08 May 2019, 13:35
Julian Wettengel

European Commission President candidates clash over CO₂ tax

Clean Energy Wire / ARD

Germany's Manfred Weber and the Netherlands' Frans Timmermans – the two most likely candidates succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President – clashed over the question whether the EU should introduce a carbon tax to protect the climate. In a TV debate on German public broadcaster ARD, Timmermans, lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists (PES), said: “We absolutely – and urgently – need a carbon tax at the European level.” He said as president he would introduce a programme for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050. Weber, who heads the European People's Party (EPP) bloc of conservative parties in the European Parliament, said that the economy and people’s jobs have to be taken into account in climate action. “You must understand a CO₂ tax sounds good, but it means higher petrol prices and higher heating oil prices for the poorest in society. That’s why we can’t solve [the problem] via taxes,” Weber said, and instead called for innovation. Timmermans also argued for a kerosene tax to offset the tax advantage for climate-damaging air travel. Weber said that the unequal tax treatment of rail, car and air travel must be ended. 

Citizens across Europe will cast their ballots in the elections for the next European Parliament from 23 to 26 May. According to recent polls, the EPP is likely to remain the strongest group in the next parliament. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the PES' political group in the European Parliament, would come in second. In recent years, European institutions have become a key driver of climate policy, setting emissions targets as national governments like Germany stall in their climate efforts, and taking the lead in international climate negotiations as the US has stepped back. Climate protection has become a major issue in the election campaign. On the one hand, rightwing populist parties could introduce a new climate skepticism to the European Parliament. On the other hand, the Fridays for Future student movement is demanding more ambitious climate action. After shying away from the debate for a long time, the governing parties and Chancellor Angela Merkel herself have recently announced a willingness to look into CO2 pricing as a means of reaching Germany’s 2030 climate targets.

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