IEEP reaction to the State of the European Union speech 2017

Photo: By Zinneke (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Juncker’s State of the European Union sets an ambitious path for a stronger Europe, and while his ambition for climate leadership is welcome, he was mostly silent about wider environmental sustainability.

President Juncker did not use this opportunity to set a credible pathway to a sustainable Europe, in line with science and international obligations such as the Paris agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

IEEP Executive Director, Céline Charveriat, commented:
“Europe’s winds are finally picking up, but are they sailing us towards greater sustainability?”

However, there are a number of positive elements worth highlighting:

Climate change

Climate change is one of five priorities set out by President Juncker. Greater leadership on climate is highly welcome both domestically and internationally. With the climate leadership vacuum left by the US, China and the EU must come together and put the world on a credible, long-term decarbonisation pathway in line with science. This means the two economies must:

  • come to the UN negotiating table with evidence-based, mid-century plans for reaching net-zero emissions domestically and globally by 2050, identifying the areas where greater global cooperation on innovation is necessary;
  • set out plans for effective carbon pricing in their economies, and other global economies working to tackle climate change, while maintaining their competitiveness against free-riders;
  • step up cooperation on climate finance, at the very least filling the gap left by US withdrawal from its climate finance commitments.

Environmental standards

President Juncker presented an ambitious agenda of trade liberalization and referred to the need to export European standards, be they social or environmental standards, data protection or food safety requirements. This is welcome, particularly in areas where EU standards represent the best available sustainability choice. However Europe must go further than negotiating environmental safeguards in FTAs, and it must present an ambitious sustainability agenda at the WTO, for instance on fossil fuel and other environmentally harmful subsidies.

President Juncker’s call on the car industry to innovate instead of trying to circumvent European standards is good news as is his renewed commitment to decarbonizing the transportation sector. However, the Dieselgate scandal is just one example of governance failures and inadequate enforcement of European standards that must be addressed. European Institutions must focus on ensuring proper implementation and enforcement of all environmental standards of the European Union.

New industrial policy

Juncker’s commitment to a new industrial policy, including a commitment to decarbonisation, is welcome. It is however key that Europe’s new industrial policy supports the emergence of a truly circular economy which helps achieve the SDGs and is based on reaching maximum efficiency in the use of all resources and not just carbon.

Europe’s financial resources

Perhaps the greatest implication of Juncker’s address is the proposed increase in Europe’s budget. This is a positive step, as the UK’s departure will put a major strain on Europe’s existing budgetary resources, leading to impossible dilemmas between key objectives of the European Union.

However, the quality of Europe’s spending is also key: all European resources must contribute to Europe’s environmental, social and economic sustainability, which requires reforms in areas such as the Common Agricultural policy, and further progress on climate and environment mainstreaming in cohesion policy. In this context, President Juncker’s vow to pursue fiscal reform through qualified majority is a positive development, particularly for a former Luxembourg finance minister, and could help to unlock progress on environmental fiscal reform.

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Note: The State of the Union speech was accompanied by a letter of intent to the Council, setting out a “Roadmap for a more united, stronger and more democratic Union”. IEEP we will provide further reaction to the sustainability elements of the roadmap in the coming days.