Climate action or distraction? Sweeping COP pledges won’t touch fossil fuel use

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A torrent of pollution-slashing pledges from governments and major oil companies sparked cries of “greenwashing” on Saturday, even before world leaders had boarded their flights home from this year’s global climate conference.  

After leaders wrapped two days of speeches filled with high-flying rhetoric and impassioned pleas for action, the Emirati presidency of the COP28 climate talks unleashed a series of initiatives aimed at cleaning up the world’s energy sector, the largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. 

The announcement, made at an hours-long event Saturday afternoon featuring U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, contained two main planks — a pledge by oil and gas companies to reduce emissions, and a commitment by 118 countries to triple the world’s renewable energy capacity and double energy savings efforts. 

It was, on its face, an impressive and ambitious reveal. 

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, the oil executive helming the talks, crowed that the package “aligns more countries and companies around the North Star of keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach than ever before,” referring to the Paris Agreement target for limiting global warming. 

But many climate-vulnerable countries and non-government groups instantly cast an arched eyebrow toward the whole endeavor.

“The rapid acceleration of clean energy is needed, and we’ve called for the tripling of renewables. But it is only half the solution,” said Tina Stege, climate envoy for the Marshall Islands. “The pledge can’t greenwash countries that are simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production.” 

Carroll Muffett, president of the nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law, said: “The only way to ‘decarbonize’ carbon-based oil and gas is to stop producing it. … Anything short of this is just more industry greenwash.”

The divided reaction illustrates the fine line negotiators are trying to walk. The European Union has campaigned for months to win converts to the pledge on renewables and energy efficiency the U.S. and others signed up to on Saturday, even offering €2.3 billion to help. And the COP28 presidency has been on board. 

But Brussels, in theory, also wants these efforts to go hand in hand with a fossil fuel phaseout — a tough proposition for countries pulling in millions from the sector. The EU rhetoric often goes slightly beyond the U.S., even though the two allies officially support the end of “unabated” fossil fuel use, language that leaves the door open for continued oil and gas use as long as the emissions are captured — though such technology remains largely unproven.

Von der Leyen was seen trying to thread that needle on Saturday. She omitted fossil fuels altogether from her speech to leaders before slipping in a mention in a press release published hours later: “We are united by our common belief that to respect the 1.5°C goal … we need to phase out fossil fuels.” 

Harris on Saturday said the world “cannot afford to be incremental. We need transformative change and exponential impact.” 

But she did not mention phasing out fossil fuels in her speech, either. The U.S., the world’s top oil producer, has not made the goal a central pillar of its COP28 strategy. 

Flurry of pledges  

The EU and the UAE said 118 countries had signed up to the global energy goals.

The new fossil fuels agreement has been branded the “Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter” and earned the signatures of 50 companies. The COP28 presidency said it had “launched” the deal with Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the main obstacles to progress on international climate action.

Among the signatories was Saudi state energy company, Aramco, the world’s biggest energy firm — and second-biggest company of any sort, by revenue. Other global giants like ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies also signed.

They have committed to eliminate methane emissions by 2030, to end the routine flaring of gas by the same date, and to achieve net-zero emissions from their production operations by 2050. Adnan Amin, CEO of COP28, singled out the fact that, among the 50 firms, 29 are national oil companies.  

“That in itself is highly significant because you have not seen national oil companies so evident in these discussions before,” he told reporters.

The COP28 presidency could not disguise its glee at the flurry of announcements from the opening weekend of the conference.

“It already feels like an awful lot that we have delivered, but I am proud to say that this is just the beginning,” Majid al-Suwaidi, the COP28 director general, told reporters. 

Fred Krupp, president of the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund, predicted: “This will be the single most impactful day I’ve seen at any COP in 30 years in terms of slowing the rate of warming.” 

But other observers said the oil and gas commitments did not go far beyond commitments many companies already make. Research firm Zero Carbon Analytics noted the deal is “voluntary and broadly repeats previous pledges.”

Melanie Robinson, global climate program director at the World Resources Institute, said it was “encouraging that some national oil companies have set methane reduction targets for the first time.” 

But she added: “Most global oil and gas companies already have stringent requirements to cut methane emissions. … This charter is proof that voluntary commitments from the oil and gas industry will never foster the level of ambition necessary to tackle the climate crisis.” 

Some critics theorized that the COP28 presidency had deliberately launched the renewables and energy efficiency targets together with the oil and gas pledge. 

The combination, said David Tong, global industry campaign manager at advocacy group Oil Change International, “appears to be a calculated move to distract from the weakness of this industry pledge.”

The charter, he added, “is a trojan horse for Big Oil and Gas greenwash.” 

Beyond voluntary moves 

A push to speed up the phaseout of coal power garnered less attention — with French President Emmanuel Macron separately unveiling a new initiative and the United States joining a growing alliance of countries pledging to zero out coal emissions.

Macron’s “coal transition accelerator” focuses on ending private financing for coal, helping coal-dependent communities and scaling up clean energy. And Washington’s new commitment confirms its path to end all coal-fired power generation unless the emissions are first captured through technology. U.S. use of coal for power generation has already plummeted in the past decade. 

The U.S. pledge will put pressure on China, the world’s largest consumer and producer of coal, as well as countries like Japan, Turkey and Australia to give up on the high-polluting fuel, said Leo Roberts, program lead on fossil fuel transitions at think tank E3G. 

“It’s symbolic, the world’s biggest economy getting behind the shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. And it’s sending a signal to … others who haven’t made the same commitment,” he said. 

The U.S. also unveiled new restrictions on methane emissions for its oil and gas sector on Saturday — a central plank of the Biden administration’s climate plans — and several leaders called for greater efforts to curb the potent greenhouse gas in their speeches. 

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for a “global methane agreement” at COP28, warning that voluntary efforts hadn’t worked out. Von der Leyen, meanwhile, urged negotiators to enshrine the renewables and energy efficiency targets in the final summit text. 

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, warned delegates not to get distracted by nonbinding pledges. 

“We need to remember COP28 is not a trade show and a press conference,” he cautioned. “The talks are why we are here and getting an agreed fossil fuel phaseout date remains the biggest step countries need to take here in Dubai over the remaining days of the summit.”

Sara Schonhardt contributed reporting.



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Can the EU become an effective geopolitical power in the Middle East?

By Assem Dandashly, Associate Professor, Maastricht University, and Christos Kourtelis, Assistant Professor, Panteion University

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Considering the increasing tensions and international competition in a very volatile region, if the EU seeks to become a strong actor in the MENA, it must uphold its values with tangible actions and not with contradictory statements, Assem Dandashly and Christos Kourtelis write.

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In the last three decades, there has been a steady increase in the European Union’s efforts to shape the setting of its southern neighbourhood. 

From the launch of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in 1995, and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004, to the 2008 Union for the Mediterranean, the dominant belief among policymakers in Brussels was that providing both financial and technical support would enable the EU to use its normative power to persuade its neighbours to accept its values.

Progress in the area of free trade helped the EU to further integrate the South Mediterranean economies into the EU market and to advance some of its standards and rules. 

Yet, the events of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s exposed the limits of the EU to promote its democratic norms and values in the region. 

The revisions of the ENP and the emphasis on deep democracy and inclusive growth indicated that the EU had taken heed of its earlier foreign policy errors.

It also had the potential to be the benchmark that people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) looked to for positive change in the region. 

However, the re-emergence of the EU’s stability-oriented security policy led to compromises in the promotion of democracy and human rights, best seen in the treatment of the migrants and asylum seekers from the MENA region in the last decade and the weak response of the European External Action Service against the democratic reversals in Tunisia and Egypt.

Demands to be seen are not enough

Yet, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has propelled the EU to display more assertiveness and cohesion in the neighbourhood. 

The war has seemingly jumpstarted more advancement in the bloc’s foreign and security policy in a matter of months than had occurred in the past several decades.

The latest conflict between Hamas and Israel has appeared as another opportunity for Brussels to demonstrate what EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has boldly declared “the awakening of geopolitical Europe”.

However, the emergence of an effective geopolitical Europe cannot take place with mere demands to be acknowledged as a real power or by jumping on the US bandwagon. 

Without a common defence identity, the EU cannot act as a power in traditional terms and its response to the Hamas attack of 7 October has so far eroded its own values. 

On top of that, it jeopardised diplomatic initiatives to expand its influence in the wider MENA region. As a result, the EU’s existing strategy (or the lack thereof) has had several consequences.

Mere words won’t force a rethink

First, it undermined the potential of the EU to act as a linchpin of a mediation process for resolving the conflict. 

Although the EU policymakers did well to denounce the attack of Hamas, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen only issued a short statement during her visit to Israel, which backed “Israel’s right to defend itself against the Hamas terrorists, in full respect of international humanitarian law.”. 

Such statements are clearly not enough to prevent or stop the deaths of innocent Israeli and Palestinian people, as more firm action is needed. 

When Washington negotiated the Sinai Interim Agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1975, US President Gerald Ford refused to sign new arms deals with Israel until the latter made meaningful concessions. 

That sent a clear signal to the then-Israeli government that it did not have a carte blanche from important international actors to conduct its Middle Eastern policy. Similarly, the EU (with the US) today could use its trade power to achieve geopolitical results and to force all stakeholders to reassess their policies.

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A singular foreign policy is needed

Second, the EU has exhibited a fundamental deficit of both vertical and horizontal coherence, as in nearly every recent MENA crisis. 

The issue at hand right now is that the lack of coordination does not allow the EU to forge collective involvement in international diplomacy. 

If the EU wishes to strengthen its geopolitical influence and advance international efforts for long-term peace in the region, policy uniformity is crucial. 

The recent history of Euro-Mediterranean relations offers important lessons for today. 

After the Yum Kippur War, which was sparked by a surprise attack by a coalition of Arab states on the Day of Atonement on 6 October 1973, European politicians demonstrated their capacity to comprehend the security threats that the region’s escalating violence posed for Europe. 

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Effective coordination between Paris, London and Bonn led to a distinct foreign policy from the US. This strategy expanded the EEC’s presence in the MENA through the Euro-Arab states dialogue, even if Europe’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict diminished in the following years.

Upholding EU values with tangible actions

Third, the EU’s approach to the current crisis can seriously damage its image among the Arab Mediterranean civil societies. 

Surveys demonstrated that citizens of Arab countries in the Mediterranean continued to show trust in Brussels, although the handling of the migration crisis, and the EU’s reactions to the military coup in Egypt and to the Libyan and Syrian crises have attracted more and harsher criticism in the last years. 

The view of Western institutions being unable to offer solutions to this crisis will undermine the much-needed cooperation in the implementation of many EU development programmes with local actors, who will be more keen to seek support from other donors antagonistic to the EU values and geopolitical objectives.

Considering the increasing tensions and international competition in a very volatile region, if the EU seeks to become an effective actor group in the MENA, then it must do this by upholding its values with tangible actions and not with contradictory statements. 

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So far, pleas for self-containment and humanitarian support appear as the lowest common denominator and do not signal that the EU has the capacity or willingness to act as a real geopolitical power.

Assem Dandashly is Associate Professor in Political Science at the Department of Political Science at Maastricht University, and Christos Kourtelis is Assistant Professor in European Public Policy at the Department of International, European and Area Studies at Panteion University in Athens.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Is Brussels paying attention to Malaysia’s vocal support of Hamas?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Should the Malaysian government continue to support Hamas, the EU should make it clear that Kuala Lumpur’s economic relations with the European bloc will suffer as a result, Lord Simon Isaacs writes.

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The shock of Hamas’ surprise attack on and incursion into Israel on 7 October which systematically targeted and killed more than 1,300 civilians and triggered a war with Israel, quickly reverberated around the world.

Some 100 countries that released an official statement on the matter were split into three camps: those that unequivocally condemn Hamas’ undeniable act of terrorism and support Israel’s right to defend itself, those that condemn violence on both sides but decry Hamas, and those who put the blame on Israel and/or outright support Hamas.

Official statements from the state of Malaysia and its Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim echoed sentiments of the small albeit firm latter group, blaming Israel for the confrontation, and not only omitting critical statements of Hamas but outright refusing to yield on the matter at the request of Western countries. 

Kuala Lumpur among the few

Indonesia is the only other Muslim-majority nation in Southeast Asia that voiced similar opinions to Malaysia. 

In the Middle East and North Africa region, Iran, Syria and Algeria all expressed their support for Hamas while Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan condemned Israel. 

The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy stand on the opposite end of the spectrum, whose officials jointly and strongly condemned Hamas and pledged their countries’ support for Israel. 

Member states of the European Union joined a broader Western group of countries as part of a joint statement issued by the European Council. 

In a show of unwavering support, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola travelled to Israel on 13 October to express their solidarity.

Kuala Lumpur’s stance is particularly problematic in light of previous reports that uncovered a training program in Malaysia from 2012 that coached Hamas fighters on how to fly powered parachutes. 

One of the novelties of Hamas’ coordinated attack on Israel was the launch of multiple motorised paragliders into Israel, who descended to kill people indiscriminately, including attendees of the Nova music festival, among whom more than 250 — mostly young — people were massacred. 

Hamas militants killed children, women and elderly people on Israel’s streets, in their homes, and dragged nearly 200 hostages to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas support ‘a core foreign policy’?

Furthermore, Malaysian PM Ibrahim remains the only state leader, besides the regime in Tehran, that acknowledged its ties with Hamas, declaring in the follow-up to the attack that “[Malaysia has] a relationship with Hamas from before, and this will continue.” 

The prime minister, his deputy, and the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs all conflated Hamas’ terrorist attack with a legitimate Palestinian resistance movement to settle Palestinians’ long-standing historical disagreements with Israel. 

“The struggle to liberate the land and rights of the Palestinian people will remain a core priority of the Malaysian government’s foreign policy”, according to Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Arguments that Hamas’ terror attack was justified due to years of frustration in the wake of Israel’s security policies towards the Gaza Strip are based on completely dubious foundations. 

Hamas’ Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement from 1988 expressly founded the organisation for the purpose of the obliteration of Israel through jihad, also calling for the killing of Jews and rejecting any and all peace initiatives for the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Support for and indeed any affiliation with Hamas are contradictory to the EU’s most cherished normative principles, which, alongside the bloc’s economic prowess, has distinguished the organisation as a steadfast and effective actor in the world. 

The EU’s democratic principles should also apply to Malaysia

Counter-terrorism constitutes one of the pillars of the EU’s External Action and the distinction between the terrorist group Hamas and Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip must be made clear.

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The EU’s widely known commitment to promoting democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in all its external relations, including in its foreign economic policies, should also be applied to Malaysia. 

While negotiations between Malaysia and the EU on a potential Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have been stalled since 2012, they did finalise a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in December 2022, strengthening cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, energy as well as politics. 

Following a period of decline during the years of the pandemic, the value of imports from the EU to Malaysia reached €35.3 billion in 2022, making up 12.6% of all imports and concentrated in electronic equipment, machinery and nuclear components. In turn, Malaysia’s exports to the EU grew by a significant 21.8% in 2022.

The EU should emphasise its common values in its economic relations with Malaysia, especially in light of the potential expansion of trade and investment ties between them. 

Should the Malaysian government continue to support Hamas, the EU should make it clear that Malaysia’s economic relations with the European bloc will suffer as a result.

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Malaysia, the latest pariah state

Of course, a corresponding cost of economic restrictions is political in nature. 

The insistence of the Malaysian government on its ties with Hamas and its continued rhetorical support for the extremist organisation should result in a degree of political isolation by Brussels and, more broadly, its Western partners, including Washington, a long-standing ally and one of the largest trading partners of Malaysia.

The recognition of Hamas as a legitimate Palestinian resistance movement by Malaysia’s government officials not only blurs the lines between militants and Palestinian civilians living in the Gaza Strip but provides a platform for an organisation whose explicit goals are to cause destruction and sow chaos. 

With the statements of PM Ibrahim and Deputy Prime Minister Hamidi, Malaysia has joined a small albeit notable group of pariah countries and leaders in granting support to Hamas, including the likes of the radical Islamist regime of Iran, Syria’s war criminal President Bashar al-Assad and Algeria’s pro-Russian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The Most Hon. Marquess of Reading Lord Simon Isaacs is the Chairman of the Barnabas Foundation.

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Armenians find themselves pushed aside yet again

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “inching ever closer to a great fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations.”

That may be so, but not when it comes to Azerbaijan.

A country a third of the size of Britain and with a population of about 10 million, Azerbaijan has faced few problems in bridging geopolitical divisions. And recently, Baku has been offering a masterclass in how to exploit geography and geology to considerable advantage.

From Washington to Brussels, Moscow to Beijing, seemingly no one wants to fall out with Azerbaijan; everyone wants to be a friend. Even now, as Armenia has turned to the world for help, accusing Baku of attempted ethnic cleansing in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh — the land-locked and long-contested Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

Warning signs had been mounting in recent weeks that Baku might be planning a major offensive, which it dubbed an “anti-terrorist operation,” and Armenia had been sending up distress flares. But not only were these largely overlooked, Baku has since faced muted criticism for its assault as well.

Western reaction could change, though, if Azerbaijan were to now engage in mass ethnic cleansing — but Baku is canny enough to know that.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Azerbaijan has been courted by all sides, becoming one of the war’s beneficiaries.

On a visit to Baku last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had only warm words for the country’s autocratic leader Ilham Aliyev, saying she saw him as a reliable and trustworthy energy partner for the European Union.

Then, just a few weeks later, Alexander Lukashenko — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s satrap in Belarus — had no hesitation in describing Aliyev as “absolutely our man.”

Is there any other national leader who can be a pal of von der Leyen and Lukashenko at the same time?

Aliyev is also a friend of Turkey; Baku and Beijing count each other as strategic partners, with Azerbaijan participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative; and the country has been working on expanding military cooperation with Israel as well. In 2020 — during the last big flare-up in this intractable conflict — Israel had supplied Azerbaijan with drones, alongside Turkey.

That’s an impressive list of mutually exclusive friends and suitors — and location and energy explain much.

Upon her arrival in Azerbaijan’s capital last year, von der Leyen wasn’t shy about highlighting Europe’s need to “diversify away from Russia” for its energy needs, announcing a deal with Baku to increase supplies from the southern gas corridor — the 3,500-kilometer pipeline bringing gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

She also noted that Azerbaijan “has a tremendous potential in renewable energy” in offshore wind and green hydrogen, enthusing that “gradually, Azerbaijan will evolve from being a fossil fuel supplier to becoming a very reliable and prominent renewable energy partner to the European Union.”

There was no mention of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record, rampant corruption or any call for the scores of political prisoners to be released.

Azerbaijan uses oil and gas “to silence the EU on fundamental rights issues,” Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch complained at the time. “The EU should not say a country is reliable when it is restricting the activities of civil society groups and crushing political dissent,” he added.

Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, warned: “Ukraine serves as a reminder that repressive and unaccountable regimes are rarely reliable partners and that privileging short-term objectives at the expense of human rights is a recipe for disaster.”

But von der Leyen isn’t the first top EU official to speak of Azerbaijan as such a partner. In 2019, then EU Council President Donald Tusk also praised Azerbaijan for its reliability.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, however, the EU’s courting has become even more determined — and, of course, the bloc isn’t alone. Rich in oil and gas and located between Russia, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a strategic prize, sitting “on the crossroads of former major empires, civilizations and regional and global powerhouses,” according to Fariz Ismailzade of ADA University in Baku.

And Azerbaijan’s growing importance in the latest great game in Central Asia is reflected in the increase in foreign diplomatic missions located in its capital — in 2005 there were just two dozen, now there are 85.

For Ankara, and Beijing — eager to expand their influence across Central Asia — Azerbaijan is a key player in regional energy projects, as well as the development of new regional railways and planned infrastructure and connectivity projects.

Thanks to strong linguistic, religious and cultural ties, Turkey has been Azerbaijan’s main regional ally since it gained independence. But Baku has been adept at making sure it keeps in with all its suitors. It realizes they all offer opportunities but could also be dangerous, should relations take a dive.

And this holds for all the key players in the region, whether it be the EU, Turkey, China or Russia. The reason Baku can get on with a highly diverse set of nations — and why there likely won’t be many serious repercussions for Baku with this latest military foray — is that no one wants to give geopolitical rivals an edge and upset the fragile equilibrium in Central Asia. That includes its traditional foe Iran – Baku and Tehran have in recent months been trying to build a détente after years of hostility.

For the Armenians, so often finding themselves wronged by history, this is highly unfortunate. They might have been better advised to follow Azerbaijan’s example and try to be everyone’s friend, instead of initially depending on Russia, then pivoting West — a pirouette that’s lost them any sympathy in Moscow.

But then again, Armenia hasn’t been blessed with proven reserves of oil or natural gas like its neighbor.



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All eyes are on VDL as the political climate gets hotter than ever

As the European Commission president prepares to deliver her potentially final State of the European Union speech on Wednesday, we must look back at her legacy, Ursula Woodburn writes.

The EU has been fighting climate change for decades. But with this summer confirmed as the hottest yet globally — it’s time to work with our international allies and turn up the temperature dial on climate action.

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Last Friday, the United Nations released its first Global Stocktake, a process following the Paris Agreement in which countries pledged to monitor their collective progress in achieving the agreed goals.

In what the World Resources Institute has called a “truly damning report card” for global climate efforts, the key takeaway message is that we are not on track to meet the target of the Paris Agreement. 

To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must scale up ambition and implement clean technology solutions now.

Yet another important climate moment happened over the weekend, at the G20 summit in Delhi. 

Though leaders did not conclude on a timeline for phasing out fossil fuels, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen put forward a successful agreement to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030, in the run-up to COP28.

So where does that leave us in Europe?

Changes to the roster in VDL’s final year

Ahead of the EU elections next year, the controversial Nature Restoration Law just made it through parliament in July. 

Frans Timmermans has led the EU’s Green Deal and climate policy since 2019, launching one of the broadest set of climate laws the world has seen. 

But now the climate champion has resigned, and the bloc’s competition torchbearer Margrethe Vestager has gone on leave to pursue the presidency of the European Investment Bank.

Von der Leyen acted decisively to deal with the changes in the European Commission college — although questions remain over how this could impact her final year. 

She swiftly assigned the new Vice-President position to Slovak socialist Maroš Šefčovič, who is an experienced operator on the wider energy issues — and from whom we will need robust support for the Green Deal. 

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She has also handed the climate portfolio to former Dutch Foreign Minister and conservative Woepke Hoesktra.

But as Ursula von der Leyen prepares to deliver her potentially final State of the European Union speech on Wednesday, we must look back at her legacy.

Not all is so rosy despite strong moves amid crises

Her flagship initiative, the European Green Deal, with the concept of Competitive Sustainability at its core, has proved resilient in the face of multiple crises. 

As a result, businesses around Europe are acting to reduce their own emissions, they are talking to their supply chains and considering what they need to invest in in the future. 

The majority have been unwavering in their support — even despite a series of crises which shook the EU to its very core.

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU focused on greening our economic recovery. The plan, named NextGenerationEU, invested €806.9 billion to make Europe greener, more digital and more resilient. 

Following Russia’s war in Ukraine, the bloc then stepped up its deployment of renewable energy and efficiency measures to respond to the energy crisis.

This sent a strong signal to businesses that green growth was the best way to guarantee long-term resilience in future.

However, it’s not all so rosy.

International developments and decisions taken in the US and China continue to complicate investment decisions. The door to new investment in fossil fuels remains firmly open and nature restoration has not yet been sufficiently addressed.

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So how will businesses be impacted?

The 2040 target should be firmly addressed

In a period where some — like Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo — are calling for a regulatory “pause”, policymakers and businesses need to keep their sleeves rolled up to overcome any obstacles in their way.

The climate crisis is not slowing down. Taking action to tackle it is not an option, we must instead ensure that the transition towards a European economy that prioritises people, nature and climate goes ahead.

At this unstable time, businesses can make a difference by calling for a clear, green policy direction (at the depth, breadth and scale needed) to help them plan and unlock necessary investments.

What’s more, we are looking for the EU — and von der Leyen this week — to firmly address the 2040 target. 

From a business perspective, this means setting a climate target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the bloc by at least 90% by 2040.

A few years ago this target might have seemed impossible.

But action taken already by policymakers and businesses has demonstrated that such ambition is within reach — providing carbon removals are limited to no more than 8-10%. 

Europe must act to stay in the running

Separate targets should be set for nature-based carbon removal and technological carbon removal — to improve transparency and accountability.

The long-term future of Europe is rooted in economic prosperity, with businesses that have successfully invested in sustainability staying competitive globally. 

Recent reports have shown that we are in a global race to the top on zero carbon technologies, and Europe must act to stay in the running. 

All of us will need to pull together to build on the transformation enabled by the Green Deal, including the next EU institutions.

Who the 14th President of the European Commission will be still hangs in the balance. In the meantime, the EU must heat up its resolve and act now.  

Ursula Woodburn is Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership at the Europe office, driving corporate support for a climate-neutral, nature-positive and sustainable economy.

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Vienna seeks to calm Selmayr ‘blood money’ furor

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Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg signaled his government was de-escalating a row with the EU’s senior representative in the country, Martin Selmayr, who last week accused Vienna of paying “blood money” to Moscow by continuing to purchase large quantities of Russian gas.

“Everything has already been said about this,” Schallenberg said over the weekend in a written response to questions from POLITICO on the affair. “We are working hard to drastically reduce our energy dependency on Russia and we will continue to do so.”

Austrian officials insist that the country’s continued reliance on Russian gas is only temporary and that it will wean itself off by 2027 (over the past 18 months, the share of Russian gas in Austria has dropped from 80 percent to an average of 56 percent).

Some experts question the viability of that plan, considering that OMV, the country’s dominant oil and gas company, signed a long-term supply deal with Gazprom under former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that company executives say is virtually impossible to withdraw from.

Those complications are likely one reason why Vienna — even as its officials point out that Austria is far from the only EU member to continue to rely on Russian gas — doesn’t want to dwell on the substance of Selmayr’s criticism.

“We should rather focus on maintaining our unity and cohesion within the European Union in dealing with Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine,” Schallenberg told POLITICO. “We can only overcome the challenges ahead of us in a united effort.”

Schallenberg’s remarks follow a decision by the European Commission on Friday to summon Selmayr to Brussels to answer for his actions. A spokesman for the EU executive on Friday characterized the envoy’s comments as “not only unnecessary, but also inappropriate.”

Given that the Austrian government is led by a center-right party, which is allied with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s European People’s Party bloc, the sharp reaction from Brussels is not surprising. An official close to the Austrian government said Vienna had not demanded Selmayr’s removal.

Selmayr made the “blood money” comment, by his own account, while defending the Commission chief. He told an Austrian newspaper that he made the remark during a public discussion in Vienna on Wednesday in response to an audience member who accused von der Leyen of “warmongering” in Ukraine and having “blood on her hands.”

“This surprises me, because blood money is sent to Russia every day with the gas bill,” Selmayr told the audience.

Selmayr expressed surprise that there wasn’t more public outcry in Austria over the country’s continued reliance on Russian natural gas, which has accounted for about 56 percent of its purchases so far this year. (A review of a transcript of the event by Austrian daily Die Presse found no mention of the comments Selmayr attributed to the audience member, however.)

Austria’s deep relationship to Russia, which has continued unabated since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has prompted regular criticism from its European peers.

Even so, the EU envoy’s unvarnished assessment caused an immediate uproar in the neutral country, especially on the populist far right, whose leaders called for Selmayr’s immediate dismissal.

Europe Minister Karoline Edtstadler called the remarks “dubious and counterproductive” | Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE

Schallenberg’s ministry summoned Selmayr on Thursday to answer for his comments and the country’s Europe Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, called the remarks “dubious and counterproductive.” Some in Vienna also questioned whether Selmayr, who as a senior Commission official helped Germany navigate the shoals of EU bureaucracy to push through the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline — thus increasing Europe’s dependency on Russian gas — was really in a position to criticize Austria.

Nonetheless, Selmayr’s opinion carries considerable weight in Austria, given his history as the Commission’s most senior civil servant and right-hand man to former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Though Selmayr, who is German, has a record of living up to his country’s reputation for directness and sharp elbows, even his enemies consider him to be one of the EU’s best minds.

His rhetorical gifts have made him a considerable force in Austria, where he arrived in 2019 (after stepping down under a cloud in Brussels). He is a regular presence on television and in print media, weighing in on everything from the euro common currency to security policy.

After Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer recently pledged to anchor a right to pay with euro bills and coins in cash-crazed Austria’s constitution, for example, Selmayr reminded his host country that that right already existed under EU law. What’s more, he wrote, Austrians had agreed to hand control of the common currency to the EU when they voted to join the bloc in 1994.

A few weeks later, he interjected himself into the country’s security debate, arguing that “Europe’s army is NATO,” an unwelcome take in a country clinging on to its neutrality.

Though Selmayr’s interventions tend to rub Austria’s government the wrong way, they’ve generally hit the mark.

The latest controversy and Selmayr’s general approach to the job point to a fundamental divide in the EU over the role of the European Commission’s local representatives. Most governments want the envoys to serve like traditional ambassadors and to carry out their duties, as one Austria official put it to POLITICO recently, “without making noise.”

Yet Selmayr’s tenure suggests that the role is often most effective when structured as a corrective, or reality check, by viewing national political debates through the lens of the broader EU.  

In Austria, where the anti-EU Freedom Party is leading the polls by a comfortable margin ahead of next year’s general election, that perspective is arguably more necessary than ever.

Victor Jack contributed reporting.



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How to fix Tunisia’s economic misery with a fair and bold IMF program

Economic reforms are inherently political, but they should be designed to address the concerns and aspirations of the population impacted by them, Timothy Kaldas and Ayoub Menzli write.

As the pressure mounts to break the deadlock over Tunisia’s next IMF program, a number of international actors are rushing to find ways to get a deal signed. 

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At the behest of Italy’s government, the European Commission has committed what is likely to be a no-strings-attached €100 million to support fighting migration. The commission also announced €900m in additional financing for Tunisia should an IMF deal be approved. 

However, the IMF deal in its current form appears to be a non-starter for Tunisia’s President, Kais Saied.

Tunisia’s existing Staff Level Agreement (SLA) with the IMF appears to cling to a tried, tested and failed formula of deep cuts and consumption taxes that could fuel inflation, expand poverty and hamper growth. Rejecting a repeat of regressive anti-growth prescriptions was prudent.

Recent IMF programs in Tunisia failed, in part, because they were politically unsustainable. Austerity measures that disproportionately target the general population while often insulating elites were repeatedly rejected by the public. 

Tunisians pressured their leaders to derail planned reforms following the 2013 and 2016 IMF programs in Tunisia. 

Repeating this cycle a third time with a similar program is sure to be met with public rejection. So, a new approach is needed.

A more progressive fiscal policy is at the core of the issue

Tunisian civil society has been long advocating for more progressive fiscal policy that includes directing their efforts toward increasing state capacity to collect revenue and it’s time Tunisian authorities and international financial institutions start listening. 

Al Bawsala, a leading Tunisian civil society organisation, has been advocating for measures that include restoring the progressivity of the income tax system, investing in the tax collection authority’s capacity, and reducing tax exemptions afforded to large corporations which according to the Tunisian Ministry of Finance reached $1 billion (€915m) or over half of the amount of the newly proposed IMF program.

An analysis conducted by the Tunisian Observatory of the Economy uncovered a sharp decline in the share of direct tax revenue from corporate taxes following cuts to the corporate rate in 2015 and 2021. 

The share of direct tax revenue from corporate taxes dropped to 28% between 2015 and 2020, while income tax’s share of direct tax revenue rose to 72%. 

The trend continued in 2021 when the corporate tax was further reduced to 15%. Moreover, the cuts to corporate taxes didn’t spur investment. The investment rate declined following the cuts.

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Counter-productive measures to create fiscal space simply don’t work

The new reform program should avoid cuts to essential food subsidies, which would increase poverty and food insecurity according to Tunisian experts. 

Tunisia’s economic reforms can focus on shifting the burden upwards onto the country’s upper middle and upper classes by investing in the state’s capacity to collect progressive sources of tax revenue while eliminating long-abused tax loopholes. 

A more progressive program isn’t just more socially just and more likely to secure public buy-in, it’s better economics.

Whether proposed by IMF staff or, more likely Tunisian officials, relying heavily on VAT, other taxes on consumption and aggressive subsidy cuts is bad policy for several reasons. 

These measures are counter-productive efforts to create fiscal space. Increasing the cost of goods through both regressive taxes and removal of subsidies intensifies already elevated levels of inflation. 

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Increased levels of inflation place pressure on the central bank to increase interest rates. However, higher interest rates contribute to higher government expenditures on servicing debt which can consume much of the revenue the state was meant to take in.

Additionally, inflationary measures like VAT and subsidy cuts depress domestic demand which will weaken incentives to invest for local businesses. 

Increasingly, it’s clear that cuts to food subsidies represent an untenable assault on Tunisia’s safety net. 

Another potential source of revenue can be secured by rolling back previous tax cuts for large corporations. These cuts, which protect the monopolies and cartels controlled by Tunisian economic elites and oligarchs, have three damaging consequences.

It’s time to address the illicit influence of Tunisia’s oligarchs

First, it deprives the state of revenue without encouraging investment because monopolists don’t have an incentive to invest. 

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Second, reduced revenue weakens the state’s ability to fund necessary services and pushes the state to depend on regressive sources of revenue such as VAT, and customs taxes. 

These types of taxes disproportionately impact women and vulnerable communities according to a recent study by Aswaat Nisaa, a civil society organisation. 

Finally, it signals to the public that elites are beneficiaries of economic reforms while the everyday Tunisians are left to shoulder the burden of economic reforms alone.

Without structural reforms addressing the dominance of Tunisia’s oligarchs’ other reforms will fall prey to their outsized and illicit influence. 

Tunisian academics have shown that previous privatisations mandated by the IMF were used as a mechanism to transfer public wealth to connected elites that reinforced regulatory capture. 

Additionally, studies have shown that politically connected businesses are statistically more likely to evade taxes and tariffs. 

Including robust reforms to counter this will strengthen the popularity of an economic reform program and target entrenched economic elites instead of vulnerable and middle classes.

A once-in-a-lifetime chance to fix things

This is a historic opportunity to enforce progressive fiscal policies to address Tunisia’s economic challenges. 

Economic reforms are inherently political, but they should be designed to address the concerns and aspirations of the population impacted by them. 

Tunisia’s economic difficulties are significant but Tunisian researchers and analysts have studied the problems and put forward robust, practical and effective solutions that are not only economically but also politically sustainable.

Timothy Kaldas is the Deputy Director, and Ayoub Menzli is a Nonresident Fellow at The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Will UK, EU deepen ties after Northern Ireland breakthrough?

After years of vexed negotiations, few predicted a new Brexit deal on Northern Ireland. But not only did the February 27 agreement offer a genuine resolution of the thorny border problem – it also marked a big change in the ambience surrounding UK-EU relations. Some analysts say the war in Ukraine is a major factor in Brussels softening its stance, given the UK’s importance to European security, but they underscore that Britain will still be unable to enjoy the full benefits of EU membership outside the club.

Amid the smiles and fanfare at the Windsor Guildhall as the Northern Irish border deal was unveiled, EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen referred to PM Rishi Sunak as “dear Rishi”. Selling the deal in Northern Ireland, Sunak indicated a change in thinking from a glowing endorsement of a hard Brexit, instead hailing the British province’s place in the European single market as an “unbelievably special position”.

Sunak’s language mirrors a shift in British public attitudes towards Brexit over the past year and a half, with support for UK membership in the EU climbing to around 57 percent, according to a What UK Thinks polling aggregate.

The British economy is in a poor state post-Brexit. Both the IMF and OECD expect it to contract in 2023, as the G7’s worst-performing economy. Brexit is far from the only cause of this economic weakness; the UK has suffered from poor productivity growth since the 2008 financial crash for a complex array of reasons. Nevertheless, economists say Brexit is undermining the UK’s economic growth, with the Treasury’s non-partisan forecaster, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, expecting Brexit to leave the economy four percent smaller than it would have been if the UK had stayed in the EU.

>> Sunak’s ‘seismic’ deal resolves N. Ireland border problem – but DUP support remains elusive

There is a feeling “among a small but substantial minority of those who voted ‘Leave’ that it’s messed up the economy”, noted Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London.

As far as the political class goes, “even a fair number of Brexit-supporting Tories would like to see things put on a more amicable and hopefully more profitable footing”, Bale added. “Continued hostility, now we’ve left, benefits very few politicians, outside of the Brexit ultras on the Conservative backbenches.”

‘More pragmatism, less ideology’

Brussels bore this context in mind when reaching out ahead of signing the Windsor Framework, sensing this was the right moment to improve relations with the UK.

“It’s the EU that moved the most; they’ve accepted the UK’s concerns about trade flows between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and they did so for political reasons, at a time when you can see the under-performance of the British economy is only going to get worse,” explained Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels office.

“They gave Sunak a pretty good deal, and they didn’t have to do that. They could have played hardball.”

The changing of the guard at Downing Street made a colossal difference to what was possible – with the EU regarding Sunak very differently from the way it viewed a blustering Boris Johnson. Combined with the shift in British public opinion, the return of emollient, technocratic diplomacy in London laid the groundwork for deeper UK-EU ties.

The Windsor Framework “may open a new chapter in EU-UK relations, based more on pragmatism and less on Brexit ideology”, said Nicoletta Pirozzi, head of the European Union programme at the Italian Institute of International Affairs in Rome.

Ukraine ‘shifted the EU’s trajectory’

Even before Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal, the Conservative government showed a little more movement than pundits expected. Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had a similarly belligerent diplomatic style to Johnson’s – refusing to say whether France was friend or foe, for example. Yet Truss signed up to French President Emmanuel Macron’s grand idea of a European Political Community, bringing together EU members and non-members alike to discuss Europe’s common priorities.

When Truss surprised observers by attending the European Political Community’s inaugural meeting in October, Europe’s united stance behind Ukraine was at the top of the agenda. Indeed, the Russo-Ukrainian War has made Britain a relevant geopolitical actor again after the turmoil of Brexit. Europe’s biggest defence spender and a global leader in intelligence, the UK is the second-largest weapons donor to Ukraine behind the US. London has developed a special relationship with Kyiv – as demonstrated by the talks on Ukraine manufacturing its own arms thanks to a licensing deal with British companies.

Defence and security issues are much more salient than they were during the first stage of Brexit wrangling from 2016-2019. Back then, it was common to hear pro-Brexit pundits in the UK talking up the chances of Eastern European countries like Poland helping Britain get a special trade deal, seeing as the UK was the main proponent of their accession to the EU and has long shared their hawkish stance towards Russia. But this was wishful thinking, as the EU 27 maintained a united front behind the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who was keen to make sure that Britain did not enjoy the benefits that come with being part of the club after summarily rejecting membership.

Yet now the war in Ukraine is likely to soften Brussels’ stance towards the UK even further – and Eastern European countries will cheer this process on, Kirkegaard predicted. “The EU is certain to accept Ukraine as a member state within the next 10 years – and that means the EU will almost certainly have a difficult border with a nuclear-armed adversary in the shape of Russia. The UK is a major military power, a nuclear power – and that really matters,” he said.

“Before the war, it didn’t matter very much, to be frank, but the war has really shifted the trajectory of the EU,” Kirkegaard continued. “Military and security issues are a much bigger deal – making the UK a lot more important to the bloc – and nowhere will this be felt more keenly than Poland, the Baltic states and Finland.

“I’m not so sure that even the French hard line on Brexit would have been sustained if the war had broken out in 2017 or 2018,” Kirkegaard added.

‘Full benefits for full members’

If both sides proceed with building closer economic relations, the most likely options are either the Norway model or the Switzerland model.

The Norwegian approach is membership in the single market without EU membership, which involves a lot of rule-taking without any real say in rule-making. This would be anathema to the anti-EU hardliners on the Tory backbenches, who heaped opprobrium on fellow Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood when he endorsed re-joining the single market last year, even if they are largely acquiescent about Sunak’s Northern Ireland deal. The Labour Party also rules out the Norway option.

By contrast, the Swiss option could give Britain the single market access its services-reliant economy needs without it having to adopt every single EU rule. Switzerland negotiates regulatory alignment with the single market on a sector-by-sector basis through an array of bilateral deals, many of which require renegotiation as the EU changes its rules.

Downing Street denied The Sunday Times’s report in November that it is looking at the Swiss model, amid backlash from the backbenches. Labour leader Keir Starmer said the same month he is not considering the Swiss option.

Enjoying a whopping poll lead, Labour are the overwhelming favourites to win the next general elections, due before the end of 2024 – although historically polls at this stage in the electoral cycle have tended to exaggerate Labour’s chances of taking power.

Starmer’s party wants to keep Brexit off the agenda and focus on the UK’s cost-of-living crisis and flagging public services, since Leave-voting Labour supporters switched to the Tories en masse to give Johnson his landslide in 2019. Hence Labour’s oft-repeated, opaque mantra about “making Brexit work”.

“Labour’s policy is basically to find ways of reducing trade friction without getting too close to the single market,” said John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde. This position has fuelled speculation that Labour wants to “cherry-pick” EU rules to follow for market access à la Switzerland, Curtice observed.

But regardless of who wins the 2024 elections, there will be limits to the EU’s new conciliatory approach. Despite its importance as a defence and security heavyweight while war rages in Europe, the EU will not accept the UK trying to undercut the single market, noted Juha Jokela, director of the European Union research programme at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki.

The prospects for a better economic deal depend on how much the UK diverges from the EU regulation, Jokela said. If the UK seeks a “competitive advantage by lowering standards in areas such as workers’ rights and environmental protection”, for instance, the two sides’ relations could worsen again.

There will be a “limit” to the EU’s ties with Britain as long as it remains outside the bloc, Jokela concluded. “Even if the UK is a former member state, the EU is likely to continue to highlight that the full benefits of European integration belong to full members of the Union; while they enjoy all the rights of membership, they also have to fulfil the obligations of membership.”

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To go or not to go? Von der Leyen’s COVID committee dilemma

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There won’t be any severed horses’ heads but the European Commission president may soon receive an offer that she can’t refuse — at least without causing an institutional dust-up.

Last week, the coordinators of the European Parliament’s special committee on COVID-19 voted to invite Ursula von der Leyen to appear in front of the panel to answer their questions on vaccine procurement. 

It’s not a courtesy call. EU lawmakers want to shine a light on exactly what happened during those hectic months at the height of the pandemic in 2021, when the bloc was frantically searching for vaccine doses to protect its population from the coronavirus.

The committee’s chair, Belgian MEP Kathleen Van Brempt has said she wants full transparency on the “preliminary negotations” leading up to vaccine purchases — a reference to the Commission president’s unusual personal role in negotiating the EU’s biggest vaccine contract, signed with Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. An appearance would refocus attention on von der Leyen’s highly contentious undisclosed text messages with Pfizer’s chief executive.

It’s a topic von der Leyen has so far fiercely resisted opening up about but the COVI committee invite could put the Commission president in a sticky situation.

All bark, no bite? 

On the face of it, von der Leyen could just say no. European Parliament committees don’t have many formal powers. They have no rights to compel witnesses to appear or to get them to tell the truth — and there’s no recourse if someone refuses to appear or lies in front of the committee.

Indeed, Pfizer’s Chief Executive Albert Bourla — with whom von der Leyen is reported to have conducted personal negotiations via text message — thumbed his nose at the committee more than once, and sent one of his employees instead.

Even when the Parliament does reel in a big name, the performance can be lackluster — like in the case of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who agreed to show up but then avoided answering most questions. That’s a far cry from how the U.S. Senate’s commerce and judiciary committees grilled the tech titan for hours. 

And the Commission president has already shown a penchant for being evasive when it comes the Pfizer negotiations, earning the Commission a verdict of maladministration from the European Ombudsman for its lack of transparency.

However, the fact that von der Leyen is an inter-institutional figure gives the Parliament more bite than with external guests — and may help tip the balance in the committee’s favour.

First, there’s precedent. While the Commission President usually appears in front of all MEPs at a plenary session such as in the annual State of the European Union speech, Commission presidents have appeared in front of committees in the past. Von der Leyen’s predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, for example, appeared in front of a special committee to answer uncomfortable questions over his role in making Luxembourg a tax haven. 

Secondly, the European Parliament is tasked with overseeing the EU’s budget. With billions of euros spent in the joint purchase of the vaccines, and part of those funds coming straight from the EU’s pockets, it’s hard to argue that there aren’t important financial considerations at play, and ones that the elected representatives of the EU should be allowed to scrutinize.

Then there’s Article 13 of the EU’s founding treaty, which calls for “mutual sincere cooperation” between the EU’s institutions. It’s a point that’s repeated in an inter-institutional agreement between the Parliament and the Commission, which states that the EU’s executive should also provide lawmakers with confidential information when it’s requested — like, for example, the contents of certain text messages.

The Commission has so far been tight-lipped. When asked last week about Ursula von der Leyen’s upcoming invite to the COVID-19 committee, a Commission spokesperson said “No such invitation has been received.”

Don’t shoot the messenger 

And, in fact, it’s now up to European Parliament president Roberta Metsola to decide whether the invite will ever reach von der Leyen’s hands. The request is on her desk and, per protocol, any invitation to appear must come from the president’s office.

Metsola, who belongs to the same political group as von der Leyen (the center-right European People’s Party), confirmed to POLITICO that she has received a letter from the COVI committee and “will look at it.” “I cannot pre-empt what my reply will be to that committee,” she said.

As long as proper form is followed, Metsola should “pass on the message,” said Emilio De Capitani, a former civil servant who for 14 years was secretary of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (LIBE).

“The question isn’t abusive,” said De Capitani.  

In theory, von der Leyen, who was elected to her role by the Parliament, relies on its mandate to stay there.

“There’s nothing strange about meeting with an organ of the Parliament,” the former Parliamentary official added. “Then it will be up to von der Leyen to ask whether the hearing is in public or, behind closed doors. She could also choose to address it in plenary.” 

For political operatives such as Metsola and von der Leyen, the optics of their actions are likely to play a major role in any decision. And this invite comes at the same time as the biggest scandal in the European Parliament’s history.

An assistant for one of the MEPs in the COVI committee said the drive for transparency produced by the unfolding “Qatargate” influence scandal gave extra force to the invite.

“It wouldn’t have had the same result without Qatargate,” said the assistant. “If she says no, it will only make the problem worse.” 

Not everyone agrees. Detractors say the Parliament has lost its moral standing. And that even if none of the MEPs in the COVID-19 committee are implicated, the institution is still weakened on the whole.

“I think this [Qatargate] will make it less likely for von der Leyen to cooperate with the Parliament,” said Camino Mortera-Martinez, head of the Brussels office at the think tank Centre for European Reform. She said the Commission president is riding high after weathering a pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine.

“The European Parliament in theory could force von der Leyen to appear by threatening to dismiss her — but how can they do that in the current climate?”

This article was updated Friday morning to include comment from Roberta Metsola.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting.



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