Thursday

29th Sep 2022

Opinion

Juncker's environment omissions betray true priorities

  • Climate and environment don't seem to be truly on Jean-Claude Juncker's mind. (Photo: European commission)

The State of the Union speech given by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker earlier this week has received mixed reactions.

In the immediate aftermath, most praised his call for action to help the refugees arriving in Europe and his linking of climate change and the refugee crisis was welcomed in environmental circles.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

However, as the week goes on, what Juncker actually said is becoming increasingly blurred as commentators mix the version of the speech he delivered with the text that appears on the Commission's website.

The two are widely different and the omissions and additions make for interesting reading, in particular as regards the environment and sustainable development.

Since coming to power, President Juncker has made it clear that the environment is not at the forefront of his mind.

His 10 priorities push a traditional business-as-usual economic growth agenda and the only significant mention of the environment is via climate change and energy.

The need for greater resource efficiency and measures to protect biodiversity, ecosystems and environmental health are conspicuous by their absence.

Furthermore, in the year in which a new global agreement on Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted, only after insistence from the European Parliament supported by NGOs, did Juncker agree to tag "sustainable development" onto the job description of Vice President Timmermans.

On Wednesday, the European Environmental Bureau (EBB) tuned in to listen to the State of the Union speech. We were struck by the length of the speech, its lack of coherence and Juncker's inability to rise above the heckling from Eurosceptic MEPs.

However, we were happy to see him join the dots between the refugee crisis and the effects of climate change, and given his previous track record, we were not unduly surprised when he did not go the extra mile and link the impact of Europe's lifestyle on the rest of the world.

We were therefore shocked to read the text of the speech online and find that the president had made a number of Freudian slips around sustainability and the environment that worryingly seem to reveal the true state of his thinking.

True feelings?

There were in fact two different speeches. In the online version, it reads: "This is not the time to count how many times the word social, economic or sustainable appears in the State of the Union speech."

However, once in the mouth of Mr Juncker, this became: "Don't count up how many times I use the word social, just take it that my heart is full of the social, and don't count how many times I use the word economic or monetary or budget."

Interesting that the word "sustainable" never made it into Mr Juncker's speech, while the word "economic" was repeated in three different forms.

Likewise, in the online version, the text presciently states that: "The planet we share – its atmosphere and stable climate – cannot cope with the use mankind is making of it.

Some parts of the world have been living beyond their means, creating carbon debt and living on it. As we know from economics and crisis management, living beyond our means is not sustainable behaviour."

"Nature will foot us the bill soon enough. In some parts of the world, climate change is changing the sources of conflict – the control over a dam or a lake can be more strategic than an oil refinery.”

This is strong rhetoric, and we would have been delighted to hear these words spoken out loud by a European Commission president in the European Parliament.

Alas, it was not to be.

Mr Juncker spent too long jockeying about and ran out of time. As he said, he needed to wrap up and stick to the most "salient points" of his speech.

"Nature", the world's life support system, was apparently not salient enough for him.

Mr Juncker, your rhetoric on climate change sounded good, but as long as you stick blindly to your 10 points and ignore the reality that strong environmental policies are vital for a healthy economy, the environment and the people who depend on it will suffer.

Jeremy Wates is Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Juncker sets out 2016 plan

The commission president outlined his 10 priorities in a letter of intent. Deepening the monetary union and creating a new EU pillar for social rights are the main points beside migration and climate issues.

Scrapping of environmental plans 'alarming'

A group of 10 environmental NGOs are “deeply concerned” by draft European Commission plans to scrap proposals aimed at improving air quality and reducing waste.

2016: The year of sustainable development?

The European Commission's work programme for 2016 shows glimmers of hope that the environment is no longer the Commission blindspot that it was a year ago.

Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?

The Queen's funeral was an impressive demonstration of solidarity from the EU towards a country that left the Union in 2020, and with whom the EU's relations have never recovered. Can the new King Charles III build bridges to Brussels?

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  2. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  3. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  4. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  5. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  6. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap
  7. EU: Nord Stream explosions 'result of a deliberate act'
  8. EU okays €21bn Covid-recovery funding for Italy amid concern

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. The European shipping giants plying Putin's fossil-fuels trade
  2. Russian ideologue and caviar on latest EU blacklist
  3. Netherlands tops EU social safety net for the poor
  4. New EU rules to make companies liable for their AI failures
  5. Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?
  6. Meloni's navy-blockade plan to stop Libya migrants 'unlikely'
  7. Underwater explosions were detected near Nord Stream leaks
  8. EU countries stall new pesticide rules, blame Ukraine war

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us