The coronavirus crisis is not an excuse for the new German presidency of the EU to delay environmental action but a reason to accelerate it and scale it up, NGOs urge.

The EEB has issued 12 environmental asks for the period of Germany’s stewardship of the European Council and 10 green tests to assess its performance.

On 1 July 2020, Germany took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union from Croatia, which had held it for the first half of 2020. “Together for Europe’s recovery”, the slogan for the German presidency, was projected onto the Brandenburg Gate during the switchover.

“The response to the Corona crisis will be a core element of the German presidency,” said Jeremy Wates, the Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). “However, the pandemic has not in any way reduced the urgency of tackling the multiple environmental crises that we were already facing – if anything, it has shown that we need to step up the pace and put the green transition at the heart of the recovery process. It has shown that we can and must do things differently.”

Germany, the largest EU country in terms of both population and economy and one of the Union’s founding member states, is well-positioned to drive an ambitious agenda for change.

Setting the agenda

The German presidency has outlined its priorities for the coming six months. Its headline goal is to overcome the socioeconomic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic and to set the EU on course for a long-term recovery.

Other priorities include building a stronger and more innovative Europe, transitioning towards a just and sustainable Europe, safeguarding the EU’s security and common values, and strengthening its position in the world.

“Germany is committed to the rapid adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFR) and to the swift establishment of a recovery fund in order to bring about sustainable economic and social recovery with ambitious investments in climate protection, research and the digital transformation,” the presidency said in a statement.

Germany kicks off a trio of coordinated presidencies that will stretch over 18 months and includes Portugal and Slovenia. “Overcoming the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring the rapid economic and social reconstruction of Europe will form the focus of the trio presidency,” the leaders of the three countries said in a joint statement.

While Germany’s programme for the coming half year prioritises sustainability, the climate and the environment, there are some troubling areas that conflict with these aims or cast doubt on them. These include the presidency’s insistence on finalising the controversial EU-Mercosur free trade agreement, which environmentalists fear will accelerate deforestation, biodiversity loss and global warming.

“We cannot simply go back to business as usual and continue a system that over-exploits the planet without regard for the consequences,” Wates reiterated.

Blueprint for green action

Rather than viewing the coronavirus and environmental challenges we face as distinct crises, it is vital that the German, Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies recognise and act on them as intricately and intimately interrelated problems and tackle them simultaneously and cohesively.

Towards that end and as part of its regular tracking of EU presidencies, the EEB has released its blueprint for joined-up green action by the presidency trio which covers 12 key demands.

The dozen demands include tackling the climate emergency, reversing the alarming loss of biodiversity and creating a non-toxic environment, not least because pollution can weaken people’s immune systems. It also involves setting in motion a just transition towards a sustainable and resilient Europe, as well as leveraging all the financial means at the EU’s disposal, from the European Green Deal to the COVID-19 recovery package.

The dozen demands are addressed to the entire trio of forthcoming presidencies: Germany (second half of 2020), Portugal (first half of 2021) and Slovenia (second half of 2021).

Measuring up to expectations

The EEB is also putting 10 specific demands to the German presidency.

As was the case with previous presidencies, the EEB will monitor Germany’s performance against these 10 criteria and issue a scorecard in January 2021, at the end of the six-month period.

The 10 tests for the German presidency are:

  1. Drive a just transition to a sustainable and resilient Europe
  2. Channel the EU’s Recovery Package and budget towards a green transition
  3. Tackle the climate emergency
  4. Reverse the dramatic loss of biodiversity on land and water
  5. Initiate a transition toward sustainable food supply chains and agriculture
  6. Promote a shift towards zero pollution
  7. Drive a new industrial revolution (the circular economy, digitilisation and artificial intelligence)
  8. Set in motion an ambitious chemicals strategy for sustainability
  9. Enhance greater democratic accountability and rule of law relating to environmental issues
  10. Promote European solidarity, wellbeing and social and environmental justice
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