Council of EU Presidencies, Past and Present – Green or Not?

Greater environmental ambition is urgently needed as the baton passes from a disappointing Slovenian Presidency to France.

A new year begins, and with it the next Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Slovenia has held the mantle for the previous six months, the last member of the Presidency Trio with Portugal and Germany. France now takes up the rotating Presidency for the first six months of 2022, with the Czech Republic and Sweden to follow.

The Presidency of the Council of the EU drives the Council’s work – and therefore that of the Member States – on EU legislation. It also shoulders the responsibility of ensuring that the European Green Deal is the transformative agenda that it claims and needs to be.

A pivotal moment – Ten Green Tests

Now over two years since the European Green Deal was first launched, this responsibility of the Presidency is more monumental than ever: record winter temperatures set across Europe, skyrocketing fuel prices and the continued fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic all underline the necessity of achieving the EU’s climate and environmental goals.

For each Presidency, the European Environmental Bureau presents its Ten Green Tests, putting forward the vision of civil society as to what are the most pressing environmental issues to be tackled. The Tests then provide a benchmark with which the environmental progress of the Presidential term can be stacked up against.

As the Presidency swaps over, it is an opportune moment to use the Tests to reflect on what came before and what is to come.

Slovenia – a disappointing performance

Slovenia’s performance as President of the EU fared poorly in the Ten Green Tests, marked as being the least environmentally progressive of the Presidency Trio.

Although efforts on biodiversity loss were deemed as good, due to the support lent to the EU’s Forest Strategy and leading discussions on pollinator decline, the actual outcomes for this vital issue fell short. Elsewhere, disappointment came with the Slovenian Presidency failing to lead the way on negotiations for the Fit for 55 package, which intend to reduce the bloc’s emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Effort was also judged as weak on transforming green rhetoric on agriculture into concrete policy changes.

Further strong criticism was also levelled at the Slovenian Presidency for reducing the ambition of the revised Batteries Law, which came at odds with driving forward on the circular economy. Reformations of the Industrial Emissions Directive disappointingly did not align with goals of zero pollution.

France – an ambitious agenda

France took the helm of the Council of the EU Presidency to much fanfare from Paris – inheriting significant legislative and policy responsibilities from the previous Presidency Trio, the pressure is on not only from the EU level but also from the national one, with French President Macron looking to boost his own bid for elections in April.

Speaking at the EEB’s 2021 conference Barbara Pompili, Minister for the Ecological Transition of France, outlined France’s four environmental priorities for the Presidency: reducing emissions to meet climate targets, biodiversity, creating a more sustainable and circular EU model and reducing the impacts of pollution, especially when concerning chemicals.

The high profile Fit for 55 package will progress under the French Presidency, but France will likely tread carefully on the package’s carbon pricing scheme file, as the Gilet Jaunes protests over a proposed fuel tax will no doubt incite caution. Meanwhile, the carbon border tax proposal will also progress, a file that was strongly supported by France that intends to tackle carbon leakage.

Biodiversity will remain a core issue for France, with the upcoming proposals for laws on Anti-Deforestation and Nature Restoration, and continuing discussions under the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15. Elsewhere, the transition to a circular economy will have key moments such as the Textiles Strategy and Circular Electronics Initiative, plus the industrial sector will see the review proposal of the Industrial Emissions Directive and the Trans European Network for Energy and Transport (TENE & TEN-T) Regulations. The Hydrogen Strategy and Battery Regulation may also be finalised under France’s watch.

Presenting an ambitious agenda, France has the prime opportunity to lead the way on both the European and international stage, in building an environmentally sound basis that will ultimately set the legacy of the French-Czech-Swedish Presidency Trio. Will it live up to the EEB’s all important Ten Green Tests? We will find out soon enough.