Chilly reception for EU’s first post-Brexit budget

The European Commission has published its much-anticipated plan for the EU’s finances for 2021 to 2027 for what will be the first post-Brexit budget.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger spoke up the climate credentials of the new budget but environmental campaigners said the proposal – known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – does not go far enough to reduce carbon emissions or to mainstream sustainability.

Roland Joebstl, Policy Officer for Energy and Climate at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

“An increase of climate spending does not fix a budget that, overall, still fails to be carbon neutral. The continued spending on gas is just one example; we need a Paris-compatible budget.”

Eero Yrjö-Koskinen, Director of Green Budget Europe, said:

“We are not on track with our commitments to biodiversity and climate change. Europe committed in its EU 2020 strategy to phase out all environmentally harmful subsidies by 2020, which needs to be eventually implemented. Globally, nearly all fossil fuel subsidies must be phased out during the next 30 years if we are to comply with the Paris agreement. This is the greatest challenge of our times, which will not be met unless we introduce a wide set of incentives to achieve a low-carbon economy.”

NGOs working on nature loss and sustainable farming expressed concern that the budget plan would see little change to farm direct payments– despite mounting evidence showing that the current direct payments system has been a failure for the environment, society and the economy.

Bérénice Dupeux , Policy Officer for Agriculture at the EEB, said:

“Shockingly today’s Commission budget proposal defends the farming status quo where billions are poured into payments that prop up an environmentally-destructive farming model. If the Commission is serious about increasing environmental and climate ambition in the next EU budget it can’t give EU countries a free pass to sidestep environmental accountability. At least half of the farming pot must be ring-fenced off for environment and climate protection.”

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia, said:

“While Oettinger speaks about citizens, the future and ‘budget for results’, he has gone out of his way to protect the farm lobby and with it the worst form of perverse subsidies. He completely ignores the plight of the living world which is collapsing all around us. His proposal is empty in terms of securing a long-term future for European citizens.”

While there will be a slight cut to the amount of money the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) receives – most of the savings have been made by slashing part of the policy’s rural development scheme and its greening scheme.

One piece of good news for environmentalists was that the LIFE fund – the only direct source of EU environmental and climate funding – was increased from EUR 3.5 to EUR 5.4 billion.

However BirdLife Europe described this as “a few token coins” as it only represents 0.42% of the budget (up from 0.35%) amid an overall budget that “clearly ignores the need to transform our economy to bring it in line with planetary limits”.

Noticeable for their absence in the budget proposal were the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which global leaders adopted and committed to in 2015. The goals cover areas such as climate action, environmental protection, and reducing inequality and include 169 targets that must be achieved by 2030.

Patrizia Heidegger, Director of Global Policies and Sustainability at the EEB, said:

“This budget does little to mainstream sustainability. If we want Europe to progress towards more sustainability, we need more than a few ‘key strategic investments’ foreseen in the current proposal. The EEB demands that all of the EU’s public spending is oriented towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) rather than supporting sustainable development through scattered programmes. Most importantly, the new MFF must exclude all contradictory subsidies and non-sustainable spending such as support for fossil fuels.”

On 22 March a host of academic institutions, a diverse range of civil society groups, and a number of businesses and trade unions called on the Commission to underpin the next seven-year budget with funding that serves people’s wellbeing. Recommendations from the advisory group on the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) called for sustainable development to be incorporated into the EU’s funding priorities and decision making mechanisms in its next budget.

Patrick ten Brink, Director of EU Policy at the EEB said:

“As EU taxpayers are asked to contribute more to the joint European project, it is essential that the EU budget delivers for all EU citizens – EU money must drive emission reductions to help tackle climate change, ensure net gains for biodiversity, catalyze environmentally progressive agriculture and must be systematically sustainability-proofed. This would address the public’s wishes and the needs of future generations.”