Sunday

25th Feb 2018

Opinion

Parliament: do not let Poland hijack green agenda

  • Regional funds should not support fossil fuel projects (Photo: AdamCohn)

Warsaw's latest battle against efforts to 'green' Europe's economy is being played out in the European Parliament's regional affairs committee. Polish-designed technical texts could kill the environment-friendly criteria attached to the next €1 trillion EU budget.

Two weeks ago, Jan Olbrycht, a Polish centre-right MEP who drafts the parliament's position on the rules for the European Regional Development Fund submitted an opinion in which he explicitly asks for oil and gas transmission and storage projects to be financed from funds to be dedicated to low-carbon measures in the next Cohesion Policy.

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Why is this important?

First of all, because Olbrycht's opinion matters a great deal. As the rapporteur, his voice will be listened to by his committee.

In turn, the decision made by this committee on the shape of the next Cohesion Policy will be effectively the position of the European Parliament in its negotiations with the EU Council (member states) over regional funds. Especially since Olbrycht is personally leading on talks with the Council on this topic.

Secondly, because the Council positions on pro-environmental measures are often so retrograde that they need a counter-weight from the more progressive parliament. But, after hijacking the European 2050 low-carbon roadmap in the European Council on 24 April, Poland seems set to co-opt the parliament as well in its pro-fossil-fuels game.

Finally, beyond the political shenanigans, there is the shape the next Cohesion Policy is taking.

In October last year, the European Commission proposed regulations to guide the next Cohesion Policy (2014-2020) which called for this financial instrument to serve the EU 2020 goals, including decarbonising the European economy.

The commission also proposed "ring-fencing" - that is, reserving fixed minimum percentages of the available funding (20% for the EU’s richer regions and a particularly modest 6% for the poorest) for low-carbon measures.

Since then, both the parliament and Council have unfortunately started diluting many of the commission's progressive proposals. While the 6 percent low-carbon investment threshold for poorest regions will actually be raised to 10 percent, this is the only good news and, even there, the devil is in the details.

The 'ring-fenced' low-carbon spending area has in the meantime been expanded to include new things – most notably, investments supporting clean urban transport.

Those are of course welcome investments, encouraging a modal shift away from the private car, but they should be done with transport funds and not compete for money with projects supporting renewables or energy efficiency.

It is in fact much easier in practice to spend big money on urban transport than on other low-carbon priorities: for example, the construction of one section of the metro line in Warsaw is set to receive around €700 million from the 2007-2013 cohesion pot, more than the entire seven-year allocation of EU funds for renewables (€663 million) or energy efficiency (€443 million) for Poland.

This is not all.

Time and again, new items pop up to crowd out real low-carbon measures from the sums of money 'ring-fenced' for this purpose.

The Council has been promoting financing high efficiency co-generation of heat and power (read: possibly coal-fired even) from these funds. Plus, this same money could end up supporting efficiency improvements at big polluters which should anyway be investing in those measures as a result of the incentive system under the EU emissions trading system.

On top of that comes Olbrycht's proposal to add oil and gas infrastructure as eligible for those low-carbon funds.

It is truly a pity that, in an already difficult political context, the institution which should act on behalf of European society is steering the new Cohesion Policy in directions driven by industrial lobbying and national political agendas. But there is still time to change that: the REGI committee decision is not until 9 July.

Markus Trilling is EU Funds coordinator at CEE Bankwatch Network, an umbrella organisation for NGOs looking at how regional funds are spent.

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