deadlines for the consultations that are ongoing. If these consultation deadlines are extended by a few months, then this would not endanger the whole timeline of the Green Deal,” he told EURACTIV in emailed comments.

Meanwhile in Germany, an alliance of 189 companies, industry associations, think tanks and NGOs have sent a letter to German Chancellor Merkel and other ministers on Monday (20 April), calling for a green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

In the letter, they call for economic reconstruction during the pandemic to be based on climate goals and to ensure plans for an energy transition are secured.

“They have it in their hands to use the forced economic pause caused by COVID-19 for a sustainable restart of our economy. Germany must play a pioneering role in Europe and the world in this respect,” the letter states.

Numerous calls are currently being launched internationally to press for compliance with the European Green Deal despite the economic recession. These include a letter signed by the environment ministers of 13 EU member states and the so-called ‘Green Recovery Alliance’, which consists of 79 MEPs and dozens of business associations, NGOs and think tanks.

'Green recovery alliance' launched in European Parliament

An informal alliance has been launched in the European Parliament on the back of calls from 12 EU environment ministers who have signed an appeal for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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