It’s not just Doñana: popular and liberals torpedo the European green agenda for fear of electoral attrition | International

The fight for Doñana on the eve of the regional and municipal elections this Sunday —with the harsh attacks by the PP and its European family, the EPP, on Brussels for warning against the plans of the Junta de Andalucía to legalize irrigation near the natural park— it is only a symptom. Much of Europe is now entering an intense electoral cycle —with key elections in countries such as Spain, Poland, Norway or Belgium— which will culminate in June 2024 with the European elections. And the EU’s ambitious environmental policy has become a recurring target.

Conservatives and liberals have discovered the enormous political capital of the growing protests in sectors such as agriculture or the motor sector. In a context of strong economic insecurity due to the pandemic, first, and now the war in Ukraine, these movements criticize what they perceive as an ecological transition that is too fast, in which they fear being left behind or losing an advantage against competitors from other regions with fewer climatic scruples.

Politicians don’t want to lose votes. Nor time. The European People’s Party (EPP), led by the German Manfred Weber, seeks to remain the main political force in the European Parliament after the European elections in June 2024. It has rushed to declare war on the star legislative proposal on biodiversity of the EU, the Law to Restore Nature, which seeks to repair 80% of community habitats in poor condition, with a first objective of recovering at least 20% of degraded land and water by 2030. The Conservative Party, which He presents himself as “the defender of European farmers and rural communities”, openly calls for the demolition of the initiative, as well as another proposal to reduce the use of pesticides. It has already achieved it, with the help of liberal representatives, in the two parliamentary commissions that this week had to give their opinion on the text, that of Fisheries and Agriculture.

The rapporteur of the law in the European Parliament, the socialist César Luena, considers that the attitude of the PPE hides a clear “electoralist strategy”. “[Weber] he has chosen the environment and migration as topics to approach the extreme right”, warns Luena. And he adds that, with this, he is putting his formation into a “double spiral, denialist and selfish, as well as anti-European.”

But it’s not just conservatives. Liberal rulers such as the French Emmanuel Macron or, this week, the Belgian Alexander de Croo, have called for a “pause” in the intense European environmental legislation.

“There comes a time when you have to choose. Is it the right time to do it all at the same time?” De Croo asked himself this Wednesday, to the horror of the environmentalist and socialist members of his grand government coalition. The Social Democrats and Greens of the alliance in command in Berlin also clash with the internal electoral interests of their liberal ally FDP, which has just blocked the parliamentary process of the star proposal of its environmentalist partner in the Government to prohibit the installation of new gas and coal boilers in Germany from next year.

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Already in March, Berlin caused the first major shock of the EU institutions by threatening, breaking the rules of the European agreements (but with the support of the ultra-conservative governments of Italy and Poland), to stop the already agreed ban on selling new cars with a combustion engine from 2035 if an exception for synthetic fuel engines was not included. behind the unusual no there was also the FDP, aware of the regional voting power of the powerful German car industry. The Italian government headed by Giorgia Meloni, for its part, is raising a new front against the tightening of car pollution standards proposed by Brussels. The initiative is “clearly wrong and is not useful from an environmental point of view”, has defended the Minister of Transport, Matteo Salvini.

The Vice President of the European Commission for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, during a press appearance in Brussels on March 16. OLIVIER HOSLET (EFE)

Meanwhile, the Belgian prime minister is looking with concern at the revolts in the agricultural sector in the Netherlands, which are being replicated on his territory. His Dutch counterpart, the right-wing liberal Mark Rutte, was stunned in March by the historic victory in provincial elections for the Peasant-Citizen Movement (BBB), which capitalized on farmers’ opposition to government environmental plans to cut emissions. of nitrogen, which provide for a reduction in livestock farming and expropriations near protected natural areas.

And if there is someone who knows the potential political cost of ecological transition measures, it is Macron: his government’s decision to increase the price of fuels, partly to discourage the use of polluting energies, led to the birth of the movement of yellow vests, which ended up becoming the maximum expression of social discontent in France, at least until the recent pension reform.

Brussels, which insists that it will not abandon the green path, has launched a fierce defense of its legislative proposals to abandon what the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, describes as an “obsolete” economy based on fossil fuels.

“Rejecting the Law to Restore Nature would send a dangerous signal to the world that the EU and its Member States are backtracking on their commitments” to the environment, warns the Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, the Lithuanian Virginijus Sinkevicius, whom the PPE has come to accuse of “campaigning for Pedro Sánchez” for Doñana.

“We do not have time to delay action” on European climate change, the vice-president of the Commission for the Green Pact, Frans Timmermans, also said this week in the European Parliament.

Even so, the signs that it could give in to political pressures are multiplying. A new legislative package, which includes a proposal for a directive on soil health and legislation relating to plants produced with new genomic techniques, was due to be presented, after several delays, in June, but has again been postponed to July. That, point out those who know the times in Brussels, makes it very difficult for them to advance in what remains of the mandate of the European Parliament and the Commission.

Von der Leyen herself has admitted that perhaps the time has come to curb the green legislative impetus: “We should analyze the (legislative) absorption capacity. It is something we will do in the coming weeks or months,” she said before leaving for the G-7 summit in Hiroshima.

“The laws were agreed by all countries and institutions. But it is always easier to pretend that it is Brussels that dictates them, to avoid responsibility”, laments Linda Kalcher, executive director of Strategic Perspectives, a new think tank that seeks to “promote effective climate action as a solution to the multitude of interconnected crises facing the EU”.

Community sources try, however, to reduce the concerns. What Europe is experiencing is a “bucket of reality”, they say. The Twenty-seven set “ambitious goals” in 2019, when they set Green Deal targets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. But “it was known that it was going to be difficult to implement” the measures to achieve the goals, especially all when the crisis of the pandemic has been followed by that of the war in Ukraine. “We knew that this moment was going to come,” they say. “The worrying thing” would really be “a questioning of the objectives”, but that has not happened for the moment, at least in a massive way, they affirm. But they show their concern about the possibility of new calls for “pauses” from other European capitals. The election year is going to be very long for many.

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