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Good morning. A scoop to start: the EU is set to import a record amount of Russian liquefied natural gas this year, despite a pledge to wean itself off Kremlin energy.
Today, we explain why the EU’s proposed new climate commissioner still needs to win over his doubters, and ask why Germany is destroying wind farms to mine more coal.
Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra faces a showdown with the European parliament after commission president Ursula von der Leyen handed him the climate portfolio yesterday, writes Andy Bounds.
Context: Hoekstra was nominated by the Netherlands to replace Frans Timmermans, who left Brussels to run for prime minister. He will be the face of EU climate policy for the next 15 months, provided he passes a European parliamentary hearing.
“This is not a done deal,” said Pascal Canfin, parliament’s environment committee chair. “He will have to prove he is the right man.”
Von der Leyen said Hoekstra, a Christian Democrat like her, “stressed during the interview his commitment to continuing an ambitious climate policy and to maintaining a social balance”. That is Brussels-speak for ensuring continued public support for green policies without piling heavy costs on consumers.
Hoekstra said he wanted to follow in Timmermans’ footsteps and do his “stinking best”, deploying a Dutch colloquialism. He was “very much looking forward to . . . a dialogue with parliament.”
Parliament’s Socialists are angry they lost the climate portfolio to the centre-right EPP, while Hoekstra also has enemies in southern Europe after criticising their economies while finance minister during the Covid pandemic. Others will question his three years working for oil company Shell.
Von der Leyen dropped her stipulation for capitals to provide both male and female candidates.
Her deputy spokesperson Dana Spinant told reporters that since Hoekstra was replacing a man, the gender balance of the commission was maintained. Similarly, Bulgaria has nominated a woman, Iliana Ivanova, to replace Mariya Gabriel. The commission will be 14/13 male/female if they both survive parliamentary scrutiny (MEPs cannot block the appointments but precedent dictates von der Leyen should withdraw them if they do not win support.)
And what if Danish competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager succeeds in her bid to run the European Investment Bank?
Asked whether Copenhagen would have to nominate a woman, Spinant said: “the objective of maintaining gender parity will remain until the end of this college mandate”.
That would rule out heavyweight candidates such as foreign minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and climate minister Dan Jørgensen, both thought to favour a move to Brussels.
Chart du jour: Italy’s opportunity
Italy is in line for almost €200bn in EU pandemic recovery cash, more than any other state. But can Rome harness that to deliver an economic reboot?
Try this for a good-bad climate news sandwich:
EU coal and gas generation hit record lows during the first half of 2023 thanks to renewable energy and lower demand, data published today by think-tank Ember shows.
At the same time, German energy company RWE has resumed a push to dismantle working wind turbines to expand a coal mine at Garzweiler, near Cologne, writes Alice Hancock.
Context: The simultaneous increase in green power and of heavily polluting fuels such as coal underlines the dichotomy that the EU faces as it tries to pursue some of the most ambitious climate goals in the world and adjust to a new future without Russian fuel.
Germany has been at the sharp end of this owing to its reliance on Russian pipeline gas until Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The expansion of mining at Garzweiler — where eight wind turbines will be demolished by 2025 to get at the coal underneath them — is part of a deal struck between RWE and the German economy and energy minister Robert Habeck, a prominent Green politician.
The agreement sought to accelerate the phase out of coal in North Rhine-Westphalia but allowed RWE to mine more in the meantime to keep two power plants running longer than planned.
RWE argues that the loss of the 20-year-old turbines will be outweighed by larger wind farms it is developing elsewhere.
Germany is still hitting records for renewables, however: the Ember data shows that wind and solar generated a record 49 per cent of the country’s power in July. Denmark and Portugal had the highest amount of renewable energy in their power supplies at more than 75 per cent.
Total power generation from fossil fuels across the EU in the first half of the year was 33 per cent.
“The current climate emergency requires urgent and concerted efforts to accelerate the deployment of every single wind turbine, solar panel and heat pump that we can muster,” said Fabian Hübner, senior campaigner in Germany at Beyond Fossil Fuels. “Anything that diverts from this critical endeavour, especially the dismantling of renewable energy sources to extract more fossil fuels, must be unequivocally prohibited.”
What to watch today
EU defence ministers meet in Toledo.
EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski meets Finnish prime minister Petteri Orpo.