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EU Ministers Agree on Sweeping Environmental Package by Bridget Ryder

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EU Ministers Agree on Sweeping Environmental Package

The stage is set for the European Union’s sweeping environmental package, ‘Fit for 55,’ to become binding regulation.

After late night negotiations that ended in the early hours of June 29th, environmental ministers from EU member states agreed to the package presented by the EU commission in July 2021, though with many small tweaks in concessions to national interests. 

“I want to stress that today’s negotiations were long and sometimes complicated because these are very very far reaching proposals,” Frans Timmermans, the EU’s environmental chief, said at the press conference after the meeting. 

He praised the ministers for accepting “things that they would rather not have accepted” understanding “this is the way forward for us collectively.”

“This will allow us to make this transition in a just way, leaving no one behind, and [to make] sure that those who can afford to finance the transition will do that, and those who would struggle will be supported in a very concrete and clear way,” he said “So all in all, I believe this is a very good day for the European Green Deal and a very good day for the European Union.

The Fit for 55 package is the EU’s plan to reduce Europe’s carbon emission 55%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2030, and set the block on the path to “carbon neutrality” by 2050. 

The ministers easily agreed to these main proposals of the commission’s package: slashing the block’s carbon emissions in industry by 61%; collectively removing 310 million tons of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere by boosting natural carbon sinks (like forests); banning the sale of combustion-engine cars in 2035, and introducing a carbon price on transport and household fuels.

Despite resistance from Germany, the ministers aligned with the EU Parliament’s recent resolution to ban the sale of combustion engines in the block in 2035. The Germans were convinced to agree to the measure by a review mechanism in 2026 to evaluate technological progress and the prospect of reducing carbon emissions from cars by 100%. Besides electric cars, technologies using combustion engines are being developed, such as hydrogen fuels, that drastically reduce a car’s direct carbon emissions. 

Another tough sticking point was the types of controls for  transport and household fuels in the block’s emissions trading system. With a carbon price put on the fuels used by ordinary citizens, consumers will see the price of gas and heating fuels increase. The EU Parliament is more hesitant to subject citizens to this measure, and even the environmental ministers were reticent. In France, violent protests erupted—the famous Yellow Jackets—when President Emanuel Macron introduced a carbon tax that hiked gas prices early in his first presidential term. 

The ministers agreed to ameliorate the measure with a Social Climate Fund to help low-income citizens pay their gas and heating bills. The fund of 56 billion euros—negotiated down from the original 72-billion-euro proposal—will be included in the EU’s annual budget. 

Now the EU commission will have to run relay between the ministers and the EU Parliament. Despite some objections, such as a carbon price on household fuels, the main points of the package are likely to be agreed on.

Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.