Thursday

5th Aug 2021

Investigation

Macron's carbon border tax - why hasn't he done anything?

  • French president Emmanuel Macron (r) meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Osaka, Japan at the G20 summit this month (Photo: European Commission)

French president Emmanuel Macron is known for declaring 'grand visions' for Europe, and continuously stresses his commitment to the global climate treaty agreed in 2015 in Paris.

But there is a difference between making speeches and doing the groundwork needed to make visions a reality.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The idea behind a carbon border tax is that any products imported from outside the EU would include the same price on carbon emissions as EU products (Photo: Ted McGrath)

Macron has proclaimed several times that he believed there should be a 'carbon border tax' on products coming from outside the EU.

An investigation by EUobserver shows, however, that France has made little attempt to convince the European Commission or other EU member states that such a tax should be introduced.

"Nothing concrete is on the table," an EU source said on the condition of anonymity.

On 26 September 2017, Macron held a wide-ranging speech at the Paris Sorbonne university that lasted almost two hours.

He said there was a need for a "fair carbon price", so that companies have an incentive to reduce their CO2 emissions.

"If this strategy is to be successful, we must also ensure that our manufacturers that are most exposed to globalisation are on an equal footing with competing companies and industries from other regions in the world that do not have the same environmental requirements," said Macron.

"That is why we should have a European border carbon tax; it is crucial," the French leader added.

A few months later, at the annual United Nations climate summit in Bonn, Macron again called for a European border tax.

He did so again earlier this year, in a speech that was largely a response to the yellow jacket protests.

"The climate must be at the heart of the national and European project," said Macron in April, once more calling for a EU border tax.

Words v action

However, when you want a new tax introduced at EU level, calling for it in speeches is not enough.

The way the EU works, you would need to convince the European Commission to draft a legislative proposal, which would then need to be adopted by the national governments convening in the Council of the EU.

A common approach would be for a country to send the commission letters or papers arguing in favour of the thing you want implemented.

Following Macron's latest mention of the tax, in April, EUobserver filed an access to documents request to see what the French so far had sent to Brussels.

It asked the EU commission all letters, emails, papers, and presentations from the French government arguing in favour of a European carbon border tax, or other carbon pricing measures, as well as any minutes, records or emails summarising the French position about such measures, since 1 September 2017.

Both the commission's directorate-general (DG) taxation and its DG climate action said that the commission did not have "documents that would correspond to the description given in your application".

In other words: France has made no effort to send the commission detailed proposals on how to implement a carbon border tax.

'Never discussed'

The French also did not make any effort to raise the issue in the council.

"It has never been discussed, either at working party level or Ecofin," a council source said on condition of anonymity.

Ecofin is the constellation of economic and financial affairs ministers, meeting in Brussels or Luxembourg.

"Ministers can raise a point on their own initiative. The French have never done that on a carbon border tax," a council source said on condition of anonymity.

By contrast, Belgium and the Netherlands have raised their proposals for an aviation tax at the council, for example on fuel or VAT on tickets.

Such preliminary discussions are needed to find allies, in particular in the area of taxation - where each EU state has a veto.

The non-profit campaign groups Transport & Environment and the Trade Justice Movement are in favour of such a levy, calling it a carbon border tax adjustment.

"Carbon border tax adjustments are import fees levied by countries that put a price on carbon on goods manufactured in countries that do not put an equivalent price on carbon," it explained in a report from November 2017.

"The adjustment is designed to level the playing field in international trade while internalising the cost of climate damage into the prices of goods and services," it said.

The tax could be a way to address Donald Trump's intention to leave the Paris agreement, by making imports from the US more expensive if products are not climate-friendly.

The French permanent representation in Brussels did not want to comment on the record.

A French source told EUobserver that the lack of formal documents did not mean nothing was being done.

"We keep talking and trying to convince others bilaterally," the source said, on condition of anonymity.

"The French position is quite well-known. We keep feeding partners with technical papers," said the contact.

No trade war

But the EU commission still needs convincing. An email from an EU source showed that the commission mainly saw obstacles.

"Border measures on products imported into the EU give several problems: compliance with the World Trade Organization rules is questionable; challenging implementation – it is very difficult to determine how much carbon there is in imported products; border measures can lead to reactions from trade partners – we do not want to enter a trade war in times when we need to foster and lead on international climate cooperation," the source said in an email.

It also said that it would conflict with the design of the EU's emissions trading system, which already includes free allocation of 'polluting permits' to prevent CO2-intensive companies from leaving the bloc.

This echoes the commission's response in 2010, when one of Macron's predecessors called for basically the same thing.

"I will fight for a carbon tax levied on EU borders," then French president Nicolas Sarkozy said.

But then EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht ruled out such a tax, saying "it will ...lead to an escalating trade war on a global level."

Magazine

Macron: Hegelian hero of EU history?

The election of the 39-year old newcomer injected new hope and dynamism. But the French president still has to find solid allies in the EU and deliver his ambitious agenda at home.

Macron seeks far-reaching EU overhaul

From the eurozone to defence and education, the French president presented plans to reform the EU which he said other leaders have "no choice" but to follow.

EU carbon border tax to target imports from 2026

The European Commission wants to impose an import levy on certain goods produced in third countries with lower environmental standards, from 2026. From 2023 to 2025, importers will only have to report emissions embedded in their goods.

MEPs agree carbon border tax - heavy industries protected

Green groups warned that if heavy industry continues to receive free allowances even after a carbon border levy is in place, this would essentially be a double subsidy for those sectors. "The European Commission must correct this," the WWF warned.

News in Brief

  1. EU secures deal with Novavax for potential Covid-19 vaccine
  2. France fined €10m for failing to tackle air pollution
  3. Fire near Athens forces thousands to evacuate
  4. EU to Lebanon: 'deliver results' on Beirut blast probe
  5. Belarus opposition leader demands regime end
  6. Croatia's border-monitoring of migrant rights 'falls short'
  7. Court stops Austria's Afghan deportation, as conflict worsens
  8. 'Missing' Belarus exiles group chief found dead in Kyiv

EU faces long wait for full vaccine supplies

The EU is still several months away from having enough vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people, with Pfizer and BioNTech, its principle suppliers, aiming for September for delivery targets.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Italy seeks EU help on migrant boat arrivals
  2. WHO calls for vaccine-booster pause to help poor countries
  3. Romania selling on its jabs, despite low vaccination rates
  4. Cyprus' Varosha is Erdogan's canary in the coalmine
  5. Europe sees drop in Covid-19 cases
  6. Burkinis and 'soul caps' - policing Olympic women back in fashion
  7. Telegram groups lure migrant hopefuls to Lithuania
  8. Third-time lucky for one Syrian grandmother in Denmark

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us