“The environment has been diluted among other priorities” – L’Express

The environment has been diluted among other priorities – LExpress

In 2019, environmentalists created a surprise by obtaining 13.5% of the votes in the European Parliament. Five years later, the EU’s green parties emerge from the European elections in a weak position. Their numbers in Strasbourg fell by almost 30%, with 52 deputies, far from the 71 obtained during the previous mandate. In France, the disappointment is major, the list carried by Europe Ecologie – Les Verts only points to 5.5% of the votes. In Germany, the Greens were the country’s second largest party in the 2019 European elections, with 20.5% of the vote. This time they fell to 11.9%.

While the mandate of Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, opened with the implementation of a vast ecological transition plan – the Green Deal, including emblematic measures such as the exit from fossil fuels , the end of the sale of thermal vehicles by 2035, or the reduction of pesticides – the environmental momentum of the European Union has run out of steam. Have the Covid epidemic, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis got the better of the continent’s green ambition? Attacked by the right and populist parties, the ecological transition “is no longer sufficient in itself”, but elected environmentalists still have a role to play, explains Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, researcher on European energy policies and French within the Energy Center of the Jacques Delors Institute.

L’Express: While Ursula von der Leyen’s mandate opened with the strong environmental ambitions of her Green Deal, climate policies are now contested. What happened in five years?

Phuc-Vinh Nguyen: The environmental issue was obviously less present in the campaign, in France but also in the other States of the European Union, due to the dilution of priorities. The Covid-19 crisis, then the war in Ukraine and the anger of farmers have relegated these subjects to the background. The environment remained a priority in people’s minds, but no longer at the same level as before, well behind security or the question of purchasing power. As a result, the climate was not a determinant of the vote, as was the case in 2019, with the strong mobilization of youth.

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Ultimately, this should raise questions about the way in which the Green Deal has been portrayed in the political landscape. There was, on the part of populist forces in particular, a lot of exploitation, political recovery, in an electoral logic. We saw it in the Netherlands, with the farmer-citizen movement and Geert Wilders. This may have discouraged some political leaders from raising these environmental issues. Hence this incapacity on the part of those who were to defend this plan to impose a counter-narrative in the face of right-wing and far-right forces. What we see basically is that the ecological transition is no longer sufficient in itself, the political narrative is no longer sufficient, while the various shocks of recent years could have been an opportunity to highlight the co-benefits brought by the transition.

Does this mean that environmentalists will play a less important role in Strasbourg?

We should make no mistake about what the political weight of the Greens represented in the European Parliament. They have never managed to take the initiative on environmental issues. It was a supporting force when the grand coalition formed by the European People’s Party (EPP), the Social Democrats (S&D), and the Renew liberals could not agree on environmental issues. But their most important role could be played, in the coming month, on the appointment of the presidency of the European Commission. There, they have the capacity to be a balancing force, to prevent the European Commission from looking too far to its right, that is to say beyond the EPP, to secure votes.

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In 2019, the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen was decided by nine votes, and the Greens did not provide their support. This time, their interest must be to participate in a coalition agreement with the EPP, the Social Democrats and Renew, a sort of extended grand coalition, which would see the Greens condition their support on the granting of guarantees vis-à-vis of the European Green Deal. The goal would be that we do not go back on a certain number of objectives which were decided during the previous mandate. This is, in my opinion, the main added value that the Greens can have with regard to the Green Deal. Because they will not be powerful enough numerically speaking to set their conditions, but they have more MEPs than Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Fratelli d’Italia movement, towards which Ursula von der Leyen was tempted to move. go for a majority.

While environmental concerns seem relegated to the background, and the EPP is the winner of these elections, is it credible to think that Ursula von der Leyen is still seeking the support of environmentalists?

Yes, for one reason: she is pragmatic. And that she wants to be re-elected. However, it was she who put the Green Deal in place, taking note of the 2019 elections and this movement of high sensitivity on environmental issues. The Green Deal therefore represents his political legacy, in the same way that former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker launched an investment plan that bore his name. It has every interest in ensuring that the European Green Deal is kept alive, and in continuing to deploy it on an industrial level.

So there is still room, politically speaking, for climate objectives within the European Union?

Yes, because the plan must now be implemented at national level. This is why we must secure European objectives, have them voted on, to give visibility to States. It is certain that in a country like France, where the risk of seeing a National Rally Prime Minister is looming, this implementation will suffer. The risk of these legislative elections in France is that politicians will combine the rejection of part of environmental standards, as we saw during the farmers’ crisis, into a more general rejection of climate policies. However, when we look at the opinion surveys on the political priorities expressed by Europeans, we see that there is not so much a rejection of climate or environmental ambitions as a dilution of this priority among others.

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The question that arises today is how to successfully reconcile the temporalities of purchasing power and the fight against climate change? It is clear that for the moment, we have not succeeded. This is where the European Green Deal is difficult to support politically. Short-term results are not necessarily profitable, they are not felt by voters. We can adopt energy renovation objectives for buildings, for example, which serve objectives on which people generally agree, but these measures are confronted with the urgency of daily life, such as the price of gasoline or water. ‘electricity. This joint is difficult to find. This is why the European Union must continue to set the pace.

But can this tempo resist the arrival of a possible far-right prime minister in France, or of the rise of the AfD in Germany ?

At the European level, yes, because we cannot unravel the Green Deal under the leadership of a single Member State. From a legal point of view, it is the Commission which has the power to reconsider the objectives or not, and for the moment this is not the case. States can always choose not to implement them nationally, but they are exposed to sanctions.

What are the main issues on which the European Union must move forward within the framework of the Green Deal?

On the energy and transport aspects, a large part of the work has been done, the texts have been adopted. Where there are still regulations to be passed, it is on the agricultural side, on reductions in the use of pesticides for example. The debates will take place during the next term, and with a right-wing majority in Parliament, there will inevitably be less ambitious compromises. As seen in the rejection of the pesticide regulation, Parliament’s position was less ambitious than the Commission’s initial proposal. On these issues, we should see ad hoc majorities – text by text – being formed.