The Russian war against Ukraine is shifting political priorities and changing the balance of power in the EU. The European Parliament is revolting against the Commission’s ambitious climate targets.
The impact of the Fit for 55 package on citizens’ wallets has long been viewed with suspicion by many national governments. Who can still pay the energy prices?
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What consequences do they have for jobs and wages? MEPs and governments feel what voters think about climate policy more directly than the Commission.
With its resistance to the additional burden on private households through “Fit for 55”, the parliament is changing from being a driver to a brake on climate protection. And in terms of power politics, there is a change of alliance.
The EU has three centers of power that have to come to an agreement: the Commission, the Parliament and the European Council, which represents the member states.
As a rule, the Commission and the parliamentary majority pursue the common goal of shifting more power to Brussels and urging the EU states to adopt more progressive policies. The Council defends the influence of national governments and puts the brakes on it. In climate policy, however, Parliament and the Council are now joining forces against the Commission.
The war has intensified the dispute over the pace of climate protection. The countries of the world are far from achieving the agreed reduction in pollutants. This also applies to Europe, which is doing more than the USA.
But big polluters like China, Russia and Arab oil states are wiping out what progress western economies are making. Under this impression, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her Deputy Frans Timmermans fought for faster and higher pricing in 2021 – not only for the economy, but also for private households.
The EU should be a role model. Climate protection, economic success and a comfortable everyday life are not opposites. What they planned in the “Fit for 55” package was already going too far for many in the EU at the time.
Protest movements like the “yellow vests” in France showed the social explosive power. But the climate protectionists retained the upper hand, at least in the Commission and the relevant parliamentary committees.
However, when the market prices for energy rose drastically in autumn and winter, many national governments began to thwart the EU strategy of a politically desired further increase in prices. They lowered the national tax rates on energy, canceled electricity taxes, and in some cases even imposed state caps on the price of gas.
At the turn of the year, more than 20 of the 27 EU members did so. In the meantime, Berlin has also decided on a tank discount and other benefits.
Reducing dependency on Russia is now a priority. It costs. The priority for climate protection has become a priority for social peace.
The European Parliament cannot ignore this change of mood. The major party families from the centre-left to the centre-right agree: more burdens would overwhelm many citizens.
They are now plucking out “Fit for 55” and taking out, for example, the hard-won inclusion of private households in emissions trading. In the “trialogue” procedure – the agreement on a compromise between the Commission, Parliament and the Council of National Governments – further cuts will be made to climate protection.
This development will exacerbate the conflict between climate protectionists and social politicians. The climate protectors are angry that first the pandemic and now the war have pushed their concerns into the background, although the climate reports show no improvement. They call for a tightening of the goals and measures.
Most governments in Europe have opted for the opposite course. Parliament’s revolt against the Commission is a warning: all power emanates from the people.
It is not enough to convince a powerful authority like the Commission of the need for stricter climate protection. The voters are the deciding factor. Also in the EU.