Ursula von der Leyen Photo: Arno Mikkor (EU2017EE)

Climate key policy issue as new Commission President elected

July 18th, 2019

Ursula von der Leyen has become the first female EU Commission President after a nail-biting vote on Tuesday where climate ambition played a key role in negotiations with other parties.

Ms von der Leyen, who previously held the position of Minister for Defence in her native Germany, won the Presidency by just nine votes.

Make or break discussions over a more ambitious climate policy for Europe was a key decider in the vote, with the liberal, socialist and greens bloc pushing for prioritisation of climate action.

Ms Von der Leyen sits on the more conservative European People’s Party, yet, her political plan for the bloc contains ambitious climate commitments such as a climate-neutral EU by 2050 and the ramping up of 2030 emission reduction targets to 50 per cent.

The incoming President will also propose a European Green Deal within her first 100 days in office which begins in November. This deal will include a European climate law that will create a binding target to make the EU climate neutral by 2050.

She also proposed a carbon border tax that would be levied on goods and services from countries which do not put an equivalent price on carbon to that set by the EU. Research conducted has shown that a carbon border tax could increase global welfare and be compatible with World Trade Organization rules.

Von der Leyen has also proposed a zero-pollution target and says she will turn parts of the European Investment Bank into Europe’s Climate Bank. Currently, 25 per cent of EIB finance goes to climate but she will aim to double this figure by 2025.

Furthermore, the mother of seven wishes to expand the Emissions Trading System, set up a Just Transition Fund and also put €1 trillion into the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan.

The Secretary-General for the European Environmental Bureau, Jeremy Wates said that the pan-European network “welcome the fact” that Von der Leyen has put the environment top of the agenda.

“This is a crucial time for the natural world. [Von der Leyen] has made some big and welcome commitments including to a European Green Deal, a carbon border tax and a zero-pollution future – and we look forward to seeing more details,” he added.

Mr Wates was critical, however, of the lack of attention in her environmental plans for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that he said is “in need of radical reform” due to its damaging impact on nature.

International conservation group BirdLife Europe welcomed the new President’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 but also stressed that the CAP needs to be addressed.

“The CAP is the biggest expenditure of the EU, and also the biggest killer of EU biodiversity. Von der Leyen cannot claim to be a champion of the environment while continuing to fund this disaster,” the group said.

Céline Charveriat, the executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, said that the new President is “setting out a holistic and ambitious sustainability vision for Europe” in contrast to the electoral program of her own EPP grouping.

“To become transformative, the Green New Deal proposed by Ursula von der Leyen will need to be supported by a set of science-based quantified targets to 2030, and include short-term actions and credible roadmaps for the transitions required,” she added.

By Marianne Foody

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