As the countdown to the European Parliament elections gets shorter, campaign efforts step up amongst MEPs and would-be-MEPs. After voting over 20,000 times in the current parliamentary mandate, on over 35,000 amendments, the final session of the 2009 to 2014 parliamentary mandate was brought to an end on April 17th in Strasbourg. They are now fully in election mode until EU voters go to the polls to elect 751 new MEPs between May 22nd and 25th.
This year, the political transition is not expected to be ”business as usual”. The electoral contest comes at a moment of uncertainty and instability for the European Union, with the effects of the global economic crisis that commenced in 2008 still very much being felt. Over the past five years, EU leaders have strived to prevent a complete collapse of the European single currency, but they have done so at great cost to public finances and personal popularity. A return to real growth still seems some way off. Millions of people across EU Member States have lost their jobs, and public confidence in the EU is severely shaken.
Enter energy and climate change. For a while now, energy and climate has been central to the narrative of MEPs on both sides of the political aisle in terms of how to dig Europe out of its persistent slump. To some, a more ambitious EU energy and climate policy is just what the doctor ordered: it will decrease Europe’s foreign energy dependency, create jobs and make industry more efficient, thus more competitive on a global scale. To others, Europe’s insistence on energy and climate change reforms is one of the things that is hindering growth. For example, many have stated that forcing member states and industry alike to invest in renewable fuel sources and other clean energy solutions is driving up both energy prices and production costs, making it impossible for European manufacturers to compete at anything resembling a level playing field.
However, a range of recent events has propelled energy and climate from being a concern of just a few to a front page issue. From the energy side, the ongoing crisis in Crimea is the most acute. Many EU countries, including Germany, France, and Poland, are reliant on Russian gas and oil, which accounts for one third of all oil and gas imported into the EU. This has highlighted to the public how vulnerable Europe’s energy security is and has resulted in the public demanding a decrease in the EU’s dependence on imported energy. At the same time, seasonably abnormal and adverse weather in many parts of Europe has highlighted once again that climate change is an issue that must be taken seriously, not only from an environmental point of view but also from a societal and financial one as well.The next European legislature will have the challenging task of redefining the EU climate and energy policy. How to go about this and where to put the emphasis is up for discussion, although sustainability, cost competitiveness, and security of energy supply are guaranteed buzz words. Concretely, the Commission launched a communication on the 2030 Energy and Climate Framework in January this year, which EU leaders agreed in March 2014 to decide on in October 2014 at the latest.
And, while MEPs and would-be-MEPs are only now getting into full swing in terms of canvassing voters, others—a long list of interest groups and coalitions, some industry-based and some publicly funded NGOs—have been on the campaign trail full-time for months. For example, Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, Europe’s largest coalition working on climate and energy issues with over 120 member organisations, has launched a campaign that calls on all MEP candidates to commit to tackling climate change throughout their term of office should they be elected to the European Parliament.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Europe has taken a more sweeping approach, asking candidates to “support EU policies which ensure that Europe’s use of natural resources stays within the limits of One Planet.” In addition to that, they ask candidates to pick at least one area from a menu of options where they pledge to actively contribute to the following policy goals to reduce Europe’s ecological footprint: “Do you want to secure clean and healthy waters? Please tick here.” Is the shift to a resource-efficient economy and green jobs more on your mind? Tick here. If none of the options suit, candidates can add their own.
Finally, Renovate Europe, an alliance of trade associations and energy efficiency industry is running the STOP Energy Waste in Buildings, in which it wants MEPs to kick start the economy by pledging to work to put building renovation high on the political agenda.
Come late May, the immediate impact of these many energy and climate change pledges will be made clear. How it will colour the future direction of the EU’s energy and climate change policies, to be debated again by EU Energy Ministers and Heads of State in June remains up for debate.
In a series of articles, Diplomatic Courier and APCO Worldwide are partnering to cover the 2014 European Union elections. Find more information about this series here, and read all the articles in this series here. Follow @EPElections for daily news and updates from APCO’s team in Brussels.
Julie Kjestrup is an associate director in APCO Worldwide’s Brussels office.