New European Commission President takes office
Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission took office on 1st December with the first woman Commission President and the largest number of female commissioners yet. The new Commission starts with the promise of a flagship European Green Deal. Other key areas of interest in 2020 will be the agreement on the European Union’s next seven year multi-annual financial framework and Britain’s formal exit from the EU on January 31st.
President von der Leyen’s promise to deliver on the European Green Deal is set to dominate the EU calendar. With the current bitter reality of climate change being witnessed with the dreadful bushfires in Australia, this has prompted political leaders to take action on the deadly realities of climate change.
Von der Leyen seeks to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent by 2050. However, opposition to the climate strategy had already surfaced in the first week of the new Commission taking office. Philippe Lamberts MEP, co-leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, had voted against von der Leyen becoming President of the Commission, and claimed that whilst the new Commission has good intentions with the Green Deal, its framework lacks any detailed legislative proposals.
This week, the College of Commissioners gathered in Luxembourg and von der Leyen outlined that as part of her Green Deal, it will be necessary to raise €1 trillion by 2030 in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 2030 will be the pivotal point in the investment cycle if Europe is to achieve its climate-neutrality by 2050.
The European Green Deal has also received some criticism from Poland, one of the bloc’s most coal-dependent states. Poland claims that it cannot become carbon neutral by 2050, and has thus been exempt from the EU’s 2050 target. Nevertheless, the country said it will become carbon-neutral ‘at its own pace’.
The UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) took place in December, in Madrid. The summit ultimately failed to reach an accord for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, such as carbon markets and trading emission credits. The presentation of the European Green Deal was hoped to show that the EU wants to be the leader in climate change. Nevertheless, the mood at the summit was less than optimistic due to the apparent lack of US commitment, after Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement 2016. The next climate conference (COP26) will be held in Glasgow, November 2020. By then there ought to be decisive legislation set in place in order to cut down the bloc’s carbon emissions.
Von der Leyen’s focus on climate change might be somewhat under restrain as the EU budget for 2021-2027 is yet to be laid out. The overall financial framework is said to be €47 billion, equal to 1.07% of EU’s gross national income. This figure is smaller than what the new Commission had hoped for, ultimately meaning that von der Leyen may not have enough resources to implement her progressive climate change policies. Britain leaving the EU has already proved a blow to the EU budget, since the UK is one of the biggest contributors. The European Council President, Charles Michel has already said that the Brexit gap of €13 bn per annum needs to be resolved, as early as January. However, the budget increase has received criticism from other member states such as Germany and the Netherlands, who want a smaller European Union, with a smaller budget.
The decision on the budget will dominate the first half of 2020 with Commissioners worried that the cuts in spending will inevitably fall on the sectors of education and innovation and thus hinder von der Leyen’s efforts in tackling climate change. Fortunately, Europe’s strategic research and innovation framework, Horizon Europe, is not set to be hugely affected by the impending cuts. The programme is anticipated to receive over €84 billion.
Ultimately, 2020 will be a decisive period for the new Commission as they seek to prove that their European Green Deal is feasible, whilst simultaneously finalising Britain’s exit from the EU after 45 years of membership.