Since the European elections in May, Brussels officials have been working their way to finalize the formation of the European Union’s key institutions. The E.U. leaders had one clear task: appointing more women to leading positions and responding to a wave of climate protests, which resulted in unprecedented support for the Greens in the elections.
While E.U. leaders managed to find a gender-balanced leadership choosing Ursula von der Leyen as the Commission president and Cristine Legarde as the next president of the European Central Bank, the response to citizens’ pressure on climate change is not as evident.
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Just after the elections, it was expected that the Greens, the European Parliament’s fourth-biggest political group, would be in the race for one of the top 5 E.U. jobs. However, it soon became clear that the Greens did not have enough leverage and that the main decisions would be taken by the Parliament’s strongholds: the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D).
Ska Keller, the Greens candidate for the European Parliament’s presidency, fell short in securing the necessary votes, giving way to Italian socialist David Sassoli to ensure the post.
Nice speech by @vonderleyen. But beyond nice words, nothing concrete on: #climate, #searescue, #ruleoflaw, #leadcandidates. How exactly is she planning to put the words into action? Concrete proposals would have been good.
— Ska Keller (@SkaKeller) July 16, 2019
The German national Keller did not have big chances to take the lead in the Parliament since former German Defense Minister Von der Leyen unexpectedly emerged as an EPP candidate for the Commission president.
Support for Green Parties
The support of European citizens for green parties made a political block of the Greens particular consistent with their environmentally strong position. After the meeting with Von der Leyen, the Greens promised not to support her candidacy.
Even though Von der Leyen tried to accommodate various demands from several political groups, her ambitious climate targets – such as climate-neutrality by 2050, CO2 emissions reduction by no less than 50 percent by 2030, and promises to bring a Green Deal in the first 100 days – did not impress the Greens.
"Despite your appreciated commitments on climate, what you said falls short of what we want. Environment is more than just climate. You didn't speak about biodiversity or natural resources. You didn't mention the EU Common agricultural policy and its disastrous effects on Europe" pic.twitter.com/EdpZ16CoCC
— Greens/EFA in the EU Parliament (@GreensEFA) July 16, 2019
The reality is that the European states failed to agree on the 2050 carbon-neutral target just less than a month ago. There are no guarantees that Commission President Von der Leyen will manage to convince the members now.
Even though the Greens seemed the most critical, it was not just the Greens who voted against the first female Commission president. Von der Leyen barely passed the necessary number of votes. She won 383 votes in a secret paper ballot – only nine more than the required minimum – but 327 Members of Parliament voted against her candidacy.
Europe should be the first climate neutral continent in the world. pic.twitter.com/UeYzJu3GiO
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) July 16, 2019
After Von der Leyen was elected, the European Union Left-Nordic Green Left issued a statement saying that her ‘Green Deal for Europe’ “is not commensurate to the climate emergency the planet is facing, with insufficient targets rehashed from the previous Commission, amounting to a cynical greenwashing of climate policy.”
After her first speech as Commission president, Von der Leyen was criticized for not discussing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, which according to the European Court of Auditors, lacks greener ambition. Agriculture is the world’s largest source of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the question of environmental aspects of agricultural policy in Europe is riskier to touch, as the previous Parliament’s Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI), led by the EPP, voted against greener CAP Reform and blocked the vast majority of amendments suggested by the Environmental Committee. Not surprisingly, the Greens did not manage to get a chair position at the AGRI Committee, which in upcoming months is expected to play a crucial role in deciding the agricultural policy in Europe for the next seven years.
Despite their big wins in the elections, so far, it is hard to see how the Greens will manage to push for the greener reforms in the European Union. While the leading positions in the Parliament are already known, the Commission is still waiting for 28 new Commissioners to be nominated sometime in September.
Earlier in July, European Council President Donald Tusk called for “involving the Greens” in sharing the E.U.’s high-ranking posts. The Greens have already asked for four E.U. Commissioners jobs in return for their support for the Commission’s legislative proposals.
Von der Leyen has so far promised a greater gender and geographical balance in her Commission, but it remains to be seen if the Greens get their share and if the unprecedented wave of climate protests before the elections, where citizens across Europe clearly demanded more effective climate policies, will turn into real political action.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.