The EU is being forced to delay parts of its green agenda as it confronts political headwinds ahead of next June’s European elections.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, told journalists on Monday the bloc needed to assess its capacity to absorb the large number of new laws in the pipeline, including in the area of the EU’s climate agenda.
However, she insisted it had made “amazing progress” with its Green Deal legislation, which includes dozens of proposals covering all aspects of the economy and is designed to push the EU to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Von der Leyen was speaking after French president Emmanuel Macron called during a speech in Paris last week for a “regulatory break” on EU green law to allow industry to digest the large quantity of regulation recently pushed through.
With European elections looming in early June 2024, EU legislators are facing increasingly difficult political terrain and time constraints as they seek to enact far-reaching rules aimed at addressing climate change and protecting Europe’s natural environment.
The conservative European People’s party, the largest in the European parliament, has in recent weeks rejected initiatives on rewilding degraded land and seabeds and cutting pesticide use as it responds to a backlash from farmers. Manfred Weber, the group’s leader, said on Monday that he welcomed Von der Leyen’s decision “to reflect on the scope and speed of this process. If climate wins and the rest of society loses we will not achieve net zero”.
A series of proposals by Brussels, including measures on methane emissions and packaging waste, have yet to be approved by the parliament and member states.
Several of the proposals, including efforts to make the EU’s existing buildings climate neutral and phase out the internal combustion engine, have prompted heated debate among the bloc’s 27 member states. Citing the buildings directive in March, Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, said the EU’s growing environmental push risked “damaging our economic fabric”.
Other proposals concerning microplastics and improving soil quality that have yet to be publicly announced by the commission are likely to be delayed when Brussels updates its policy agenda this month, according to three people with knowledge of the plans.
One EU official said some of the potential hold-ups were due to the complexity of the regulations, which would govern technical areas of climate law such as nitrogen and phosphorus cycles in the earth.
The commission said that work on the Green Deal law was “ongoing” and it was up to the parliament and member states to “continue the work”.
Farmers in particular have rebelled against several measures, arguing they would reduce crop yields and incomes. Industries have also pushed back against the level of compliance required, arguing that they were becoming uncompetitive in the global market.
“We call it the tsunami of legislative proposals because that is how it feels,” said Malte Lohan, director-general of Orgalim, the European manufacturing sector trade body. “On balance, what the commission has done . . . has not helped the competitiveness of industry.”
However, some commissioners and political parties are resisting the pressure to pare back the environmental agenda.
Pascal Canfin, a French liberal who chairs the parliament’s environment committee, said the capacity to absorb legislation was not in question but the “political will” to push it through was. The EPP, von der Leyen’s own political group, was “being radicalised on an anti-Green Deal position”, he said.
Canfin said Macron’s supporters had been “very surprised” by his call for a “regulatory break” but that the French president was concerned about financing the climate transition.
Mohammed Chahim, a Dutch socialist MEP, said: “We will not support any delays. We want to deliver on the Green Deal within this term.” He added: “Shelving [proposals] will not help our economy get more competitive, improve conditions for farmers or help nature . . . The cost of doing nothing should not be underestimated.”
Additional reporting by Ian Johnston