29th Sep 2023

Timmermans thanks climate activists for nature vote victory

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Following a contentious vote earlier in the day that saw the nature restoration law pass in the European Parliament, MEPs in Strasbourg debated the future of the Green Deal on Wednesday (12 July).

Earlier, the effort by the conservative European People's Party (EPP) party leader Manfred Weber to block the law in parliament had narrowly failed.

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  • Activists had gathered at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday in support of the nature restoration law — which ultimately narrowly passed (Photo: Coline Balfroid)

Still, as Weber pointed out later, the legislation was severely watered down in the amending process, inserting further delays and exemptions for agricultural lands.

This left a sour taste in the mouths of many climate activists and cast a shadow over future green legislation.

But EU green deal chief Frans Timmermans called on civil society organisations, scientists and the public, which had "mobilised in an unprecedented way" to keep on the pressure and continue pushing for more and better green legislation.

"Look at all the debunking done by civil society organisations, scientists and industry leaders," he said. "I thank the young people who went into the streets. They helped us get a majority."

Weber's spokesperson Dirk Gotink was less enthusiastic about the green activism. "I guess we also learned that the climate lobby is the new hegemon in the EU lobby bubble. Tough as nails campaign tactics, next-level demonisation of opponents," he tweeted after the vote.

Falsehoods and manipulation

On Wednesday, EU green deal chief Frans Timmermans called on legislators to "not fall for the trap" of delaying the inevitable shift to greener modes of production.

"Don't sell people the fallacy that by tying them to the past, you offer them a future," he told MEPs. "When combustion engines were invented, what would we have done? Worry about horse and carriage and too many grooms losing their jobs? Would that have slowed down the introduction of combustion engines?

He also called out the EPP's "falsehoods and manipulation", which he said reminded him of the "totalitarian approach" which celebrates "ignorance as strength."

"There are so many jobs in wind turbine buildings and building heat pumps. All the facts point to more jobs in the new future," he said, calling on all parties to unite and concentrate "our combined political force" into reskilling workers.

Ahead of the vote, Weber claimed the EPP "rejected only two out of 33 green deal files: the combustion engine ban and the nature restoration law."

"We are not a rubber stamping machine. We just want a new proposal. We don't want to stop it or block it," he said.

But powerful voices in Europe, including French president Emmanuel Macron and Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo, have said it is time to "hit the pause button" on further green legislation.

"We're ahead of the Americans, the Chinese or any other global power in regulatory terms," Macron said in a May press conference. "Now we need to execute", rather than add more pages by the hundreds to the green rulebook.

The EU Commission launched the Green Deal in 2019 to transition to a sustainable economy while keeping a competitive edge against the industrial dominance of China and the US. Proposals include legally-binding emission reduction targets, stricter energy, transport, buildings, and agriculture rules, and the biodiversity strategy, including natural restoration.

The worry that doing too much may hamper EU's industries has been a central line of centre-right and rightwing parties "for at least a year," said Greens MEP Phillip Lamberts in a Tuesday press conference.

"If we reduce production here, we will give a competitive edge to those outside the EU," EPP MEP François-Xavier Bellamy said on Wednesday, voicing those concerns.

But progressive MEPs and Timmermans said speeding up industrial and economic adaptation to the new green reality would give Europe a competitive edge.

"I sometimes think we just have totally different narratives," said Socialists and Democrats MEP Mohammed Chahim, who called on his EPP colleagues to "come back to the table and discuss."


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