What will the European Parliament’s ‘Green wave’ mean for transport?
They may now number just 74 among the 751 members of the new European Parliament, but the Greens nonetheless celebrated hard after the elections at the end of May. The elections added 22 MEPs to their group, up from 50 in 2014, and the ‘European Green wave’ became one of the top stories of the Parliament elections. But now they have become bigger players, how will they use their power? And how will it affect European transport?
The Greens were quick to insist after the vote that they earned a mandate of sorts. This might seem presumptuous considering they account for less than a tenth of MEPs, and are just the fourth biggest group in the Parliament, after the centre right European People’s Party (EPP), the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group (ALDE).
However, their 74 MEPs could emerge as the kingmakers in a Parliament where even the weight of the two top groups will no longer be enough to secure a majority. They can also point to strong results in individual countries: second place in Germany; third place in France; and fourth in the UK.
Indeed, they can say that in many countries, they are the first choice for the younger generation (they account for 33% of the German under-30s vote), who are particularly concerned about the climate crisis, yet feel the EU is not delivering. Their Green wave comes on the back of activities like the FridaysforFuture strikes by school students led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, and the Extinction Rebellion campaign. All this gives them leverage to put environmental issues at the heart of the EU’s political agenda.
It is to little surprise that climate action is the top Green demand. It is already a priority across the political spectrum, and the EU pledged under the 2015 Paris Agreement to slash emissions by at least 40% by 2030. But the Greens point to the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change warning in October that warming is currently heading towards a catastrophic 3C or 4C rise. They want the EU to speed up efforts to cut emissions to net zero. This is likely to have effects on road transport emission targets, which were already the subject of major EU legislation last year for both cars and trucks.
It ties in with their demands for action on shipping and aviation emissions, two sectors that are outside the Paris Agreement. Now the EU wants to cut maritime emissions by 2023, either through the International Maritime Organization, or else within the EU itself. And the Netherlands is leading a campaign for an EU-wide tax on flying, either through a levy on airline tickets, flights or jet fuel.
A further area where the Greens want action is in carbon taxes. Exactly what form they could take is under debate and the Greens acknowledge that these taxes should not hurt the poor disproportionately. But these taxes are seen as essential for changing behaviour and shifting the EU towards renewable energy and sustainable transport.
The Green demands have already prompted the EPP and S&D groups to promise they have heard the call for more urgent climate action and would observe it. It is expected that the Green wave would have a strong impact on the programme of the next Commission president.
Indeed, the EU Institutions agenda over the next five years will be influenced by the environmental issues more than at any time. The eventual impact on transport is not hard to anticipate. Ms. von der Leyen already explicitly mentions in her mission letter that the European Green Deal which will be developed by Mr. Timmermans, will commit Europe to net climate neutrality by 2050 and raise the 2030 emission reduction target to “at least”- 50% up from the – 40% currently agreed.