Juncker’s State of the Union vision is short-sighted, warn environmentalists

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may have wanted to present a compelling vision for the future EU but environmentalists have warned his vision is dangerously short-sighted.

Reacting to Juncker’s landmark speech a number of environmental groups took aim at his emphasis on trade, his lack of specifics on climate action and his unwillingness to the ‘s’ word – sustainability.

On Climate 

Jeremy Wates Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomed his commitment to make Europe a leader of climate action but added that he needs to have more ambition or the EU will not meet its targets.

“We welcome President Juncker setting out climate change as a clear priority in his State of the Union address and cementing EU global leadership on this. However the only thing that matters to the atmosphere in the end is how fast and how much emissions will be reduced. This will require the EU to increase its ambition by 2030 and do more in all sectors – not only transport,” he said. 

Wendel Trio Director of Climate Action Europe (CAN) said that Juncker sounded “like a broken record” when it came to climate change. He added 

“The biggest disappointment of the morning was that he [Juncker] failed to acknowledge that standing up for the Paris Agreement means stepping up and committing the EU to higher climate targets.”

On Sustainable Development

Leida Rijnhout from Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“We need a fundamental rethink of the kind of Europe we want – in some areas President Juncker seems to recognise this, but in others it is very much business as usual. It remains to be seen whether his proposals will go far enough to really bridge the gap between the EU its citizens.

“Citizens are still crying out for a vision for the future of Europe that puts public interest, democracy, environmental justice, human rights and a strong social fabric at the core. But the Commission unfortunately remains too focused on trade, investment, the Eurozone and defense issues.”

“The United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda, already supported by the EU, must be put at the heart of the Future of Europe.”

Mr Wates of the EEB said it was deeply worrying that he hadn’t mentioned sustainability or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that they needed to be central to the work of the EU.

“If Europe is to have a future that can guarantee well-being for all it will need to be sustainable. Old recipes for economic success will not work anymore in a world in which resources become scarcer and in which we cannot continue to use others as cheap suppliers of raw materials and labour. Yet again President Juncker has failed to bring himself to even mention sustainability or the 2030 SDG Agenda. This is deeply worrying as we need to bring the Sustainable Development Goals to the heart of policymaking at European and Member State level,” said Mr Wates.

On Trade Deals

Paul de Clerck from Friends of the Earth Europe pointed out the fact that he is championing trade deals without addressing the criticism of them.

“Juncker’s plans on trade ignore widespread criticism that they undermine Europe’s social, environmental and health standards. He continues to give VIP rights to investors through a Multilateral Investment Court while he gives no rights to citizens harmed by these investors and sustainability chapters are non-binding,” he said.

The EEB welcomed President Juncker’s commitment to greater transparency in trade deals we are concerned that he has not addressed the substance of these deals.

“The publishing of negotiating mandates is positive but it is the substance of these deals that needs to be addressed. There was huge public opposition to trade deals that protect investors at the expense of public health and the environment. It is this that will need to be addressed, not only transparency,” said Mr Wates.

On Rule of Law

The EEB also raised concerns about the new ‘Subsidiarity and Proportionality task force’ which could be used to undo environmental protections at EU level.

“We welcome his strong words on the importance of the rule of law but are concerned that this continues to be undermined by his administration’s continuous obsession with ‘Better Regulation’. In this he seeks to chip away at the environmental safety net which has built up over many years to protect communities from dangerous practices. We are concerned that the proposed Subsidiarity and Proportionality task force will be used to push issues such as environmental protection back to Member State level,” said Mr Wates.