The heads of state and government had actually thought out the timing well. This Saturday the Paris Climate Agreement celebrates its fifth anniversary. In 2015, the states of the world committed themselves to limiting the rise in earth temperature to “well below two degrees Celsius”. Just in time for this anniversary, the EU wants to set a good example and commit itself to a new, ambitious climate target for 2030. This was what the 27 member states wanted to adopt at the EU summit this Thursday and Friday.
Instead, the EU had to arm itself for an embarrassment on the international stage before the summit. Because the simmering conflict over the future EU budget threatened to block the decision on a new climate target – until a possible agreement in the budget dispute emerged on Wednesday. But the Brexit negotiations are still heading for their high or low point, depending on your point of view, and the delicate question of sanctions against Turkey must still be decided. And so there could be a showdown on several major topics around the summit – even if the budget dispute should be settled by the time it begins.
Greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by 55 percent by 2030
With the climate, the actual number is no longer a major issue. In Brussels it is expected that the member states could agree to reduce their emissions by 55 percent by 2030, possibly also to “at least” 55 percent compared to 1990 levels. The EU Commission proposed this value in September. Some countries – just like the EU Parliament – would go even further. But already 55 percent are very ambitious, says CDU MEP Peter Liese: So far, the EU has reduced its emissions by around a quarter since 1990. If you now commit to 55 percent, that would mean a further 30 percentage points reduction in just ten years. “If anyone thinks it’ll be easy, they’re wrong,” says Liese. “It will change all of our lives.”
It is unclear, however, whether the EU states can bring themselves to make this change in life. Because in the details, a lot is still controversial. For example, the question of whether the new brand should be a gross or a net target, i.e. whether the calculation should take into account that greenhouse gases can not only be emitted, but also reduced again. Environmental organizations warn that this would make the numbers nicer. And several countries in Eastern Europe, but also France, want to achieve the climate targets primarily with nuclear power – something that Luxembourg and Austria, for example, strictly reject.
Open detailed view
France wants to achieve the climate goals with its nuclear power plants – in the picture the cooling towers of the plant in Cattenom.
(Photo: Sebastien Berda / AFP)
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) named probably the most important condition for reaching agreement on the EU climate target in the Bundestag that morning: “Whether we succeed in this depends very much on how far we get on financial issues.” That means: once the blockade of the budget is resolved – and Poland in particular knows how many billions it will receive from the Corona reconstruction pot – an agreement will be more likely. However, according to Merkel, the following applies to almost every summit topic: “Almost everything is still in flux.” Even a high-ranking EU official did not dare to make a prognosis on Wednesday afternoon: “I don’t have a crystal ball.”
How tricky the situation is was also made clear by the fact that EU Council President Charles Michel left it open until Wednesday afternoon when which topic should be discussed. At least since the end of November it was clear that the summit on Thursday should start earlier than usual, namely at 1 p.m. – Michel apparently already suspected how full the agenda would be.
Because Germany holds the Council Presidency, which changes every six months until the end of the year, Merkel is more in the center of attention than usual. For almost four weeks, the federal government has been trying to convince Hungary and Poland to give up their blockade of the 1.8 trillion euro package consisting of the seven-year budget and the Corona aid package. Both governments are disturbed by the rule of law mechanism associated with it. This clause would allow EU funding to be capped for the first time if, in the view of the EU Commission, the rule of law in the recipient country is threatened and the correct use of the money is endangered.
On Tuesday, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán flew to Warsaw for consultations. He then emphasized that the rule of law had nothing to do with finances and should not be “linked to gender issues or migration”. However, he also said that one was only “an inch” away from a solution.
Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin said on Wednesday afternoon that there was now “an agreement in the Warsaw-Berlin-Budapest triangle”. He believes that the other 24 EU governments could also support this. However, Gowin did not give details of the solution – just like Merkel in the Bundestag that morning. She only emphasized that the rule of law mechanism would remain the same.
An additional declaration with explanations should convince Warsaw and Budapest
In the course of the day it became clear what the supply to Hungary and Poland looks like. The draft text was distributed among the EU ambassadors in the afternoon and is in the Süddeutsche Zeitung in front. It should now be analyzed in the capitals up to the summit. The rule of law mechanism therefore remains unchanged – also because the EU Parliament does not accept a softening. But the additional declaration explains the scope and makes it clear that this is not an Article 7 rule of law procedure by other means. The text states that the EU Commission’s directive should only be finalized after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has examined its EU legality. The new instrument, which had previously been checked by many lawyers in Brussels, should not be used for the time being.
A review by the ECJ in Luxembourg would provide clarity, but it would take some time – and probably prevent the application of the mechanism before the parliamentary elections in Hungary in spring 2022. Critics not only accuse Orbán of undermining the rule of law, but also of having, as head of government, helped friends and family to become wealthy with the help of billions in funding from Brussels. In addition, under point j) it is made clear that the heads of state and government must discuss possible sanctions if the member state concerned so requests. In this maneuver, known in Brussels as the “emergency brake” or “Orbán loop”, there is no right of veto for a member state.
Open detailed view
Critics accuse the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of having undermined the rule of law in his country.
(Photo: Czarek Sokolowski / AP)
This compromise proposal, with which Merkel has probably convinced Poland and Hungary, must also be supported by those countries that care about the correct use of EU funds and the fight against corruption. These are for example the Netherlands or the Scandinavians.
The EU Parliament has long been calling for more effective protection of the rule of law. Green Daniel Freund was one of his negotiating team. He welcomes the fact that it currently looks as if Hungary and Poland have buckled. Freund, however, fears that nothing will happen for a year and a half because of the review by the ECJ and calls in an interview with the SZ: “We must not leave millions of Hungarians out in the rain without a functioning constitutional state to defend the independence of the judiciary and to fight corruption. “
If the dispute is not resolved, the price would be high. Poland and Hungary have so far refused to agree to the multiannual financial framework, the rough EU budget for the seven years from 2021 to 2027. If the governments do not give in soon, the EU would not have a valid budget from January onwards, but would have to work with an emergency budget. That would be a good 15 percent smaller than the regular budget – and this would affect the subsidies for disadvantaged regions. Poland benefits enormously from these so-called structural aid. The country is by far the largest net recipient of EU funds anyway; In 2019, it received twelve billion euros more from Brussels than flowed there from Warsaw. Hungary follows in second place with five billion euros.
In addition, the two are blocking the € 750 billion Corona aid fund, from which they would also be entitled to many billions in grants. The EU Commission is already working on concepts for setting up this fund if necessary without the consent of Poland and Hungary – and without these states benefiting from it.