EU: the 27 determined to green their imports, divided on energy

EU environment ministers are discussing France’s climate priorities from Thursday in Amiens – carbon border tax, fight against imported deforestation – but remain divided on a reform of the energy market. electricity despite soaring energy prices.

Gathered around the French Minister for Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili, the representatives of the Twenty-Seven will discuss for two days several texts of the ambitious plan climate presented in mid-July by Brussels to slash 20% from here 2409 EU carbon emissions compared to 1990.

A second meeting in this city in northern France will bring together the Ministers of Energy on Friday and Saturday.

If Emmanuel Macron makes the environment a marker of the French presidency of the EU, which began in January, no agreement is expected in Amiens but Paris intends to “make progress as much as possible” the negotiations in progress by June.

France wants in particular to speed up the establishment of an EU “carbon border adjustment mechanism” proposed by Brussels and now discussed by the States and MEPs.

The objective is to tax certain imports (steel, aluminium, cement, fertilizers, electricity) at the European carbon market price, according to the emissions linked to their production.

“It is the power of the European market: if you want to enter it, you must respect the same rules”, declared Barbara Pompili on Wednesday on Sud-Radio.

– Identify “political issues”-

In order not to infringe the principles of the World Trade Organization, the Commission is also proposing to abolish the free emission quotas hitherto allocated to European industrialists to enable them to face competition from third countries… at the risk of increasing production costs in Europe, many States and Europeans are alarmed. deputies.

Area affected by deforestation near Sinop, Brazil, the August 7 2020 (AFP/Archives – Florian PLAUCHEUR) “Spain, Portugal , Poland and Austria are calling for free quotas to be maintained. And (the carbon tax) poses complicated questions: who collects the money? where is he going?”, underlines a European diplomat.

Paris intends to build a consensus between the Twenty-Seven, the basis of future negotiations with the European Parliament. “The difficulty is no longer on the principle, but on the timing of the decrease in free quotas”, wants to believe the entourage of Ms. Pompili, on this text dependent on the Ministers of the Economy but closely touching on environmental issues.

A soybean field in western Brazil (AFP/Archives – YASUYOSHI CHIBA)Another flagship project of Emmanuel Macron: the development of an instrument to fight “imported deforestation”, to prevent European imports of wood, palm oil or of soya do not contribute to the clearing of forests.

Discussions on a text submitted by the Commission in mid-November are just beginning among the States and in Parliament. The round table in Amiens will allow ” have a clear vision of political issues” and future s nodes of the negotiations, it is underlined at the Ministry of Ecological Transition.

While the NGOs hope for a hardening of the initial text, regretting that it does not apply to certain products ( maize, rubber, etc. or to other threatened ecosystems (wetlands, savannahs, etc.), Paris does not rule out an enlargement.

-“Social acceptability”-

Ministers are also expected to reiterate their reservations about the project to extend the European carbon market: after manufacturers and energy companies, suppliers of road fuel and heating oil could be forced to buy “quotas of ’emissions’ from 2022… at the risk of passing on the additional cost to consumers.

The Commission proposes that suppliers of road fuel and heating oil should be forced to buy “quotas of ’emissions’ from 2025 (AFP – DENIS CHARLET)This proposal The Commission’s overdraft is vigorously denounced by some of the States, worried about the impact for precarious households despite a possible European “solidarity fund”.

“France has expressed its strong concerns about social acceptability (…) We have known the + yellow vests +, we know that the transition must take into account the interests of the populations and the different States”, pleads the entourage of Ms. Pompili, ensuring to seek “a compromise”.

This project, which will be defended in Amiens by the Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans, however appears to be weakened by the current surge in gas prices, which will dominate the discussions of the ministers of Energy.

While the prices of electricity on the European wholesale market are mechanically aligned with those of gas, Paris is calling for a “decoupling” and the reform of a mechanism deemed “obsolete” which would dilute the effect of low nuclear costs.

However, strong differences persist: a dozen States, Germany in the lead, are fiercely opposed to any reform of the electricity market, explaining the crisis by economic “global factors” , while Poland and Hungary accuse the price of CO2 and environmental rules of increasing energy costs.