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16th Nov 2019

Timmermans to end EU climate 'contradictions'

  • “It is absolutely unavoidable to abolish fossil fuel subsidies” - which is one of the most obvious contradictions in the energy transition, Timmermans said. (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Fossil fuel subsidies should end and there is "no future in coal", the EU's would-be green commissioner, Frans Timmermans, has said.

"I will have the responsibility to make sure that the commission, as a whole, does not do contradictory things anymore," he told MEPs in his European Parliament (EP) hearing on Tuesday (8 October).

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  • EU's plan to transition to zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050. (Photo: European Commission)

Timmermans is to take care of a "green deal" portfolio and to help make Europe climate-neutral - with net zero CO2 emissions - by 2050.

The Dutch politician had previously battled Hungary and Poland's judicial abuses in his post as EU rule of law commissioner.

And the new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, raised expectation on climate action by putting him in charge of the new "green" post.

Timmermans' said his job would be to "put in law that the European Union and its member states will have reached climate neutrality by 2050".

He promised new legislation in his first 100 days in office.

"I want to come before parliament with a draft climate law that stipulates not just 2050 [target], but also what we need to do in medium steps to get there," he added.

And "it is absolutely unavoidable to abolish fossil fuel subsidies" in order to end one of the EU's most glaringly self-contradictory policies, he said.

There was "no future in coal," Timmermans also said, in the face of a powerful coal lobby and trade union movement in parts of Europe.

People's mentalities needed to change for the EU's "energy transition" to go ahead, he explained.

Europe must "convince people that this change [energy transition] is not a loss but for a gain for them", he added.

But more money would also be needed, on top of an existing €4.8bn transition fund, to push reforms through, he also said.

Europe will need a much bigger fund "to support the people and communities most affected, including those in industrial, coal and energy-intensive regions," such as Poland, Germany, or Spain, Timmermans said.

"We cannot afford to screw up", the Dutch politician told MEPs, on a note of alarm.

For some of them, his presentation fell short on detail.

"Frans Timmermans [still] needs to prove that the European Commission understands the dimension of climate urgency", the Greens group said after he spoke.

"There remains a very clear danger that the green deal stays a collection of non-binding strategies," it said in a statement.

But for his part, Timmermans promised detailed legislation, including on carbon border ties and aviation emissions.

"We should also be prepared to consider [the] carbon border tax to level the playing field for European products if other countries do not go far as us or refuse to go in the right direction," he said.

"My idea would be to say to our international partners: we are making this transition to a climate-neutral economy by 2050. If you make the same measures or comparable measures going in the same direction, we will make this voyage together," Timmermans added.

Otherwise, they would face carbon border adjustment, depending on the carbon footprint of their products, he warned.

But the carbon border tax needed to be compatible with World Trade Organisation rules to prevent problems, he said.

Emissions system

He also proposed that the EU's emissions trading system (ETS) should be extended to the aviation and maritime sectors.

Emissions from aviation are growing faster than any other mode of transport, becoming a significant contributor to climate change.

When asked about allowing non-EU states to participate in the ETS, which makes polluters pay to emit carbon, Timmermans said that could be an option to level the playing field.

But, for all of these efforts to be effective the EU has "to convince others to step up their ambition too," he said.

Speaking to the Czech MEP Alexandr Vondra, who was concerned that the European green deal "will cost us more than our societies are able to sustain", Timmermans said that the environmental transition will also have to consider tax rules.

"We have also to green the taxation system," Timmermans said.

Von der Leyen gives Timmermans green deal

EU Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen announced that Frans Timmermans will coordinate the European 'Green Deal' and climate action policies.

Feature

Who is Frans Timmermans?

The Dutch frontrunner for president of the European Commission is popular at home - but seen as the personification of an unfairly-critical Brussels in some central and eastern member states.

Sinkevičius pledges to 'listen' to climate protests

Lithuania's commissioner-designate, Virginijus Sinkevičius, unveiled during his three-hour hearing on Thursday a package of proposals to protect the environment - from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the sky.

Estonian nominee's answers fails to convince all MEPs

Estonia's European commissioner-designate for the energy portfolio, Kadri Simson, did not manage to fully convince MEPs during her grilling. She avoided questions on concrete actions for the energy transition in Europe.

EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate

Climate change was part of the agenda of the EU leaders for Friday's summit. However, the council decided to finalise the EUʼs long-term strategy on climate change at its next meeting in December.

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