Newsletter 5.2019

Dear reader, 
Welcome to the fifth EUROFUEL newsletter of 2019. In this edition, we look at the institutional reshuffle and its impact on the general EU political landscape as well as the key energy and climate priorities of the incoming European Commission. 
The May elections have shown an increasing level of fragmentation in voters’ preferences, leading to more political uncertainty. The underperformance of traditional mainstream parties (Christian and social democrats) in favour of liberal, green and nationalist forces has substantially changed the political configuration of the European Parliament, undermining institutional stability and making MEPs’ day-to-day work more complex. 
At the same time, the electoral outcome has favoured the drive towards more ambitious energy and climate policies at the EU level in the coming years. Incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has indeed already announced the plan to propose a European Green Deal to raise EU’s decarbonisation ambitions by further reducing GHG emissions.
This calls for the heating oil industry to work hard, demonstrating policy makers and public opinion our ability to offer innovative and sustainable solutions and be part of the future energy mix. While not an easy task, the start of a new political mandate also provides opportunities to engage with incoming MEPs and profile ourselves to the new political leaders. In this context, the upcoming launch of our new vision for heating oil presenting an updated version of the brochure “Heating with Liquid Fuels” will play a crucial role to communicate our efforts.

Yours, 
Sandrine Devos

 

European elections – Key outcomes
One of the main outcomes of the European elections was a further political fragmentation in the Parliament, with mainstream parties losing ground in favour of emerging forces such as liberal, green and nationalist parties. While remaining the strongest groups in the hemicycle, the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) were not able to form a majority in the Parliament and imposing their political line on the other forces.

EP seats 2019
This had an impact both on the nomination of the President of the European Commission and the formulation of the policy priorities for the next political mandate. Unable to present a unified position and hampered by the political weakness of the EPP’s candidate Manfred Weber, the European Parliament did not manage to have one of its candidates elected as Commission President (as per the Spitzenkandidaten process). The will of the Member States prevailed instead, resulting in the designation of the surprise candidat Ursula von der Leyen. The selection of the former German Defense Minister and Merkel’s close political ally came after a long and complex bargaining process between heads of governments.

The deal, entailing also to the election of French Christine Lagarde as head of the European Central Bank, Belgian Charles Michel (liberals) as President of the European Council, Spanish Josep Borrell (socialists) as EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Italian David Sassoli (socialists) as President of the European Parliament, was primarily crafted by Macron and Merkel and therefore represents a political win for their governments.

As mandated by the rules, before officially taking the presidency of the Commission, von der Leyen needed a formal approval by the European Parliament. Despite presenting an ambitious political agenda with also a very progressive approach on climate issues, on 16 July MEPs confirmed her election only by a slim majority, with a margin of 383 votes out of the 374 required as a minimum. The results confirm the high level of fragmentation with the European Parliament and suggest that the formation of majorities will be more difficult than ever. Von der Leyen will have therefore a very complicated task to push her agenda through in the coming years.

Decarbonisation – The new President of the Commission sets an ambitious agenda
As mentioned before, the fight against climate change will be one of the key issues on the agenda during the next political mandate. The increased public opinion’s awareness on this topic has had a considerable impact on the political groups’ positions, which are overall moving towards more progressive positions in this area. This was clear since the beginning of the European electoral campaigns, with several parties advocating for more ambitious measures to promote decarbonization and enhanced environmental protection.

Ursula von der Leyen

Given this background, Ursula von der Leyen adopted a very ambitious approach in her political agenda. First, the Commission President pledged to propose a European Green Deal in her first 100 days in office. This will include the first European Climate Law to enshrine the 2050 climate-neutrality target into law. The objective of decarbonization is therefore paramount and according to von der Leyen’s agenda the Commission will propose more ambitious targets to reduce GHG emissions for 2030, increasing the current commitment of 40% reduction to at least 50%. While it is not clear yet how this plan will be implemented, all DGs have put forward proposals on greening their policy areas, such a clean air/zero-pollution-strategy, green public procurement, boosting energy performance of buildings and a new circular economy action plan, addressing among others the sourcing of raw materials and recycling. Other measures proposed by von der Leyen include the introduction of a Carbon Border Tax and the revision of the rules on energy taxation in Europe.

Von der Leyen’s plan is also instrumental to push European governments – currently engaged in the discussions over the EU’s Long-Term decarbonization strategy – to agree on making Europe climate neutral by 2050 and submit an EU wide strategy to the UN by 2020 as required by the Paris Agreement. The present political climate in Brussels is therefore in favor of bold actions to promote an energy transition towards renewable energy sources and radical measures to foster decarbonization across different economic sectors.

Energy and climate – Who will drive the agenda
Despite an ambitious programme and an official endorsement by the European Parliament, von der Leyen’s work is still at the very beginning, as she will officially take her seat only as of 1 November 2019. In the meantime, the German politician will have to appoint the other 27 Commissioners (one per Member State) in charge of the different portfolios. The process is again a result of a bargaining exercise during which each Member State government designates a nominee who a specific portfolio will be assigned to. Once these steps are completed, by mid-September the European Parliament will begin hearings to confirm the nominees.

As for energy and climate issues, Vice-President Frans Timmermans is expected to keep a prominent position in the College of Commissioners as he is likely to lead the work to implement the European Green Deal. The exact division of tasks is not yet clear, e.g. whether the climate and energy portfolios will be split or remain under the same remit as during the last mandate. Many stakeholders are in favour of a holistic approach and thus keeping them together. On the other hand, as many of the energy files have already been reviewed in the last mandate, and one of the focal areas in the next term will be clear air, it has also been suggested to combine climate and transport. The final decision will have a considerable impact on how decarbonization and energy policies will unfold in the coming years. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to send out mission letters to the 27 commissioner nominees by the second week of September, after which the Commissioner-designate hearings will start in Parliament.

Green Deal

The Commission is however not the only actor driving energy and climate policy, as an important role is played by the European Parliament, especially by the energy and environment committees. The former (ITRE) will be chaired by Romanian EPP Adina-Ioana Vălean, a prominent figure within her political group formerly chairing the environment committee. The latter will have a more progressive leadership as it will be chaired by French MEP Pascal Canfin from Renew Europe. Before joining Macron’s En Marche movement, Canfin was an MEP with the Green Party and head of WWF France. Having a strong environmental record, he is expected to push for ambitious policies, especially in the area of emissions.


Promoting renewable fuels
Avenergy SuisseEV/UP has been renamed as Avenergy Suisse (“avenir” stands for future in French), reflecting the evolution of the association. While fossil fuels represent 65% of the consumption in Switzerland, the sector has been committed to developing renewable fuels.