Net-Zero Transition News

What the European election results mean for climate policy on the continent and at home

This June, hundreds of millions of voters across The Channel headed to the polls in a four-day electoral marathon to elect a new 720-member European Parliament. While a swing to the right had been predicted, the results managed to cause a significant stir as the Greens suffered their biggest loses in Europe’s environmental (and political) powerhouses – France and Germany.

“The centre is holding”

The Greens–European Free Alliance party, which unites green national representatives from across the 27 member states in the EP, achieved a record 74 seats in the 2019 elections. However, these took place in a pre-pandemic, pre-war and pre-inflation world when voters, galvanised by increasing climate anxiety, turned out to vote for a greener future.

The Green’s performance in 2019 served as a signal to more mainstream parties, like the ever-powerful European People’s Party (EPP) that it was high time to prioritise the environment. This led to the introduction of the flagship European Green Deal, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 55% from 1990 levels to 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Now, five tumultuous years later, the Greens secured 52 seats (a 22-seat loss) while the majority-holding centre-right EPP on the other hand, is set to increase its representatives from 182 to 190. Despite this, recent polling by Eurobarometer suggests that Europeans remain deeply concerned about the climate crisis and want to see measures taken, with 84% of respondents agreeing that EU environmental legislation was necessary for protecting the environment in their country. This has prompted the European Commission’s President and EPP representative Ursula von der Leyen to proclaim that ‘the centre is holding’ - a statement President Marcon of France and Chancellor Scholz of Germany may see reason to dispute.

Two steps forward, one step back

The Green Deal and other existing policy to expand wind and solar capacity and create a strong carbon-pricing regime have already yielded results with EU emissions having decreased by almost a third from 1990 levels.

We are therefore unlikely to see a dramatic U-turn in the bloc’s environmental policy, not least due to the legislative difficulties this would bring. The shift, however, is likely to complicate the passing of ambitious climate policy over the next 5 crucial years, with the next election scheduled for 2029 - a year before the EU is supposed to reach a 55% reduction in emissions.

Far-right parties across the continent have, however, been challenging the Green Deal since its inception, with some of their qualms including what they see as costly decarbonisation projects during a time of cost-of-living increases and burdensome regulation on EU farmers. A major point of contention was a proposed phaseout of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, termed ‘a gift to China’ by some on the right. In a strikingly quick sign of recognition of the electoral results last week the EU announced that it would impose tariffs of up to 38% on Chinese electric vehicles.

Our shared green future

If UK general election polling is to be believed, then the EU and UK seem to be pulling in different political directions. Yet relations between the two have been increasingly convivial since the low point of January 2020 and cooperation on the vital issues of climate and decarbonisation must remain top of the agenda. The UK is already ahead of the rest of Europe on issues like reducing methane emissions, so this political divergence could prove opportune for the likely next Labour government and their stated aim of positioning the UK as a global decarbonisation leader.

One avenue for increased cooperation could mean greater export of renewable energy from the UK to Europe, with a 400-mile green hydrogen pipeline between the UK and Germany already in the works. Related to this closer alignment of carbon market regulations should be addressed, as differences could prove an obstacle to increased exports of renewable energy to the EU, which levies taxes based on the carbon-intensity of the importing country’s grid. Labour has already stated that it would seek closer ties with the bloc on this, so it may be time for the UK’s net-zero industry to begin looking to Europe for growth opportunities.

The climate challenge necessitates cooperation beyond political and geographical divisions and given much of the policy and technology to address it is in development, there is a clear opportunity for renewed partnership and UK leadership.

Madano and its partners work with key political stakeholders and decision makers on both sides of The Channel, so please reach out to [email protected] if you have any questions on what all of this means for your business.