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Ursula von der Leyen has distanced herself from a statement by the leaders of her own political group in which they demanded a “moratorium” on further green regulation owing to strains on European industry stemming from inflation and the war in Ukraine.
The European Commission president had not signed up to a joint statement from top politicians in the centre-right European People’s party, her spokesman said, adding that she stood by the bloc’s environmental agenda.
The statement was issued after a gathering of EPP leaders which von der Leyen attended in Brussels on Thursday, calling for the European Green Deal to “prioritise citizens and take into account the new economic and social realities after Russia’s attack on the global world order”.
“We want a regulatory pause,” the statement said.
The group added that the EPP “cannot support” proposals on the use of pesticides and on a law to restore degraded ecosystems, which are seen as important components of the EU’s Green Deal climate law, first set out by von der Leyen in 2019.
The EPP said that all leaders present at Thursday’s summit had approved the statement. But the commission spokesperson said von der Leyen had not backed the statement, adding that as president of the commission, she “does not approve documents or statements issued by any political party”.
The commission “supports” member states and the European parliament in finding an agreement on the contested nature restoration and pesticides regulations, the spokesperson added.
The dispute comes at a crucial time for the German politician. She is seen as the most likely contender to be the next commission president when the bloc holds elections next year but has been grappling with a backlash within her own party to elements of her Green Deal.
The EPP’s call for a “regulatory moratorium” comes after French president Emmanuel Macron, a member of the liberal group Renew, made a similar statement in May, a sentiment echoed by Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo in a speech later that month.
It comes amid wider discontent about the implications of the climate agenda as it becomes a reality for businesses and consumers.
The EPP has positioned itself as the party of the farmers, arguing that rules to set aside land for biodiversity will impact food security and farmer’s livelihoods, something that campaigners, businesses and the commission have contested.
Frans Timmermans, the EU’s Green Deal commissioner and a Dutch centre-left politician, said in a press conference on Wednesday that von der Leyen had been “very supportive” of the work the commission had done to try to pass its nature restoration law through the parliament.
The law was rejected by three parliamentary committees and will be returned to the commission if it is rejected in a vote by the whole parliament in July.