The Go Team

The EU has a rough road ahead as the Barroso II team gets down to work. It must have citizens’ interests in mind from the outset, writes Eija-Riitta Korhola

It’s almost a year since the last parliamentary mandate slipped into election mode. Yet we’ve only just approved our new commission. Such an inactive gap means we open our new account with an overdraft. We have a difficult journey ahead with much to do but to quote that wonderful John Denver song: “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.”

MEPs do a lot of packing and unpacking and it does tend to get a bit automatic. Some stuff we must take with us but there are always items we could consider leaving behind, or exchanging for something more suitable. I think the same goes for new mandates. The baggage we take with us is both heavy and of questionable value when one considers our destination. Global issues will dominate the coming years with terrorism, human rights, climate change and economic recession all demanding EU attention – and my attention too. Over the coming months, I hope to write about all these subjects but choosing first climate change, I’m asking if our bags are packed with the right things to tackle this most pressing of challenges.

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 so as to give French president Nicolas Sarkozy the kudos for these planet-saving directives before the end of his EU presidency. We went to Copenhagen to show off these measures in the hope that the rest of the world would follow our ‘lead’. But nobody did. After all, it’s hard to follow the leader if he’s behind you because his baggage is too heavy.

One of the climate package directives is the revision of the EU emission trading scheme but it does not come into operation until 2013 – so why was it rushed? Moreover, given that no other large economy is set to adopt the same cap-and-trade system to cut harmful emissions, this system is a direct tax on EU 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.

The result of the rushed approval, lacking anything one might call democracy, is already frightening EU industries facing competition by companies from countries where there is no cost on carbon and lower environmental norms – and we could still have three years to do something about it. If we take this baggage into the next mandate, it will increase unemployment, reduce our chances of economic recovery and weaken our global voice in the fight against climate change. It will also do nothing to reduce global emissions, they will simply move to another place.

How many times have we heard about the Lisbon treaty bringing greater democracy and transparency to our legislative work? Well, here’s a chance to demonstrate this institution’s will to our sceptical electorate – especially those fearful of losing their jobs and jeopardising their families’ futures. Wouldn’t it be great to consider our citizens from the first year of the mandate rather than only in the last one as selections and elections remind us who we serve? So let’s not just throw everything old back in the bags and set off as before.

By the way, the last line of that song is “I hate to go.” How many industries will be singing that as they leave?

Eija-Riitta Korhola is a member of the Parliament Magazine’s editorial board and the winner of the energy award in the 2009 MEP awards

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