Climate package – meeting with the Construction Industry


Thank you for asking me to chair  this meeting of the construction industry. I must admit that I was somehow expecting you all to arrive several days late, without the right materials, make a mess, take ages to get started  – and then charge me double the estimate –  but you are here so let us get started.

In February, just as the new commission was announced, I wrote an article published in the Parliament Magazine in which I questioned some of the baggage from the old Commission that had been handed over. I used the example of the much-flawed, expensive and complicated directive to modify the EU emission trading scheme. I wrote the article as a prompt to the new Commissioners – none of whom have any responsibility for the relevant portfolios of the past –  to simply ask the question:  ”Is this directive what we really want to come into force in 2013 given the current economic climate, the lack of global support for thos EU measure and its potential to lose jobs from the EU?”

I received a lot of support for my ideas just as I had when I tried to amend the same Parliamentary report as shadow rapporteur in the ITRE committee. But nothing is happening. Once again the EU is standing by and awaiting the self inflicted damage, like Nero who famously fiddled while Rome burned down – at least in this case that meant a lot of new contracts for the construction industry.

It is a year since the European elections yet still we seem not to have got down to any real business. Maybe it’s MEPs who arrive late, take ages to start, make a mess and charge double?

As you are all very well aware, at the end of 2008, the so-called climate package  was interrupted in its codecision process and plunged into the dark world they call trialogue. Democratic process was cut short in order to give French president Nicholas Sarkozy the kudos for  these planet-saving  directives and to give the world an example of how ambitious and willing we Europeans are. This was rushed to be done before the end of the French EU presidency and in order to being able to go to Copenhagen to show off these ambitious measures, in the hope that the rest of the world would follow our so-called ”lead”.

The EU industry, who are the direct target of this legislation, was not given a chance to make their specific  views known other than through the individual approaches to the rapporteur and MEPs, those who were wise enough to listen. The whole process was predetermined and the outcome already decided by the bigger players.

But, as we saw in Copenhagen, nobody followed, to an extent that we were not invited even to the table where decisions were made. After all, it is hard to follow the leader if he’s behind you because his baggage is too heavy. And in a global perspective, a baggage of this climate package indeed is: it became evident in Copenhagen that the EUs global climate goals were based on utopia, not realism. A good example was that a week before the conference the official EU goal was still pushing for mandatory binding emissions reductions, even if the whole world knew two months in advance that this will not happen.

In hindsight, EU not only rushed to make incomplete climate legislation, but also by doing so missed the opportunity to have any kind of influence in global climate decision making.

A good question is, why was one of the climate package directives, the revision of the EU emission trading scheme, rushed? It does not come into operation until 2013 anyhow.  Moreover,  given that no other large economy is set to adopt the same cap-and-trade system to cut harmful emissions, at least in the scheme that could be even closely compared to ours, this system is a one-sided direct tax on our energy intensive industries that are exposed to global markets. Nothing against such systems, but if they are to encourage investment in emission reducing technologies, the allocation of allowances must be sensitive to industrial, economic and employment needs.

Unfortunately nothing gives an impression that these needs will be seriously valued and protected.  The recent Commission communication on the -30% reductions, and especially the justifications for it, leave most of us in awe of disbelief. The argumentation that now is the time to buy more self-punishment because it is cheaper than before due to the economic crisis, only makes one wonder whether we really live in the same realism as the EU citizens,  EU industry and EU jobs and well-being. And not to even mention how little this move would benefit the climate.  One can only hope that everyone sees the small print that the time is not right to move from 20% to 30% as the global conditions have not been met, even closely.

All in all, the result of the rushed approval of the climate package, lacking anything one might call democracy, is frightening EU industries facing global competition. They compete on unfairly with companies from countries where there is no cost on carbon and lower environmental norms, yet we could have still had  three years to do something about.

It is high time for the EU to accept that it cannot keep going on about climate change as if nothing else matters.  We must step out of the pool of cement before it really dries.

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