29th Feb 2024


The 'regulatory fatigue' fightback against EU Green Deal

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's proposal for nature restoration has been met with resistance from her own centre-right European People's Party in the European Parliament (Photo: European Union)
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A last-minute political pushback against key EU environmental policies, and delays to the bloc's sustainable agenda, are testing the EU's ability to finalise the last batch of green legislation in time for the European Parliament elections in 2024.

The climate and biodiversity crisis, and the EU's historical responsibility for climate change, have triggered a difficult paradigm for regulators in the bloc — which comes with no easy solutions.

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  • EPP chief Manfred Weber, and industry groups, are now leading opposition to some key pieces of green legislation (Photo: European Parliament)

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) is now positioning itself as the champion of farmers and rural interests, ahead of next year's European elections, leading a pushback against the EU's green agenda.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's proposals for nature restoration and pesticide reduction have been met with resistance from her own centre-right party in the European Parliament, led by fellow German EPP MEP Manfred Weber.

"We cannot continue as if nothing has happened to our economy since the start of the war and the excessive pressure it puts on our rural communities and our farmers," says Weber.

Blowback against green policies, for example in the Netherlands, triggered the Farmer Citizen Movement's triumph in March provincial elections — becoming both a surprise and a worry for centre-right parties that rely on support from rural voters.

With legislation perceived as excessively burdensome by various member state capitals, farmer groups, business lobbies, and some groups in the EU parliament, what does that mean for the Green Deal and public support for the EU's green transition ahead of the 2024 elections?

'Regulatory inflation'?

The Green Deal, launched by the European Commission in December 2019, aims at transforming the EU's economy towards sustainability while keeping the bloc competitive against the threats posed by China and the US.

Key proposals include the first-ever climate law (which sets legally-binding targets to reduce carbon emissions), the Fit-for-55 package (which put forward stricter rules for energy, transport, buildings, and agriculture), the Farm to Fork strategy (which includes laws to make food production and consumption more sustainable) and the Biodiversity strategy (which foresees key proposals to protect and restore ecosystems).

Although much of this extensive package of environmental and health laws has already been finalised, some of the proposals scheduled towards the end of this EU's legislative term are now being met with resistance at the final hurdle.

The Green Deal has already comprised more than 46 legislative proposals whose compliance requires time and costs for companies, both financial and in terms of human resources. The lobby group BusinessEurope has dubbed this "regulatory inflation" for companies.

But that message is now also being repeated by some EU leaders.

Last month, Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo called for a regulatory pause, while French president Emmanuel Macron expressed concerns about the effects of excessive regulation on competitiveness.

"We are implementing what we have decided, but we must stop adding to it," Macron said in May.

Echoing the same message, De Croo shortly after said: "If we are overburdening people with rules and regulations, we risk losing the public support for the green agenda."

This 'regulatory fatigue' message on green policies has been gaining momentum, in response to various different crises that have rocked the bloc.

Earlier this year, von der Leyen revealed plans to reduce reporting requirements for businesses by 25 percent by this autumn, to boost competitiveness — particularly in light of the growing competition from the US and China in the field of clean technology.

That has already triggered a simplification in the European Sustainability Reporting Standards proposal which, in turn, seeks to improve businesses' transparency of green and social practices.

Meanwhile, environmental experts regard the last-minute pushbacks and attempts to dilute green proposals as a worrying development with the potential to undermine the EU's credibility on the global stage.

The climate crisis won't 'pause'

"These calls for a 'regulatory pause' on the green agenda are not based on science and on facts. The biodiversity and climate crises won't pause, they are actually accelerating," Anaïs Berthier, a ClientEarth lawyer, told EUobserver.

If there were a regulatory pause, the EU's leadership in the international arena would be deeply undermined, Berthier warned. "The EU must lead by example and honour its Green Deal commitments to pave the way for adopting similar rules across the world".

In recent months, there has been a mounting debate surrounding key environmental legislation, with notable attempts to slow down progress on certain files.

The spotlight has now fallen on the EU's nature restoration law, drawing criticism from some EU capitals and centre-right MEPs mainly due to concerns related to food security and the anticipated administrative burden of additional financial and human resources at the national level.

Although EU countries recently managed to reach a common position on this controversial law, its fate ultimately hinges on the upcoming vote by MEPs.

The nature restoration law is, however, just one example among several proposals facing a political backlash.

Another notable instance involves the repeated attempts by centre-right lawmakers to suspend further environmental requirements under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), due to worries about food security thanks to the conflict in Ukraine.

One year after the commission decided to derogate certain green obligations for arable land, evidence suggests that a total of 21 EU countries have used these exceptional measures to their advantage — resulting in the loss of over 771,000 hectares initially dedicated to biodiversity to extra farm production.

(Photo: Ed Alcock/MYOP Le Monde)

Additionally, the sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR), aimed at halving pesticide usage by 2030, has also encountered resistance from centre-right MEPs and EU agricultural ministers.

"The reduction targets chosen are simply not feasible and the proposal does not offer farmers viable alternatives," reads an EPP position paper published last month.

Meanwhile, the commission's approval of the council's request for an additional impact assessment on the regulation's effects on food security has resulted in delays in negotiations among member states, prolonging the discussions.

Potential paralysis?

The resistance to green regulations also extends to some aspects of the due diligence law and air quality standards proposal.

In the transport sector, there have also been pushbacks against stricter emissions rules known as the Euro 7 standards.

Eight EU countries (France, Italy, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia) have voiced opposition, citing concerns about potential negative impacts on investment in the car industry's decarbonisation efforts.

Among these countries, Poland has been particularly vocal in its opposition to EU green policies, recently filing an appeal with the bloc's highest court against the EU's Fit for 55 rules for combustion engines.

Warsaw argues that the EU ban on sales of new petrol and diesel car from 2034 will adversely affect the bloc's economy — and it has warned that more appeals are yet to come against other Fit-for-55 laws.

This move has raised concerns about the potential paralysis of the EU itself.

"Should every EU member state challenge the legality of every single EU legislation it has opposed, the Union would be paralysed," said Alberto Alemanno, professor of EU law at HEC Paris.

"Possibly this is what the Polish are trying to achieve here: to stall the EU climate package at the end of this policy cycle ahead of the next EP elections in June 2024".

The growing pushback against the Green Deal has sparked concerns over the beginning of political manoeuvring within the EU parliament ahead of next year's elections — with climate change expected to be at the heart of the debate.

"Against every scientific evidence, some political parties are now spreading fake news and opposing food security and nature restoration with the short-term goal to win some votes," said Berthier.

And the narrative put about by the industrial farming lobby, and the EPP, regarding pesticide reductions and nature restoration being detrimental to food security has been discredited by numerous scientists.

(Photo: European Parliament)

For his part, energy analyst Simone Tagliapietra from Brussels-based think tank Bruegel argues that slowing down the green transition based on concerns about industrial competitiveness is fundamentally misguided.

"If we have a good industrial policy in place, this can become an unprecedented opportunity for Europe," he told EUobserver.

Tagliapietra emphasised the importance of a robust industrial policy and clear, credible policies that provide companies with visibility and incentives.

Finding the right balance between regulation and incentives, avoiding fragmentation of state aid, and fostering collaboration between the public and private sectors is crucial for attracting investments and retaining companies within Europe, he said.

But other concerns have been raised, over the possibility of companies now choosing to invest outside of Europe.

"There is an alarming trend of companies, big and small, leaving Europe to invest somewhere else," according to the BusinessEurope lobby. "Companies need clear and simple rules, especially SMEs."

Meanwhile, one-third of EU citizens consider the fight against climate change as one of the key priorities for the EU.

And a recent survey by the Institute for European Environmental Policy shows optimism from experts about the Green Deal's future, with 61 percent believing it will be moderately resilient after the 2024 European elections.

However, they warn that insufficient commitment from national governments actually poses the greatest challenge to fulfilling the Green Deal's ambitions.

Row over EPP 'blackmailing' MEPs on eve of nature vote

The centre-right European People's Party (EPP) denied any form of blackmailing — after the chair of the environment committee accused the EPP chair of threatening his own members with political retaliation if they vote for the controversial restoration law.


EU needs land reform to stop Big Agri swallowing up small farms

The lack of a European land policy is incoherent with other EU policy goals and plays a major role in future farmers not having access to land. It also contributes to loss of biodiversity, increases agricultural greenhouse emissions and pesticides.


The Green Deal is gonna need a European Climate Fund

The last few months have brought increasing clarity on the legislative framework underpinning the European Green Deal — but very little clarity on the key question of how this will be financed.


The Big Agri lobby and the EPP threaten to destroy Green Deal

Copa-Cogeca, which acts primarily in the interest of agribusiness and large-scale farms, along with the far-right and the European People's Party, are hell-bent on sabotaging the nature restoration law with a toxic cocktail of fear-mongering, lies, and manipulation.

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