EU FOCUS

Exclusive Interview with German MEP and President of the European Movement Jo Leinen

September 21, 2016   |   Brussels

IMAGE: Friends of Europe

Jo Leinen has been an elected Member of the European Parliament since 1999 and served as the President of the Union of European Federalists (UEF) from 1997 to 2005, when he was appointed as Honorary President of the UEF. As a Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, he is currently a substitute Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee along with the Committee for Foreign and Constitutional Affairs. He served as Vice President of the European Movement International (EMI) from 2003 to 2011, before being elected as President in November 2011.

 

Mr Leinen is something of a legend in European circles and has a reputation for being one of the most environmentally conscious and forward thinking Members of European Parliament. There's very few people who know as much about European cohesion and sustainable development as Jo, and even fewer who have been able to put it into practice. Sustain Europe recently had the opportunity to speak with him about the European Energy Union and the future of sustainability in the EU.

SE: Mr Leinen, you have lauded the potential of Europe as a global front runner in developing green technology and environmental stewardship. What role can business play in promoting sustainable development in Europe and how can the EU incentivise and encourage more private investment into the clean economy?

 

JL: Businesses need to seize the opportunity of the current momentum for climate protection and sustainable development to make the right long-term investment decisions. If companies respond to the political signal towards a low carbon economy they can put themselves at the forefront, offering the right technologies and innovations for such a development. The global arms race for clean technologies has already started and

huge investments into research and development are launched in countries like the US, China, but also other emerging nations. These investments will help make clean technologies like wind power or electric cars more and more affordable which will then help to reach the political goals of reducing global emissions.

 

Investments can be triggered by initial financing support or loans from the EU and its diverse funds, for example. The European Investment Bank already pays a lot of attention to criteria of sustainability when financing projects. A better steering of all EU funds would also help rewarding companies and business cases that promote a clean development.

 

Besides, granting special benefits to sustainable products or producers can also incentivise private investments. This can be done by special labels pointing out the sustainability of a good or service or by taxation advantages.

 

Political continuity is a simple but important factor as well. With the Paris Agreement as well as the EU climate goals, the pathway is clear. There should be no doubt about a quick and strong implementation of climate commitments to send a clear signal to investors: The future is green.

 

SE: The European Movement is a staunch advocate for the European Energy Union. How do you think the new Energy Union will benefit both businesses and citizens in Europe?

 

JL: It is great to see more European initiative in this policy field. The idea behind a European Energy Union is to improve the member states’ cooperation on energy policy such as via the exchange of capacities, making better use of infrastructure and promoting concerted action, especially in border regions. This shall all serve the common effort towards decarbonising the energy system. For some businesses the Energy Union will open new opportunities in building up renewable capacities in other countries, as renewable support schemes need to include foreign countries in the future. For companies’ success, it will be decisive to be flexible and adaptive to new realities in order to develop new business cases.

 

The benefit for citizens is quite evident: On the one hand they profit from cleaner energy that improves air quality and helps to protect our climate. On the other hand, it can be a real chance to improve the role of the energy consumer either by lower energy prices as cross-country interconnections are expanded and competition is increased or by further improving their rights to switch suppliers, contracts, use self-produced electricity or benefit from digital solutions in their homes.

 

SE: Several Member States have already ratified the Paris Agreement, including France and the current holder of the EU Presidency, Slovakia. How important is it, do you think, for the rest of the EU to act quickly, and what are the prospects for ratification in time for the next annual UN climate talks at COP22 in Marrakesh?

 

JL: We have seen how the ratification process rapidly gained speed when the US and China announced their ratification at the G20 summit in early September. The EU is on track to follow suit and the European Council finally gave into demands of the European Parliament to ratify the Paris agreement as soon as possible. If Environmental Ministers agree by the end of September, the European Parliament will approve ratification during its plenary session the first week of October. Even if not many EU Member States have ratified by then, the EU as such could join the climate contract before it enters into force. That is the most important signal ahead of COP22 in Morocco. It would be a huge success if the Climate Agreement entered into force one year after the Paris summit. All sceptics could be proven wrong and the world would demonstrate that it puts words into action. Several EU Member States have also announced to join by the end of this year, Germany as an important ally to France will probably finish its ratification process before COP22. It is extremely important for Europe to show the rest of the world: We are committed to the Paris Agreement and will keep our promises. Otherwise, the EU would risk its credibility at the next UN climate negotiations.

 

SE: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: The UK has voted to leave the European Union but Article 50 has not yet been triggered. What role can the EU play in nurturing a sense of unity among the Member States?

 

JL: The EU-27 summit in Bratislava in September was a good start, but not enough. It is now vital to follow a two-track approach. On the one hand, the European Union has to show its ability to act and to improve the lives of its citizens. We need to tackle social injustice in the Union and step-up our collective efforts to meet challenges like migration and internal and external security threats. On the other hand, we need to enter into a deep reflection about the fundament of European unification. Sharing the same values and principles as well as a common understanding of them are basic prerogatives for a successful European Union. The EU-institutions should thus facilitate an open debate about what Member States expect from the European Union and what they are willing to give. The European Union can only be as strong as its Member States are united.

 

SE: Moving a little further afield now: You previously stated that countries needed to make more efforts to engage with one another for the sake of fighting the climate crisis and that Europe has a key role to play in building these bridges. Do you think, in principle, that we might one day see the EU collaborating more closely with countries such as Russia in the name of endangered species conservation and forest protection?

 

JL: The success of Paris was an unexpected one and is still celebrated as a breakthrough in multilateralism and diplomacy. This was possible in spite of political resistance and opposition in other policy fields. It is an excellent example of constructive cooperation on an urgent matter - even neglecting conflicts UN parties might have with each other. While not every nation will contribute to emission mitigation or financial aid in the same way, at least all 196 parties committed to the necessity of action and to the overarching goal of limiting global warming. This can definitely be a blueprint for further cooperation between the EU and other countries that are not necessarily “allies” in all areas. Different conventions on global nature or wildlife protection have shown that progress is possible. The EU will surely be interested in working together with countries like Russia or China for example on issues they can agree on or share similar goals. However, where the differences are too wide, the EU should not give in. Handling arctic resources or fighting air and water pollution could become potential disputes with Russia and China in which the EU would rather take up a role of putting pressure on the countries to find sustainable solutions than simply being a bridge builder.

 

 

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Opinion piece by Jo Leinen MEP, President of the European Movement International

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