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28th Sep 2020

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Lobbyists backed election of key MEP on shipping emissions

  • Pernille Weiss' backers at Danish Shipping also represent more than 90 shipowners and offshore companies, including Maersk, the world's largest (Photo: Kwak Dongmin)

The centre-right's lead MEP on a policy to cut emissions for shipping received campaign backing from industrial lobbyists representing the same sector.

Danish centre-right MEP Pernille Weiss's campaign for the European elections reportedly received financial support from Danish Shipping, in what a pro-transparency group is calling a conflict of interest.

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  • Danish MEP Pernille Weiss. The European Parliament requires MEPs declare any "financial interests which might influence the performance" of their duties (Photo: Wikimedia)

Weiss has since tabled amendments which follow the shipping industry's wish-list and in opposition to all other political groups, aside from the far-right.

The aim of the policy, known as the MRV regulation, is to cut shipping emissions by 40 percent over the next ten years.

The issue is sensitive because of the European Union's long-term climate neutrality goal, where shipping's carbon emission output is the equivalent of Belgium or 3.7 percent of total EU CO2.

Weiss' backers at Danish Shipping also represent more than 90 shipowners and offshore companies, including Maersk, the world's largest.

In an email to EUobserver, it confirmed it had supported several parties in the run-up to the European Parliament elections.

"This includes support to [Denmark's] Conservative People's Party, where Pernille Weiss is the lead candidate," it said.

It did not say how much she was given and Weiss's office did not confirm or deny it, when queried.

But Weiss's link to Danish Shipping is not limited to elections.

Her own head of policy, Alexander von Wildenrath Løvgreen, spent over a year and half at Danish Shipping where he worked as their EU policy advisor.

At one point, he became the de-facto head of the office and described his position as "a full-time lobbyist" for Danish Shipping.

The European Parliament requires MEPs declare any "financial interests which might influence the performance" of their duties.

Weiss' did not declare Danish Shipping, which spent up to €600,000 lobbying the EU last year.

In an email, Løvgreen said it was because the rules only apply when an MEP has worked for, or sat on a board of, a firm or any other outfit.

But the same rules also require MEPs to declare "any other financial interests" which might influence them.

However, such rules are also vague on campaign donations.

Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory, an NGO that works on transparency issues, says stronger transparency rules are needed because of this.

"It is clearly worrying that MEP Weiss had her election campaign financed by a shipping industry lobby group. She should at the very least have been transparent about it and disclosed her conflict of interest whenever she speaks about shipping issues, as required by the code of conduct for MEPs," he said, in emailed statement.

EPP and the far-right Identity and Democracy

Meanwhile, all the political groups - except for the EPP and the far-right - are seeking to cut shipping emissions by 40 percent over the next ten years, using 2018 as a baseline.

"If we choose to punish first movers in their process towards decarbonisation, this will send a very dangerous message for any company considering to advance in climate change ahead of regulatory initiatives," said Weiss, in her amendment, which demands the baseline is pushed back to 2008.

That year, 2008, is strategically important for the industry because of the global financial crisis. When the crisis hit, the speed of ships decreased and emissions dropped by some 30 percent between 2008 and 2015 due to market forces.

This would mean the sector would only need to improve efficiency by another 10 percent over the next ten years to meet the 2030 target - as opposed to using 2018 as the starting point.

Over 11,000 ships call at ports in the EU, including Iceland and Norway.

Jutta Paulus, a German Green MEP who is the European Parliament's lead MEP on the MRV regulation, describes the 2008 baseline as misleading.

She says it cannot be used because no data on cargo carried is available for the year 2008, which is needed to number crunch efficiency targets.

"We are not putting the target for the individual ship, we are putting the target for the average of all ships that companies run. It is the average that we are looking at," Paulus also pointed out.

Paulus is hoping she will be able to iron out what she describes as misunderstandings with Weiss.

"She is very much into climate ambition," said Paulus of Weiss, noting her progressive work on energy efficiency for buildings.

"So I still believe we can find a way to clear those misunderstandings and to find a compromise because of course it would really be a pity if we go to a vote and the EPP would be aligning with the ID [Identity and Democracy] against climate ambition," said Paulus.

The European Parliament's environmental committee is set to vote on the revised regulation next week, followed by a plenary vote sometime in July.

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