Why the EU’s budget must be both bigger and better

While the European Union has a proud record in keeping the peace amongst its members, it always feels like hostilities are breaking out again when it’s time to talk about the budget. There were already signs of mounting tension when EU leaders gathered in Brussels for their summit on February 23, with battle lines forming over the next big budget fight. As the leaders argue about how to fill the hole left by the departing British, they will have to answer existential questions about how they want to spend their money after 2020.

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Europe at centre of unpredictable Italian elections

“We have to brace ourselves for the worst scenario and the worst scenario could be no operational government.” This was European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s warning ahead of the Italian elections, taking place this Sunday (4 March) – even if he was later forced to retract his comment, tweeting: “Italy remains a central player in Europe and in defining its future”.

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Can Europe lead in clean energy and beat energy poverty?

Whether it means pulling on a woollen jumper, wearing gloves, or cranking up the heating, the winter months usually prompt small changes in our day-to-day behaviour. But for some people, the cold can’t be beaten with just another layer of clothing. More than one in ten Europeans suffer from ‘energy poverty’, a lack of essential energy services. As temperatures plunge, they shiver in unheated homes, fall ill, and struggle to make it through to spring.

While the Juncker Commission has made clear progress on its commitment to a clean energy transition – as acknowledged in the recent Agora Energiewende and Sandbag report – the reality remains that clean energy can be costly and progress on addressing energy poverty has been much less prominent. January 29 saw a step forward to redress the balance when the European Commission launched the Energy Poverty Observatory.

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How Europe got tough on plastic

It is hard to imagine a world without plastic. Endlessly adaptable, it is found in everything from chairs to cars, from bottles to bags, and from toys to the computer or smartphone that you are doubtless using to read this article. But this everyday miracle comes with a price. If improperly managed, plastic waste can linger in the environment, and ultimately enter the food chain. So, how can we keep benefiting from plastic, while cutting its downsides?

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Europe’s response to growing cybersecurity threats

Governments and businesses alike are girding themselves against cybersecurity threats, as hackers keep finding new ways to steal and reveal our data. These threats will become the new normal, but as John Higgins warns, we can still do a lot to protect ourselves.

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A new EU goal: Tackling football’s imbalances

Football is bigger than it has ever been, and as its business grows, it faces new regulatory challenges. The European Union has tried to stay out of football, but William Gaillard argues that it should do more to ensure that the game is played fairly

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The EU needs to stay the course with its energy policy

The EU has faced a series of economic challenges in recent years, which have brought significant political and social impacts. Continuing the series of articles by Burson-Marsteller’s senior advisors on the future of Europe, Derek Taylor urges the EU to stick to its energy strategy, which will bear fruit eventually.

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The EU needs to rediscover its ambition

The EU has faced a series of economic challenges in recent years, which have brought significant political and social impacts – but the signs are that Europe is turning a corner. Continuing the series of articles by Burson-Marsteller’s senior advisors on the future of Europe, Miguel Ferré urges the EU to show leadership in defining a way forward.

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Will the EU’s eastern neighbours ever join the club?

The EU has spent more than a decade pondering how to deal with countries to its east that would like to join. In 2009, it launched the Eastern Partnership, meant to handle the European aspirations of six of them, yet has kept them at arm’s length. The Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on November 24 underlined the EU’s common cause with the six, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. But once again, the EU offered them no prospects of joining.

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Can Europe hold the climate line without the US?

The Paris climate change agreement two years ago was the high point in the global push to reverse rising temperatures and cut carbon emissions. US President Donald Trump’s pledge in June to pull out of the Paris deal, has clouded prospects for successful climate action. At the latest United Nations summit on climate change, COP23, which opened in Bonn, Germany on November 6, the challenge for the European Union is to keep the show going.

Around 20,000 people will attend the two-week COP23, where delegates will work out how to execute the Paris deal. They will address issues such as how countries will track and report their emissions and have them verified. This covers national plans, targets and milestones, which will be assessed and reviewed every five years, to see whether they are making an effective contribution. Britain, France and Germany have all proposed a ban on fossil fuel cars by the year 2040 and some countries, such as New Zealand, say they aim to reduce emissions to zero by 2050.

Although the Bonn conference lasts for a fortnight, national leaders and environment ministers are not expected until the second week, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron, and – in apparent defiance at Trump’s position – California Governor Jerry Brown will also attend.

The EU has long been the most vocal messenger when it comes to global warming, and the Paris deal was the culmination of years, if not decades, of European environmental diplomacy. The US, which had been a fervent EU ally on climate change during Barack Obama’s presidency, has now become a major brake. Indeed, the EU is bracing for the Trump administration to use the Bonn meeting to push for “clean coal” as a solution to climate change.

Paris deal still strong

It is testimony to the strength of the Paris deal that Trump’s decision to pull out will not change the fundamentals. The White House announcement actually triggered a powerful response in support of Paris. It prompted countries and stakeholders to advance and even intensify efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions and boost resilience to climate impacts. Tellingly, no-one took seriously the President’s suggestion that the Paris deal should be renegotiated.

As the US is the world’s richest nation and second biggest polluter, its withdrawal will have an impact. But Washington is isolated on the issue: the US is soon to become the only nation in the world refusing to ratify – after Syria’s recent announcement. Under the rules, the US cannot leave the agreement until 2020, so they have sent a team of negotiators to Bonn. And as well as the official US delegation, there are representatives from many US states, cities and businesses who have already committed to help limit global warming.

With the US out of the equation, it has fallen to China to partner with the EU on climate issues. A decade ago, that would have sounded like a preposterous notion: China was responsible for some of the most polluting industries, surpassed the US in 2007 to become the biggest source of carbon emissions, and seemed like the biggest block to UN climate talks.

But there has been a remarkable turnaround in Chinese politics. Beijing accepts the health and environmental dangers of carbon emissions, has committed to a low-carbon economy (it was in 2014, ironically in a joint announcement with the US, that China pledged to peak its carbon emissions by 2030), and has invested heavily in renewable energy, becoming the world’s biggest producer of solar panels.

Indeed, the day after Trump announced he would withdraw from the Paris deal, the EU and China agreed at a summit in Brussels to step up their cooperation on climate change. China is now filling the void left by the US, and approaching the Bonn summit with the same determination as the EU. Beijing plans to roll out a national carbon market in the coming weeks. And as the world’s largest carbon emitter, accounting for 29% of the global emissions, China is well-placed to bridge the divide between rich and poor countries.

EU stepping up to the plate

China’s emergence as a climate leader puts pressure on the EU to keep up its own commitments. The EU’s record is strong, as it is expected to achieve its 2020 targets: greenhouse gas emissions have already fallen below the 20% reduction target; renewable energy use is growing faster than initially planned to reach the 20% target level; and energy consumption is set to reach the 2020 energy efficiency target. But the pace of reductions will slow down after that date. Last month, the European Parliament backed a resolution calling on the EU to raise its 2030 climate targets and to come up with a mid-century zero-emissions strategy before an all-important UN summit in 2018.

If the EU wants to stay ahead of the game, it must demand more ambitious commitments from its own member states. For example, Germany, the host of COP23, claims to be a green leader, but its decision to phase out nuclear power means more coal-fired generation. Germany is now set to miss its 2020 carbon cutting targets – an issue that has now been raised in the ongoing government coalition negotiations.

The EU should also engage more with the different actors such as cities and the private sector. Local and business action has been especially effective in the US, beginning more than a decade ago, and did much to mitigate the federal government’s then inaction on climate. The EU could follow this example, encouraging and uniting local actions, and use them to firm up member state commitments.

But above all, the EU needs to keep up its climate diplomacy. The Paris deal is one of its greatest international achievements, but climate politics are a process, not an end. At Bonn, the EU must ensure that even without the US, the world remains committed to a low-carbon future.

Author: Anett Toth | Leo Cendrowicz