Thursday, June 13, 2024

Rise of the Right threatens EU net zero ambitions

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It was a flagship policy for Ursula von der Leyen, who was narrowly approved by just nine votes as European Commission president by the parliament.

Mrs Von der Leyen, the lead candidate for the centre-Right European People’s Party (EPP) is now hoping for a second five-year term as boss of the EU executive.

As green issues became an election battleground, the EPP, fearful of losing ground to the hard-Right, successfully called for a weakening of strict EU protections for the wolf.

It narrowly failed to torpedo the bloc’s nature restoration biodiversity law last year but watered it down significantly.

The EPP has also vowed to reverse the EU ban on combustion-engine cars as soon as possible.

John Hyland, the Greenpeace EU spokesman, said: “Von der Leyen’s party has spent the last two years flirting with the far-Right, blocking and scrapping laws that would protect nature and work towards a safe climate.”

After tractor protests hit Brussels in February, Mrs Von der Leyen caved in.

The commission ditched green proposals to halve pesticide use, cut agricultural emissions and a call for citizens to eat less meat.

Tractors returned to Brussels this week in what the Greens branded a “far-Right event”.

‘Farmers have been fed a lie’

“I know nothing about what a politician does, but they also don’t know what farmers do either,” Bart Dickens, a Belgian beef farmer, told The Telegraph.

“We have to move to the Right. I’m sure of it. With the Left, everything is like flower power, but that’s not real life.”

Bas Eickhout, the lead candidate for the Greens, said: “The far-Right has been feeding farmers with the lie that Europe, and the Green Deal, are to blame for their hardship.” 

The Greens’ nightmare scenario is the EPP entering into a post-election alliance with the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group or even the hard-Right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, although it is seen as deeply toxic.

An ECR and ID alliance would be the second largest group in the parliament behind the EPP.

Mrs Von der Leyen has refused to rule out a Right-wing pact with the ECR, which would end the informal grand coalition of centrist pro-EU parties that has always run the co-legislating parliament.

The Greens have threatened to vote against her reappointment if she makes a deal with the ECR but that would be entirely symbolic.

A majority Right-wing parliament could amend new climate legislation but also weaken existing laws as they come up for review.

A law banning the sale of  beef, soy, palm oil, wood, rubber, coffee and chocolate from deforestation areas was passed last year. Some governments are already calling for implementation to be delayed.

It is up for review by the end of 2024 and 2025 to see if it can be extended to woodland and later other ecosystems such as wetlands.

The EU’s target of a 90 per cent net emissions reduction is also under threat. Energy efficiency and renewable targets are up for review in 2027, as are rules for the energy performance of buildings in 2028.

Prof Frank Furedi, director of the conservative MMC think tank, said: “A lot of these policies on net zero have been invented in the boardrooms of EU politicians without consideration of their impact on ordinary people.

“Most ordinary people think the green agenda is something that is alien to their lives and undermines their living standards.”

There have been some late glimmers of hope for the Greens.

In the Netherlands, the birthplace of the farmers’ movement, exit polls showed Geert Wilders coming a narrow second to an alliance of Green and Left-wing parties led by ex-EU climate tsar Frans Timmermans.

His single-seat victory has bolstered hopes that the centre could hold off the hard-Right challenge, which some polls hint at.

“Even if the far-Right doesn’t gain political control of the EU project, it will certainly gain, due to its record-high number of seats, some profound, potentially destabilising, political influence,” said Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet professor in EU law at HEC Paris Business School.

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