I have now been a member of the European Parliament for 13 years, and thought I already knew all the essentials of EU decision-making. Only last summer I realised what, in practice, explains the various problematic directives that are produced by the EU for us. I noticed a certain democratic deficit coming from a rather surprising direction.
Within environment and energy legislation, one often hears bad news from the EU: over the past few years, we have witnessed how factories have been closed down and jobs have vanished to third countries as our rather one-sided and strict legislation increases the cost of production. The mistake has been the distortion of competition by our legislation. Too often it creates losses for the environment, and the polluter always gains a competitive edge. But why on the earth is our legislation so scandalously sadomasochistic, even if we don’t want it to be that way?
I profess the reason is the democratic deficit. Surprisingly enough, the Greens seem to be responsible for this.
The MEP, i.e. the rapporteur, who is responsible for the Committee proposals prepared during Committee work, has a crucial position in the negotiations with the Commission and the Council. This is balanced by a political process, by a first and second reading at which the proposal is brought before the plenary session and finally, possibly, before the Conciliation Committee. At the same time, the shadow rapporteurs of the other groups prepare the stance of their respective groups. The process is transparent and public, and we can take a stand against, or for, the matter in question with all our political stature in the plenary session.
However, more often it has happened that this transparent process is replaced by a so-called first reading agreement due to the lack of time. Led by the rapporteur, the Council and the Commission agree on the proposal before it is taken to the plenary session where the entire Parliament can only reject or accept the agreement. Publicity, openness and transparency are all a hallucination; likewise, the possibility to have any bearing on details during the plenary session period is diminished.
The first reading agreement suits the Greens, among others, very well as the group’s power will grow to its maximum and the political muscle of larger groups can easily be circumvented. I don’t blame the Greens for having managed to snatch certain important proposals, but I blame our political group for allowing others to walk over our political heavyweight.
This is how it happens. The Environment Committee has 6 MEPs of the Greens and 24 of the EPP respectively. Each group has twice the amount of points in relation to their number of MEPs and can ’buy’ proposals transferred to the handling process with these points. Since the same mass of directives flows through the entire Committee, these six Greens are up to their eyes in work all the time, whereas all those directives are divided between our 24 MEPs and 48 points. Therefore the Greens really save their points for the more important reports, while we try to find something to do for all interested members – thus we also buy the less important ones. This is a somewhat understandable aspect. Nevertheless, if we accept that even the remains of our political influence are being curbed by giving our consent to first reading agreements, we only have ourselves to blame.
These fast-track procedures naturally suit the respective Member States holding the Council presidency, as these countries will get a feather in their cap and are praised for their prompt actions. However, this kind of process is neither democratic nor transparent. It is also quite interesting that the Greens, who tend to speak out against the non-transparency and lack of democracy in the Union, in reality, create exactly such practises by using first reading agreements, and therefore, decrease the level of openness in the decision making.
The so-called Sulphur Directive is the latest and most spine-chilling example of competition distortion, which was endorsed by the EU last May under the guidance of a Green MEP; a second one is the Energy Efficiency Directive of last June. Over the next five years, the restrictions on sulphur emissions in the Mediterranean countries will be 45 times more lenient than those set for Finland. Just for the sake of clarity, I draw a comparison from the banking sector. Let’s take the current five-year loan rate of 0.46% in Germany, multiplied, for example, by 45: it would amount to 20.7%. But then, the environmental quarters generate these kinds of distortions both in the global and in our own internal market, and even with a virtuous gleam in their eye.
As for the Sulphur Directive, we know that the damage was already done within the IMO, the International Maritime Organisation as Finland itself accepted the strict limits in 2008. The negotiations on the directive were led by MEP Satu Hassi, who has defended herself by claiming to have only followed the Commission’s proposal and the IMO’s chosen policy. All have confessed in unison that the fault was the lack of political supervision: politicians didn’t keep their eyes on the policies drawn by our environmental officials. But how did we end up with these policies in the first place?
In this respect, Hassi cannot hide herself behind the IMO anymore as she has been responsible for the sulphur proposals in the European Parliament even before the IMO resolution, and she has been advocating strict limitations on sulphur emissions in our maritime territories. In 2005, as she was asked why the EU should support the one-sided legislation on reducing sulphur emissions and not take care of the matter through the IMO, Satu Hassi answered: ”Sounds nice, but in order to move forward we need political pressure here”.
Now we have it – and it is extremely one-sided.
In Finland, we have paid twice simply too often as our previous environmental actions have been utterly ignored. It is too bad that the EU’s message is, in practice, ”don’t do anything before you really have to”. If you already did it, you have to pay for it – you don’t benefit from it. This is what happened with emissions trading; this is what happened with the burden-sharing of renewables; and this is what is about to happen with the Energy Efficiency Directive, on which common political ground was found last week.
This will again bear another additional bill of hundreds of millions of Euros per year for Finland; the estimation of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy shows an annual costs of 300-500 million Euros for energy consumers. Countries that use energy in a more efficient way must boost their actions by investing more money, as the most cost-effective saving measures have all been made earlier, and this aspect hasn’t been taken into consideration at all.
Last week, a joint delegation of the Finnish employers’ and employees’ organisations, along with their member unions, sent out a plea to the Government to mitigate the damage that will be caused by the Sulphur Directive. The united front among the general public is a remarkable gesture and clearly reflects how seriously the damaging Sulphur Directive, which has already been nailed down, will affect our society.
The core of the problem is that although the directive allows for national support, the costs will be so huge that no amount of support money will be enough. Therefore, we shouldn’t put up at all with these kinds of competition distortions.