EU environment ministers discuss France’s climate priorities — carbon tax at borders, fight against imported deforestation — but remain divided on reform of the electricity market despite the outbreak energy prices.
Gathered around the French Minister for Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili, the representatives of the Twenty-Seven will discuss for two days several texts of the ambitious climate plan presented in mid-July by Brussels to cut carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. the EU compared to 1990.
A second meeting in this city in northern France will bring together energy ministers on Friday and Saturday.
If Emmanuel Macron makes the environment a marker of the French presidency of the EU, which began in January, no agreement is expected in Amiens but Paris intends to “advance as much as possible” by June the negotiations in progress.
In particular, France wants to speed up the establishment of an EU “carbon border adjustment mechanism” proposed by Brussels and now discussed by states and MEPs.
The objective is to tax certain imports (steel, aluminium, cement, fertilizers, electricity) at the price of the European carbon market, according to the emissions linked to their production.
“It is the power of the European market: if you want to enter it, you must respect the same rules”, declared Barbara Pompili on Wednesday on Sud-Radio.
– Identify “political issues”-
In order not to infringe the principles of the World Trade Organization, the Commission is also proposing to abolish the free emission quotas hitherto allocated to European industrialists to enable them to face competition from third countries… at the risk of raise production costs in Europe, many states and MEPs are alarmed.
“Spain, Portugal, Poland and Austria are calling for free quotas to be maintained. And (the carbon tax) poses complicated questions: who collects the money? where does it go?”, underlines a European diplomat.
Paris intends to build a consensus between the Twenty-Seven, the basis for future negotiations with the European Parliament. “The difficulty is no longer on the principle, but on the timing of the decrease in free quotas”, wants to believe the entourage of Ms. Pompili, on this text depending on the Ministers of the Economy but closely touching on environmental issues.
Another flagship project of Emmanuel Macron: the development of an instrument to fight against “imported deforestation”, to prevent European imports of wood, palm oil or soy from contributing to the clearing of forests.
Discussions on a text submitted by the Commission in mid-November are just beginning among the States and in Parliament. The round table of Amiens will allow “to have a clear vision of the political stakes” and future nodes of the negotiations, one underlines at the ministry of the ecological Transition.
While the NGOs hope for a hardening of the initial text, regretting that it does not apply to certain products (corn, rubber, etc.) or to other threatened ecosystems (wetlands, savannahs, etc.), Paris n does not rule out enlargement.
The ministers should also reiterate their reluctance on the project to extend the European carbon market: after industrialists and energy companies, road fuel and domestic fuel suppliers could be forced to buy “emissions quotas” from 2025. .. at the risk of passing on the additional cost to consumers.
This controversial Commission proposal is vigorously denounced by some States, worried about the impact on precarious households despite a possible European “solidarity fund”.
“France has expressed its deep concerns about social acceptability (…) We have known the + yellow vests +, we know that the transition must take into account the interests of the populations and the different States”, pleads the entourage of Ms. Pompili, ensuring to seek “a compromise”.
This project, which will be defended in Amiens by the vice-president of the Commission Frans Timmermans, however appears to be weakened by the current surge in gas prices, which will dominate the discussions of the energy ministers.
While electricity prices on the European wholesale market are mechanically aligned with those of gas, Paris is calling for “decoupling” and the reform of a mechanism deemed “obsolete” which would dilute the effect of low nuclear costs .
However, strong differences persist: a dozen States, Germany in the lead, are fiercely opposed to any reform of the electricity market, explaining the crisis by economic “global factors”, while Poland and Hungary blame the price of CO2 and environmental rules to increase energy costs.