Since Ursula von der Leyen was elected new Commission president, she has been underlining her priority for a sustainable climate policy. An important lever to achieve this is the future EU budget 2021-2027, which has to be adopted by the end of 2020 at the latest. For this purpose, AK Europa and ÖGB Europabüro hosted an event on 9th September to discuss the question, which contribution the EU budget can make in the fight against climate change.
In her keynote, Margit Schratzenstaller (WIFO) emphasised the importance of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) as a “key lever” to implement a progressive climate policy. However, one should not lose sight of the fact that the EU budget affects numerous sectors. A look at the current Multiannual Financial Framework illustrates, where the future “MFF+” bears room for improvment: it is of vital importance to reallocate climate-damaging subsidies. The financial restructuring concerns in particular the Common Agricultural Policy. Its share of the current Financial Framework is a hefty 39 %. Only a quarter of this money benefits sustainable agriculture – reallocation and control would facilitate a ‘greening’ of this pillar. In turn, fossil fuels should no longer be subsidised. The second major budget item concerns the cohesion policy. Its priorities are also heavily targeted to support infrastructure projects, which are often lacking an ecological and climate-friendly dimension. Another part of the jigsaw is the reform of the EU’s own resources. Based on a plastic tax, the revenues from emission allowance trading and the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base a green European added value could be possible.
Günther Sidl, newly elected Member of the European Parliament (SPÖ) emphasised the momentum of the event and urged not to lose sight of the feasibility of all proposals. The order of the day should be to safeguard credibility and to boldly implement the required measures. After all, budget issues are always a matter of negotiations provoking resistance. Sustainable climate policy should be treated as a horizontal issue. Sidl also mentioned misdirected subsidies in agriculture. Furthermore, it is important to give high priority to the social compatibility of measures, as well as to regional disparities and the needs of particularly thinned-out regions. Sidl urged to present citizens with concrete offers, such as expanding or subsidising local public transport in return for the proposed taxes on emissions. Sidl also emphasised the role of the Member States – after all, a good Multiannual Financial Framework depends on the goodwill of the Member States.
Samuel Kenny, Transport & Environment, emphasised that the EU budget consists of public money, which has to be used accordingly to retain and develop the common good. In this context, he proposed a kerosene tax, which is long overdue. Kenny also criticised that only 20 % of the budget had been set aside for climate-friendly measures and asked what happened to the other 80 %. In view of mobility, the target clearly has to be zero emission mobility.
Bernhard Windisch, representative of the Commission, reacted to this by questioning the emphasis on only 20 % of the funds having been allocated to climate-relevant measures. The Multiannual Financial Framework would fund expenditure, which, according to Windisch, would not affect the climate; however, it would make a worthwhile contribution to cohesion – for example money, which is dedicated to migration or to the ERASMUS Programme. A narrow definition of climate-friendly vs. climate-damaging (hence 20 % to 80 %) would do little for the discussion.
Frank Ey completed the panel by introducing the perspective of employees. The massive impact of climate change on working conditions and jobs has to be part of the debate – people working in the tourism sector would be particularly affected. He summarized that many good political approaches already existed, such as the European Pillar of Social Rights or the work of the European Economic and Social Committee. It is urgent to apply the Golden Investment Rule and to get rid of relevant stumbling blocks such as the deficit limit. He pointed out that it was vital that European climate targets also featured in European trade relations. With a view to the Mercosur Agreement, one had to ensure that the prioritisation of a sustainable policy is reflected in trade agreements with third countries.
European Green Deal as a priority of the new Commission
The European Green Deal is one of the primary priorities of the Commission. This has not only been made clear in recent speeches of the new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, but has also been confirmed by the fact that the Dutch Social Democrat Frans Timmermans, the designated first executive Vice President, will assume this agenda. However, the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 is of crucial importance to enable the implementation of this “green deal” and to create the announced sustainability change. The Commission aims at completing the negotiations by the end of 2019; however, observers work on the assumption that the currently still widely divergent positions of the Member States will make a completion only possible during the coming year.