Strong message, little substance on climate by new EU Commission head – reactions
European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has sent a strong message on climate action by putting a proposed “European Green Deal” at the top of her list of priorities, but her plan’s details remain vague and are often nothing new, according to first reactions to her election.
Some of von der Leyen’s climate plans might be ambitious, but they are nothing new, writes Ingo Arzt in an opinion piece in tageszeitung (taz). The idea of a Green New Deal has existed in the US for more than a decade, climate neutrality by 2050 is already the goal of the current Commission, as well as of most EU governments, and raising the bloc’s 2030 emission reduction target has been on the table for a while. A possible carbon border tax – long supported by French President Emmanuel Macron – could prove the most meaningful proposal, writes Arzt. “If von der Leyen wants to implement the border tax, she would have to turn the rules of world trade upside down, renegotiate existing free trade agreements; Europe would have to take on the USA and China.”
The German conservative’s climate plans are “almost sure to put pressure on the federal German government for a faster coal exit”, writes Thomas Vitzthum in an opinion for Die Welt. “The high CO₂ emissions from German coal-fired power generation must be an issue in the EU climate plan.”
Von der Leyen’s future Commission has to make the Union “more social, democratic, female and climate-friendly”, writes Andreas Schwarzkopf in an opinion piece in Frankfurter Rundschau. On climate action, “it is not enough anymore to just commit to existing goals”. Instruments such as a price on CO₂ emissions “must not only be promised, but actually be introduced,” writes Schwarzkopf.
British Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans says that regardless of the details on climate action plans, it was “striking” to see that von der Leyen had made a European Green Deal her top priority.
Von der Leyen’s Green Deal must now be “filled with life” and has the potential to become “a real ideal for Europe”, says Simone Peter, president of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE). “If climate protection and CO2 reduction across all sectors credibly become the goal of European and national policy, this will create planning and investment security for European companies and provide incentives to enter into future-oriented technologies,” she adds.
Thilo Brodtmann, executive director of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA), says von der Leyen deserved the support of the pro-European forces in the European Parliament. “From the industry's point of view, these include the completion of the Digital Single Market, a determined trade policy and transparent and global approaches to climate policy issues.”
Lawmakers in the European Parliament backed the former German defence minister as European Commission president by a slim majority. Ahead of the vote, she had put climate policy front and centre of her pitch to parliamentarians, promising a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office, including a continent-wide "climate law" to enshrine the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 into law. Until now, climate and energy policy has never been her brief or the focus of her political engagement.