Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Interview

New documentary shows how biofuels lobby played parliament

  • Sergio Ghizzardi, director of the film Green Gold (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Five Germans ruined it all for former French MEP Corrine Lepage.

Lepage, a member of the liberal Alde group, spearheaded the reform of the EU's biofuels policy. In 2013, she asked the European Parliament's plenary for a mandate to negotiate on the file with the EU Council, but was defeated by one vote, thanks to a handful of German liberal MEPs who voted against.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 'I could have written a book,' said Ghizzardi of his experience documenting the biofuels saga (Photo: Sergio Ghizzardi)

The scene is a key moment in filmmaker Sergio Ghizzardi's new documentary, 'Green Gold', out this week.

"Five guys from her own party voted against because they have been lobbied by the German lobby," Ghizzardi said in an interview.

The Belgian documentary-maker spoke to EUobserver in a cafe in Brussels, ahead of the preview screening of his film in the city's centre for fine arts Bozar, on Monday (20 November).

It may be one of the key takeaways from Ghizzardi's film: the strength of the biofuels lobby. Remarkably, it is a lobby that has grown in response to EU policy.

The documentary tells the story of how the EU decided to embrace the use of biofuels, only to find out that it had not properly considered all the negative consequences.

Biofuels come in several types and forms, roughly divided between the labels 'first generation/conventional', and 'second generation/advanced'.

In particular the biofuels from the first generation have come under fire because of their unintended consequences on the environment, climate, and sometimes even food prices.

The film, seven years in the making, shows the effects of the EU's biofuels policy across the world, including deforestation in Argentina and Indonesia.

In the 2000s, the EU decided to promote biofuels as an alternative to fossil-based fuels petrol and diesel.

By 2010, 5.75 percent of all transport fuel was supposed to be biofuels. For 2020, the target is 10 percent.

But for years the targets did not specify if and when food crops may be used as biofuels, and how to prevent forests – which can suck up greenhouse gases – from being cut to make way for biofuel crops.

"We see that palm oil is emitting three times more CO2 emissions than petrol," said Ghizzardi.

But thanks in part to the EU targets, a powerful lobby has emerged to defend the first generation biofuels, including against the promotion of second generation biofuels.

"The ones who have got the power, they don't let you get in their market without fighting," he said.

The legislation later was adopted in 2015, and included sub-targets for second generation biofuels for 2020.

Then in November 2016, the European Commission proposed to reduce the share of first generation biofuels even further.

But Ghizzardi decided against putting these developments in the film.

"Seeing the face of Mrs Lepage losing the vote afterwards, it explained much more, more than any complex words or whatever," he said.

"I could have written a book. But in documentary you have got only 90 minutes, and that's already long."

The film also leaves out much of the role of the Council of the EU, where national governments meet.

Member states' national governments are "more powerful" than the European Parliament, said Ghizzardi, yet his film is much more focused on the role of the Parliament.

The reason? "That's always a question of access," said Ghizzardi.

"In the member states the lobby is even stronger," said Ghizzardi, noting that more often economic interests were at play rather than environmental ones.

"Everybody was defending his own champion, and his own interests," he added.

But it was difficult to put that in a documentary, he said, because national governments "don't really want to speak about that".

The experience has not made Ghizzardi a eurosceptic. "No, not at all."

"European institutions are really at the core of the political system in Europe," he said.

Instead, one should be sceptical of "the game of the member states", he said, more than the EU institutions themselves.

His next project is about how democracy could be reformed.

Green Gold will be shown in a preview in Bozar, Brussels, on 20 November, and will premiere in Belgium on 22 November

MEPs approve plan to put cap on older biofuels

The European Parliament's environment committee Tuesday approved a plan to try and steer investors away from traditional types of biofuels that have had negative side-effects on food prices, environment and climate change.

Focus

MEPs agree cap on crop-based biofuels

The EU parliament has capped the amount of crop-based biofuels that can be used to reach EU energy targets amid environmental fears.

EU to cap biofuel target to protect food

The EU intends to cap the contribution made by crop-based biofuels to its renewable energy target under draft legislation tabled on Wednesday.

EU to phase out most harmful biofuels

EU negotiators have reached a deal on a new renewable energy directive. 'One of the most sensitive issues during the negotiations was biofuels from food and feed crops,' said MEP Bas Eickhout.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs criticise Juncker over climate and tax policies
  2. Juncker defends commission record on Greek crisis
  3. Croatian MEP criticises EU parliament for trusting Šuica
  4. Brexit is waste of time and energy, says Juncker
  5. Abortion and same-sex marriage become legal in Northern Ireland
  6. Germany wants internationally controlled zone in Syria
  7. EU parliament refuses to debate Catalonia
  8. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder

Greens commit to air quality 'super commissioner'

Following an investigation into the Dieselgate scandal, the European Parliament recommended a single commissioner should be responsible for both air quality and setting industrial standards. But only the Greens want to commit to carry out that advice.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal
  2. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  3. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  4. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  5. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  6. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  7. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate
  8. Crunch Brexit vote in UK This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us