This article is part of our special report Greening the CAP.
Earmarking too large a chunk of the European Union’s cohesion funds for environmental projects in the 2014-2020 budget could be "detrimental", MEPs said.
Representatives of member states and MEPs have started bargaining their share of the next EU multi-annual budget and are expected to reach agreement by the end of the year, but tough talks foretell the now traditional delay.
Fissures are already appearing in discussions in the European Parliament, where some MEPS contend that protecting the environment is not the primary function of regional funds – putting them at odds with Commission efforts to merge the budget with Europe’s 2020 goals.
"There are differences between climate change policy and cohesion policy," said German MEP Constanze Krehl (Socialists and Democrats).
Krehl, who is in charge of cohesion policy for the European Parliament, said MEPs give their full support to the fight against climate change, but that their purposes should remain separate.
“Cohesion policy aims at reducing disparities between the regions at economical and social and territorial level – this idea prevails,” she said.
Polish MEP Jan Olbrycht (European People’s Party) agreed that cutting carbon dioxide emissions “is not the first aim of the cohesion policy”.
He said relating it strictly to climate-related actions leaves member states little room for manoeuvre. Whilst low carbon and energy efficiency are important, countries should be given the flexibility to decide how to spend their resources, he said.
Increasing the number of conditions under which funds can be disbursed would also hinder the application process for EU money, MEPs said, complaining about the already existing “rigidity”. They prefer to give member states the “flexibility” or freedom to choose how “they can develop in the best way possible”.
“I am concerned that the regions would not have enough flexibility to reflect their needs. Within the legislative package, we have very strict quotas for example for energy efficiency,” Krehl said.
German MEP Elisabeth Schroedte (Germany) asked for balancing objectives, saying that the Parliament could indeed make sure that several policies, not just one, are used to achieve the EU’s 2020 goals.
But activists claim this debate is just another manifestation of "the old growth before environment dualism”.
“It's time to move towards the win-win that comes from investments in the green economy, as provided for by climate proofing the EU budget,” said Markus Trilling, EU budget expert for Friends of the Earth Europe and Central and Eastern Europe Bankwatch.
The position of the Commission itself is that the EU budget should create stricter conditions for accessing funds so that investments are made for adaptation to climate change. This strategy eyes more than just one economic activity and is meant to improve overall energy efficiency, use of renewable energy sources and related infrastructure.
Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action, has repeatedly said that this EU budget is greener than it has ever been. Hedegaard recently addressed the members of the regional development committee in the European Parliament to get their support for the ambitions stated in the Commission proposal, which says:
“The Commission intends to increase the proportion [to green project] to at least 20%, with contribution from different policies, subject to impact assessment evidence.”
Budget money to be chipped
The targeted 20% would be sourced mainly from cohesion, research and agricultural funds.
Cohesion, energy and transport policies are “highly climate-relevant”, the Commission says in its policy papers for the 2014-2020 budget. It asks for cohesion funds to be distributed under strengthened conditionality, with a strong focus on results.
Research and innovation funds will also be reorganised so that they foster a growth of low-carbon technologies.
Plus, one of the largest chunks of the EU budget that will be focused on climate is the Common Agricultural Policy. Under the current proposal for a “green” makeover of the agriculture funds, up to 30% of payments to farmers will be given on compliance with “a number of sound environmental practices”.
“Missing the opportunity to earmark 20% of the EU budget for low-carbon measures, coupled with the know-how and advice of a progressive Commission, is short-sighted and irresponsible,” said Trilling.