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Green groups give cautious thumbs up to EU’s new strategic agenda

Outgoing European Council president Charles Michel after the summit of EU leaders on 27 June 2024,
Outgoing European Council president Charles Michel after the summit of EU leaders on 27 June 2024, Copyright European Union
Copyright European Union
By Robert Hodgson
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EU leaders have retained a prominent role for environmental policy in the next five-year political cycle, and put the instigator of the Green Deal Ursula von der Leyen forward for a second term as president of the European Commission.


Relief tempered with caution was the response from Brussels-based campaigners to last night's agreement on the EU’s five-year strategic agenda, and its recognition of a triple environmental crisis.

But some appear concerned by the possible impact of an overarching commitment by the European Council to boost Europe’s competitiveness and industrial base.

“Our natural environment is facing increasing damage and disruption due to climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution,” heads of government acknowledged near the top of their document, which is intended to inform the policy making of the new European Commission set to take office in the autumn.

Early drafts of the policy guidance, leaked as it worked its way through back-room diplomatic talks, contained scant reference to environment policy, causing alarm among NGOs who feared it was being buried under concerns over global competitiveness and military standing.

But recognising a problem is not the same as solving it, as several groups pointed out this morning. The WWF noted a commitment to “ambitiously reduce the bureaucratic and regulatory burden at all levels”.

“Previous attempts to simplify legislation have often weakened environmental rules and standards that are designed to protect people and the nature we all rely on,” said Ester Asin, directors of the campaign group’s European policy office.

The EU leaders’ references to furthering the EU’s transition to a low-carbon and more “circular and resource efficient economy", which – combined with the agreement to put the figurehead of the Green Deal Ursula von der Leyen forward for a second term as Commission president – was interpreted by climate think tank E3G as a signal of “stability on the EU’s green transition”.

“They’ll next need to align on the EU’s 2040 climate target and an investment package to deliver on their commitment to serve Europeans,” said executive director Manon Dufour.

E3G also said it would scrutinise the political priorities von der Leyen sets out before facing a European Parliament vote on her candidacy.

It remains to be seen whether the Greens in the European Parliament, who have unsurprisingly made environmental topics a condition for supporting von der Leyen’s candidacy, will be invited to join an informal coalition of the European People’s Party, Socialist & Democrats and liberal Renew groups - whose majority relies on near unanimity within their diverse ranks of MEPs.

Others were less reassured by the European Council’s declaration of political intent. BirdLife Europe policy manager Anouk Puymartin said leaders had failed to recognise the triple crisis of climate, biodiversity and pollution as the main threat to Europe’s security and urged von der Leyen to “resist any backtracking”.

“The EU's competitiveness, security, and economic resilience depend entirely on our ability to accelerate the ecological transition and tackle the crisis head-on,” Puymartin said. “We now call on the candidate for Commission President ... to continue the legacy of the European Green Deal.”

The Greens are pushing the idea of a grand EU green industrial strategy, in a bid to forge links with those concerned about economic growth and competitiveness. Allied NGOs are also increasingly drawing a connection between the environment and issues around which rising public concern dramatically impacted the recent EU elections.

“If immediate action is not taken, these crises will further erode the EU's economy and diminish its global competitiveness,” said Anaïs Berthier. head of legal charity ClientEarth’s Brussels office. “They will also compromise our energy independence, exacerbate public health issues, and trigger unprecedented waves of forced migration.”

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