Vulcan Insight

European Commission proposes first climate law, but accused of surrendering

6 March 2020

On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her Vice President Frans Timmermans presented the EU’s plan to legally enshrine making Europe climate neutral by 2050.

Since her appointment last year, von der Leyen pledged to define her 5-year term by working towards making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. To achieve that von der Leyen, in her political guidelines, promised to propose a European Green Deal and a European Climate Law within her first 100 days in office.

With only 5 days to spare and surrounded by great anticipation and an audience with teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, the Commission’s senior leadership published its proposal.

Despite the Commission’s green pledges, its proposed climate law was received with widespread criticism, with Thunberg calling it a “surrender” at an extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament’s environment committee.

With the European Union committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, Wednesday’s proposal aims to legally enshrine that date and set out a pathway and monitoring process. In addition, Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, also proposed to use technical delegated acts to increase climate targets. The technical measure which allows the Commission to reduce the role of national governments and MEPs in the decision-making process, however, is set to be received with considerable opposition from member states.

This pathway would, according to the Commission plan, involve a revision of the 2030 EU target based on a comprehensive impact assessment and member states’ national energy and climate plans (NCEPs) by September of this year. Yet, 3 months after the deadline, 6 member states, including Germany, France and Ireland, are yet to submit their NCEPs to the Commission.

The Commission’s failure to increase the EU’s climate goals for 2030, was received with consternation and bewilderment by Thunberg and MEPs in the Parliament’s Environment committee, with many MEPs disappointed at the perceived lack of ambition and political will. Speaking to a crowded meeting room in the context of the Parliament’s approval of a controversial list that included support for fossil fuel projects, Ms. Thunberg accused policy makers of “surrendering” the future and “pretending [to] be a climate leader [while] building and subsidising new fossil fuel infrastructure”.

As a next step, as is the case with any EU legislation, both MEPs and member states will now have to agree on their respective negotiating positions before having to find a common final compromise text. Considering their immediate feedback, MEPs are set to call for stronger 2030 targets and a more ambitious way of getting there.