In just five years, the European Union has witnessed a significant shift in public sentiment towards environmental policies. During the 2019 EU elections, hundreds of thousands of people across the 27-nation bloc took to the streets to demand action against climate change. However, as the EU gears up for this year’s elections, farmers are now protesting in the streets, calling for fewer green regulations, and politicians are in no position to ignore their demands.
This change in the political landscape regarding environmental protection is casting a shadow over the upcoming EU Parliament elections in June, even as the effects of climate change lead to more severe and costly extreme weather events.
French EU lawmaker Pascal Canfin acknowledges, “There is a clear backlash on the agriculture part of the Green Deal.” However, he also points out that this backlash does not extend to other aspects of the Green Deal.
To address the concerns of farmers who are protesting against low food prices and stringent EU environmental standards, the EU recently relaxed environmental regulations related to fallow land. Additionally, France paused its national pesticide reduction policy. However, the broader vision of the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ to combat climate change remains intact, supported by over two dozen laws passed in the last five years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the primary drivers of climate change.
While the existing policies are unlikely to be repealed, the EU’s recent attempts to integrate more comprehensive environmental policies into the package have faced resistance. In recent months, EU countries and lawmakers have either rejected or weakened new laws related to industrial pollution, pesticide use reduction, and habitat restoration.
Peter Liese, a renowned lawmaker from the centre-right European People’s Party, the largest political group in the EU Parliament, suggests, “We shouldn’t mix environment and climate. If we want to be carbon-neutral and maintain industrialization, we cannot tackle everything simultaneously.”
The next crucial test of the political climate comes with an EU proposal set to be recommended on Tuesday. The European Commission is expected to propose an ambitious goal of achieving a 90% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. This target aims to promote green jobs and low-carbon industries but will require approval from the next EU Parliament after the upcoming elections.
Concerns arise as polls indicate a potential increase in seats for far-right and right-leaning parties that oppose climate policies. EU officials also worry about dwindling support for ambitious green laws among EU member states due to recent elections in Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
While a majority of Europeans support aggressive action against climate change, surveys reveal that many are concerned about the associated costs. Proponents of green policies argue that halting climate action could ultimately be more expensive, as worsening climate change would lead to more devastating floods and wildfires, resulting in economic losses.
Bulgaria’s climate minister, Julian Popov, emphasizes that the belief that lower environmental ambition leads to better competitiveness is a misconception. Green policies are seen as essential to establishing a technological advantage that will enable EU industries to compete with global rivals, particularly China.
With CO2 emissions policies in place until 2030, the new EU Parliament and Commission, formed after the elections, will need to focus on plans for reducing CO2 emissions beyond 2030. For this, a concrete plan needs to be devised for faster emissions reductions in industries and agriculture, sectors that face challenges related to high energy prices and international competition.
Irish climate minister Eamon Ryan underscores the importance of the industry’s competitiveness and the role of climate policies in ensuring it. He emphasizes that it’s a real issue, and every vote in the upcoming elections will matter in determining the path forward for Europe’s climate policies.