24 May 2024, 15:00
Kira Taylor

Dispatch from the European Union

Photo: European Union.

The curtain is coming down on five years of EU energy and environment legislative drama. Since the 2019 “green wave” that helped put the spotlight on sustainable policy, dozens of laws have passed through the complex process of EU policy making and have taken their first steps into the real world. As we watch the final act draw to a close, two questions remain: what happens next in Brussels? And can this new green policy be implemented effectively?

***Our weekly Dispatches provide an overview of the most relevant recent and upcoming developments for the shift to climate neutrality in selected European countries, from policy and diplomacy to society and industry.

For a bird's-eye view of the country's climate-friendly transition, read the respective 'Guide to'.***

What’s in store for Brussels will become clearer after the European elections on 6-9 June. These will begin to set the scene for the next five years – the second half of the crucial decade in tackling climate change. The elections come as warnings about the severity of the climate crisis keep pounding on the door – EU climate change service Copernicus recently released data showing that last month was the hottest April on record globally, and the eleventh consecutive month that was the warmest on record for the respective month of the year.

But while green policies are a core topic of the elections, it’s not always to call for more action. In recent months, there has been backlash against environmental legislation, particularly that which affects agriculture. There are also differences in how political groups are talking about green topics in the run-up to the election, with some offering concrete pledges and others vaguer commitments, reports Euronews. Coming into the elections, groups also have different track records on green policy. NGOs have ranked them as The Protectors, The Procrastinators and The Prehistoric Thinkers as part of an EU Parliament Scoreboard that measures MEPs’ track record on climate, nature and pollution legislation.

On the implementation side, the baton has mostly been passed onto the EU member states. How ambitiously they will implement the new legislation is still in question. One big clue is in their updated National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) – you can find a tracker of these here. The European Commission has already called for more ambition, recently telling Bulgaria and Poland that they should do more. The final updated plans must be submitted to the Commission by 30 June 2024. The Green Deal will also be rolled out gradually over the next few years. For instance, legislation like the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) has already come into force in a trial phase but the actual levy won’t kick in until 2026. Meanwhile, we’ll only know for sure in 2030 whether the EU has met most of its climate targets.

Stories to watch in the weeks ahead

  • European elections: European citizens will head to the polls between 6 and 9 June to vote for the next European Parliament. This will send new and returning MEPs to Brussels and reveal the new majorities and kingmakers. It will also hint to what the next European Commission will look like.
  • Next Commission: All eyes are on Spain’s minister for the ecological transition Teresa Ribera potentially getting the top climate spot in a possible second term for Commission president Ursula von der Leyen from the German conservative CDU. This would put a Socialist, strongly in favour of the Nature Restoration Law, outspoken during the energy crisis and already speaking out against her potential new boss, in a key role in green policymaking and climate diplomacy.
  • Last chance for Nature Restoration Law? The member states’ environment ministers will meet on 17 June in what could be another make-or-break moment for the EU’s long-suffering Nature Restoration Law. The plan to revive Europe’s nature received final approval from the European Parliament in February, despite speculation it would be killed by right-wing groups. Now, member state governments need to give the final green light. However, a last minute change from Hungary helped tip the balance against the law. Eleven EU countries, led by Ireland, are trying to save it. If it is not approved in June, it will likely be passed onto the Hungarian presidency of the EU Council, leading to fears it will never be adopted.
  • Laws in the lurch: The Nature Restoration Law is not the only piece of legislation that risks never seeing the light of the day. What happens to the EU’s agriculture policy is also in question. The European Commission recently proposed rolling back some laws, something that has been approved by the European Parliament, and met with  an outcry among environmental organisations. The Energy Taxation Directive - part of the Fit for 55 package tabled in July 2021, which aimed to make the most polluting fossil fuels face higher taxes - is also at risk of falling into the post-election void.

The latest from EU policy making – last month in recap

  • One last push for renewables. The European Commission has tabled one final package to help improve renewables deployment in the EU. It includes further guidance on permitting, ways to improve auctions and steps to bring information about EU auctions together into one place. The wind industry welcomed this move and agreed with the Commission that measures like penalties for non-complete projects will help create successful auctions. However, they criticised the executive for not going further and telling EU countries to limit negative bidding, where companies have to pay for the right to build a wind farm, which creates additional costs.
  • EU breaks renewables records. Wind overtook gas to become the second-largest source of electricity in the EU in 2023, according to a new report from think tank Ember. Its Global Electricity Review shows that wind’s role in EU power production was more than twice the global average, hitting 17.5 percent of electricity generation, compared to the global average of 7.8 percent. The EU also contributed 17 percent of the global growth in solar and wind in 2023 and, over the past ten years, has seen the second-largest decline in coal generation after the United States.
  • MEPs’ last chance to pass green laws. The final meeting of the whole European Parliament took place in April in Strasbourg. Lawmakers tried to pull a few green laws into the clear as they went. That includes giving their final approval for a law to boost net zero technology, a law on ensuring human rights and environmental protection in EU supply chains and on improving air quality. Circular economy legislation, like the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation and a law on the right to repair also made it under the wire. However, none of these have been finally agreed by EU countries, meaning they are not out of the woods, yet. The European Parliament also approved the EU’s exit from the controversial Energy Charter Treaty, which is meant to protect foreign investments in energy infrastructure, but has been criticised for shielding fossil fuels.
  • Is the EU ready to sanction Russian gas? The European Union has floated the idea of sanctioning imports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG). The bloc has banned imports of some Russian fossil fuels, like oil and coal, but has so far veered away from gas. In general, the EU is in a better position now than it was two years ago when it comes to its gas security. It has massively decreased its dependence on Russian pipeline gas, but imports of Russian LNG have increased. The sanctions have to be approved by all EU countries, meaning Hungary could, once again, cause trouble, Politico warns.
  • Cracking down on green claims. The European Commission has warned 20 airlines that they need to clean up their act regarding misleading green claims and align their practices with EU consumer law within 30 days of being notified. The criticised practices include claiming that the airline is moving towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions without verifiable commitments and giving an incorrect impression about additional payments for greener flying.

Kira’s picks - Highlights from upcoming events and top reads

  • The European Green Deal is under pressure ahead of the European elections, reports the Financial Times’ Alice Hancock.
  • Politico’s journalists take a look at the EU’s idea to sanction imports of Russian LNG and how Hungary may stand in the way.
  • In this podcast, Sam Morgan explores the EU’s push to rid the aviation industry of greenwashing.
  • 11-13 June: EU Sustainable Energy Week will take place just days after the European elections, both in-person and online. Packed with events looking at different aspects of the European Green Deal, it is set to provide the first forum for discussing what the will of the people means for EU climate and energy policy.

Useful election resources:

  • Euronews has an explainer on how the EU elections work and an overview of where different political groups stand on the European Green Deal.
  • Politico has polling data showing the trends of the last few months and Euronews has an interactive poll you can use to see different trends, including country-by-country predictions. The European Parliament has also got stats on the upcoming election, including how many people are expected to vote.
  • And a tiny bit of self-promotion: on 10 June, Clean Energy Wire will be hosting its first CLEW Press Club. Together with journalists from France, Poland and Brussels, they will analyse the outcome of the European elections and what comes next for climate and energy. (More info here soon.)
All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.
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