Political Upheaval Threatens EU’s Climate Ambitions

4 June 2024 - // Opinions
Suzan Naz Uzel
Junior Policy Officer

Pivotal European election faces far-right surge and EU’s climate policy is at stake

The anticipated rise of far-right political groups in the forthcoming European elections could spell a reconfiguration of the EU’s climate agenda. Projections from Politico and Euractiv point to a continuation of the center-right European People’s Party’s (EPP) dominance with additional gains expected for right-leaning and far-right factions like the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID).

Challenges from the Right 

The rise of such radical parties within the European Parliament may introduce challenges in aligning member states’ interests towards collective climate action and cohesive environmental policies. A key focus for these groups is the challenges of the energy transition. Right-wing parties have become the voice of EU farmers, protesting the Green Deal since February last year. The Green Deal’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2040 has raised concerns among farmers, prompting the European Commission to exempt agriculture from the deadline.  

The anticipated rise of far-right political groups in the forthcoming European elections could spell a reconfiguration of the EU’s climate agenda.

Despite this exemption, the costs of the green transition are expected to reduce farmers’ income, as EU agricultural funding benefits only a small percentage of farm workers. Additionally, high inflation in goods and labor costs has further decreased farmers’ earnings, potentially delaying the Green Deal goals if right-wing parties gain influence. 

Another issue facing opposition from the right-wing parties is the European Commission’s plan to phase out fossil fuel cars by 2035. They argue that it pressures consumers to buy expensive electric vehicles (EVs). Successful EV adoption requires extensive charging infrastructure and government subsidies, but European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) argues that tax benefits and incentives are limited across EU Member States. Additionally, there’s concern about the influx of cheaper Chinese EVs, which could lead to protective tariffs and potential retaliation, harming European car sales in China. A right-wing-leaning parliament could further complicate the EV policy amidst these challenges. 

The potential fragmentation of political interests within the Parliament could complicate efforts to secure consensus on critical climate initiatives, hindering progress towards achieving ambitious emission reduction targets and fostering sustainable development.  

Diminishing Green Influence and Balancing Forces

The projected decline of the Greens, traditionally strong advocates for bold climate action, raises concerns about the continuity of environmental priorities within EU policy-making. The Greens’ diminished influence may result in reduced pressure to prioritize environmental concerns, potentially leading to complacency or regression in climate policy implementation. This underscores the importance of sustaining momentum for climate action and ensuring that ecological considerations remain central to political decision-making processes. 

People on street with European union flag. Photo: Pexels

Despite these challenges, there remains optimism for the continuation of climate leadership within the EU. The center-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and left-wing groups such as The Left are expected to maintain their share of seats, providing a counterbalance to right-wing influences. Their commitment to advancing progressive environmental agendas offers hope for the preservation of ambitious climate goals and the promotion of sustainability principles within EU policymaking. 

Moreover, the prospect of Ursula von der Leyen securing a second term as President of the European Commission offers a potential avenue for continuity in climate action. However, von der Leyen has spent the past year courting right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni as a potential ally. While the center-right EPP, von der Leyen’s group, remains the largest in the European Parliament, polls indicate a surge in support for right-wing groups. This strategy gives von der Leyen a backup if her current coalition of socialists and liberals falls short in the elections, while Meloni and her ECR could gain influence in the next coalition. This alliance is worrisome, as it could lead to compromises that undermine the continuity and ambition of climate action initiatives. 

Urgency and Ambition: The Path Forward 

In light of these electoral dynamics, the urgency of setting and achieving ambitious climate targets cannot be overstated. Michael Sicaud-Clyet, Policy Officer for Climate Governance at WWF, highlights the historical responsibility of the EU in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and emphasizes the need for a paradigm shift towards prioritizing climate action with the same urgency as demonstrated during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The outcome of the EU elections will profoundly influence the trajectory of the continent’s climate agenda.

Michael Sicaud-Clyet

Sicaud-Clyet advocates for a holistic approach to climate governance, emphasizing the importance of leaving no one behind in the transition to a sustainable future. This entails ensuring equitable access to affordable, clean energy for all while phasing out fossil fuel dependence and promoting renewable alternatives. He underscores the significance of citizen engagement and multilevel dialogue in shaping climate policy, fostering inclusivity and ownership of environmental initiatives among the stakeholders in the EU. 

Safeguarding and Advancing Climate Goals 

The anticipated rise of right-wing political groups in the upcoming European elections poses significant challenges to the EU’s climate agenda. The Green Deal and plans to phase out fossil fuel cars face opposition, potentially stalling progress on emission reduction targets and sustainable development. The projected decline of the Greens further complicates the landscape, diminishing pressure for bold climate action.

However, the continued presence of center-left and left-wing groups, along with the potential re-election of Ursula von der Leyen, offers a counterbalance and a glimmer of hope for maintaining ambitious climate policies. The urgency of setting and achieving these targets remains paramount, demanding a unified and inclusive approach to ensure a sustainable future for all. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not (necessarily) reflect REVOLVE's editorial stance.
Suzan Naz Uzel
Junior Policy Officer

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