OPP Meeting Summary: EP ENVI Committee – Exchange of views with Ms Krista Mikkonen Finnish Minister of Environment and Climate Change (23 July 2019)

A summary of the exchange of views is now available.

EP ENVI Committee – 23 July 2019
Presentation of the Council Presidency’s programme
Exchange of views with Ms Krista Mikkonen, Finnish Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Minister Ms Krista Mikkonen, Finnish Minister of Environment and Climate Change

  • she started by making reference to the last month of June 2019 , since it was the warmest month of June on record;
  • she quoted several studies on climate and biodiversity that showed that the ‘window of opportunity’ to prevent irreversible damage was ‘narrowing quickly’, making necessary immediate action;
  • the Finnish Presidency noted with interest the recent debate held with Ursula von der Leyen and shared their drive to build an agenda that would bring a response to the two main challenges of this time: climate change and biodiversity loss;
  • regarding climate and environment, they had three priorities:
    • EU’s global leadership in climate action;
    • ambitious work in biodiversity post 2020;
    • advancing the circular economy;
  • on global leadership in climate action, they noted that the EU had the most ambitious targets but reminded that there was the need to deliver on those commitments and that the work should not stop there;
  • they shared their aim at reaching a common agreement on the main elements of the EU’s climate strategy before the end of 2019, as requested by the European Council but noted that hard work was required still for this to happen;
  • sectoral policy debates in several Council formations and informal meetings had been taken place with the aim of advancing work on the conditions, incentives and enabling framework;
  • two weeks earlier, in the Informal Meeting of Environment and Climate Ministers, from which she highlighted the legally-binding 2030 objectives, and that climate policies were taken into the relevant sector policies and EU budget;
  • the Finnish Presidency stated their will to lead the preparations for the COP25 in Chile;
  • on biodiversity loss, the aim was to adopt Council conclusions in the Environment Council in December;
  • hard truth was that there was significantly lagging on the objectives to stop the loss of biodiversity both in the EU and globally;
  • she believed that there was a strong will for credible and measurable global biodiversity framework for the next decade;
  • she reminded that biodiversity should be streamlined all relevant sectoral policies;
  • the Finnish Presidency was planning to coordinate an ambitious position on behalf of the EU ahead of the Conference of Biodiversity that will take place in October 2020 in China;
  • finally, they considered that shifting towards a full-fledged circular economy should provide with solutions to the two big aforementioned challenges;
  • they planned to adopt Council conclusions in the October Environment Council;
  • they noted the ‘strong start’ of the outgoing Commission with its ambitious action plan;
  • the Finnish was committed to send a ‘strong message’ for the Commission to continue with its work in the next five years;
  • among the sectors in which they wanted to focus, she highlighted construction, textiles and electronics sectors in which a ‘great amount of resources were being wasted’;
  • they believed that, with proper standards and policies in place, raw materials could be kept circulating in the European economy and providing value for a longer period of time;
  • they stressed that the competitiveness of EU industry would be enhanced thanks to a more efficient and sustainable use of resources;
  • the success of those three priorities lied on good implementation, valuable tools were available at the EU level, among which she highlighted the 7th Environmental Action Programme (EAP);
  • the 7th EAP which laid down a solid strategy creating strong links with national measures, contributing to a better coordinated and more predictable actions in the fields of environment and climate policies;
  • they reminded that, since the current 7th EAP would expire at the end of the year, they would aim at adopting Council conclusions in order to ‘push’ the Commission to present the 8th EAP;
  • on currently opened legislative files, regarding the drinking water and water reuse files, the Finnish Presidency aimed at starting and finalising trilogues with the Parliament;
  • on shipping MRV, they aimed to finalising the position of the Council during their Presidency;
  • on LIFE, they stated that their range of action was limited due to the MFF negotiations but they aimed at closing this file;
  • she underlined the crucial role to be played by EP ENVI in tackling the most outstanding challenges in the upcoming term;
  • in a broader context, she highlighted the role that would be played by the new CAP and the sustainable finance in the needed ‘transformative changes’;
  • they called for a better integration of climate and environment policies and for prioritising the implementation of the SDG goals;
  • she emphasised that, due to the overwhelming scientific evidence and the strong demand by civil society, the work ‘must start immediately’;
  • she closed by stating their intention to work with the Parliament in order to provide with an answer to the main challenges ahead.

Peter Liese (EPP, DE)

  • Ursula von der Leyen had placed climate at the centre of her discourse as well as set several ambitious targets on this regard;
  • he pointed at the question of reducing aviation emissions, he considered there was a strong support on behalf from EU citizens and said he would welcome if Ms Krista Mikkonen would state her support to measures in this direction;
  • he regretted that the ICAO was arranging an agreement that would make impossible to include this sector within the ETS framework, which he considered ‘detrimental to environmental protection’;
  • for the EPP, it was important to emphasise on research and to give support to coal regions in transition;
  • he regretted the lack of efforts of other industrialised nations such as Australia or Japan and vowed for calling on EU’s partners ‘to do more’.

Seb Dance (S&D, UK)

  • he thanked the Finnish Presidency representative for the outline of the main areas in which they would like to focus their activities on;
  • he was worried about the increasing disconnection with what people were prepared to do in their personal lives to adapt their lifestyles and to respond to some of the work that was being put forward in this regard. As an example, he stressed the strong reaction by the gilets jaunes to what he considered a ‘modest increase in energy taxes’ which was framed as an attack on everybody’s lives;
  • with the above in mind, he asked the Finnish Presidency on how they envisioned leading the ‘paradigm shift’ at the Member State level;
  • he reflected on the fact that the time window for action was shrinking making the needed measures to be more ambitious, probably leading to a bigger backlash. With this in mind, he wondered if there had been discussions on the creation of adjustment funds, directed to aid the most vulnerable communities.

Nils Torvalds (RE, FI)

  • he reflected that there was a growing understanding of the need of ‘doing something more’ and reflected that the goals set at the beginning of the decade were not ambitious enough;
  • he looked into the complexity of the issue, with different parties, countries, organisations looking at it from different angles making impossible to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach;
  • was this complexity, in his opinion, that stalled the very beginning of the process and asked the Finnish Presidency a simple question: where to start?

Michael Bloss (Greens/EFA, DE)

  • he congratulated the Finnish Presidency for placing the environmental and climate crises at the centre of their priorities and for being a ‘global climate champion’ by committing to climate neutrality by 2035;
  • he highlighted his recent discussions with young people and colleagues about the degree in which their future lives would be conditioned by the climate crisis and reflected that there was a chance of irreversible damage;
  • the EU needed to lead at a global level so that ‘others will follow’;
  • the previous day, the UN Secretary General asked the EU to submit a brief summary of the EU strategy by the 7th of August 2019 (in slightly over two weeks). He wondered what would the Presidency of the Council together with the Commission be able to submit on this regard and asked if there was a clear commitment to the 1.5 C goal;
  • on regards to the GHG reduction target for 2030 which currently stood at 40%, he did not consider in line with the Paris Agreement nor in line with the demand of citizens and asked the Presidency their plans to increase the level of ambition to a 55% GHG reduction;
  • to finalise, he wanted to know what Ms Krista Mikkonen meant by immediate action and hinted that for his group, the immediate closure of lignite power plans would mean a significant GHG reduction.

Teuvo Hakkarainen (ID, FI)

  • in his view, climate always changed and would continue changing, highlighted the existence in the past of an ice age;
  • reflected that the sun determined ‘what happened with the planet’ and that the effects of mankind were limited;
  • he considered that climate change had become a ‘new religion’, questioning this was ‘blasphemous’ and ‘fake statistics’ were used to support these arguments;
  • they did not support the financial support against climate change;
  • although the supported the reduction of emissions, he reflected that the total emissions of Finland were hugely inferior than China’s or India’s and called to direct the attention to those ‘big fishes’.

Alexandr Vondra (ECR, CZ)

  • ‘leading by example was a great thing’ but only made sense if the rest followed;
  • he asked what the Finnish Presidency was preparing to convince other actors at an international level;
  • the fight against climate change would have a profound impact on the industry, society and policies (as it was shown by the outreach of the implementation of carbon tax by the gilets jaunes);
  • he reflected that not all societies and economies were the same and reflected the heavy dependence of Poland and Czech Republic on coal and, with this in mind, he wondered where would the resources come from in order to cover these far-reaching policies;
  • in his view the main problem in Europe were the droughts rather than the heat and blamed bad water management for the deforestation in Europe;
  • he regretted the lack the references to increasing efforts in water management in order to fight droughts, which impacted many different areas, and wondered what efforts were being put in place for this.

Silvia Modig (GUE/NGL, FI)

  • she praised the programme of the Finnish Presidency for having the climate challenge at its centre;
  • she asked the Finnish Presidency about the way the they envisioned the ecological restructuring to be implemented in a ‘socially equitable way’;
  • she called for ‘faster solutions such as reducing emissions by 55% by 2030 and to ‘develop’ the ETS;
  • she asked for concrete measures on biodiversity.

Minister Ms Krista Mikkonen, Finnish Minister of Environment and Climate Change

  • she thanked the many good points raised;
  • she echoed the comments on the need for short-term solutions as they would contribute to ‘get up to speed’ towards the long-term objectives;
  • she praised the emphasis made by Ursula von der Leyen and committed to pursue some of the points she raised;
  • strong work would be put in order to get other countries in the EU ‘on board’ in the long-term climate strategy but also ‘at the same pace as the rest’;
  • she made echo of the difficult mix between the rising concerns on climate and environmental issues and the strong reactions when policies and measures affected people in their daily lives;
  • she reflected of the huge difficulty of coming up with a socially sustainable solution and reminded of the particularities of each region and sector;
  • on the question about ‘where to start’ she emphasised that the dimension of the issue required of mainstreaming in every related area: energy, environment, transport, housing, construction and that the economic system should offer incentives to environmental and climate solutions;
  • on the doubts about the existence of climate change, she agreed that climate changed in the past but pointed at the undeniable scientific evidence of the impact of mankind in this regard;
  • on the matter of getting third countries to adhere to fight against climate change, she confident of the considered that the actions of the EU would send a ‘strong message to others’ given its know-how of the EU, its wealth and the strength of their democracies;
  • she emphasised on the importance of embarking in a just transition and was positive about the chances that re-training programmes for the most affected sectors and regions  had to succeed that thanks to the significant ‘know-how’ of the EU;
  • she considered drought to be a cause of climate change and underlined that water management was a ‘central part’ of the Finnish Presidency’s priorities, sign of this was the emphasis they made on the importance of reaching an agreement an agreement being reached on the water reuse regulation;
  • social justice was crucial in order to ensure that citizens do not carry an excessive burden and are supportive of the big transformations ahead;
  • she acknowledged that the loss of biodiversity was ‘on the shade’ of climate change, which she explained as the first one stemmed from the latter. On the steps ahead she called for an emphasis on making the goals measurable as this would facilitate their implementation, as well as suggested the drafting of country-specific plans.

Edina Tóth (EPP, HU)

  • she welcomed that climate protection was among the Finnish Presidency’s priorities;
  • EU’s climate goals must be achieved without hurting the its global competitiveness and without increasing emissions in third countries;
  • she reflected that, instead of ‘ideological debates’, there was a huge need for in-depth analysis and for more understanding for the struggle for some MS to meet the preliminary targets;
  • climate goals should be attained in a technologically neutral way and enabled by the allocation of ‘sufficient’ EU budget;
  • she enquired about the Finnish position on the best way to foster climate protection policies outside of the EU.

Tiemo Wölken (S&D, DE) 

  • regarding aviation, a sector that was increasing its emissions and a question that was increasingly present in the public opinion, he wondered what sort of measures did the Finnish Presidency want to implement either pricing kerosene across the EU or the coordination of the VAT exemption for aviation;
  • as stated by Ursula von der Leyen, the emission reduction target (for 2030?) would be increased to 55% by 2021. With this in mind, he wondered if the Finnish Presidency considered this to be ‘enough’ and how did they see this playing in combination with the need to amend the national binding targets (under the Paris agreement) by 2020;

Martin Hojsík (RE, SK)

  • he shared his satisfaction with the Finnish Presidency’s priorities on climate change, biodiversity and the circular economy;
  • being Slovak, he was happy that it was also possible for Central European countries to commit to carbon neutrality which he considered was a matter of willingness;
  • he considered that the process of change was being slowed by the ‘incoherence of the policies’, namely the target of reducing carbon emissions in opposition to the subsidies to heavy-carbon consumption sectors or financial instruments that brought support to those. He would like to know what the Finnish Presidency was willing to do about this ‘incoherence’;
  • finally, he noted that the Finnish Presidency omitted any mentions to the dossier of ‘the taxonomy of the green investment’;

Aileen McLeod (Greens/EFA, UK)

  • reminded that Scotland, like Finland supported more ambitious climate goals, including the 1.5 C goal;
  • she wanted to know what would be the EU’s position in the upcoming UN climate summit in September in a pivotal moment to ‘step up’ climate ambitions.

Michael Wiezik (EPP, SK)

  • he wanted to know more about the role to play by forests and carbon sequestration in the 2050 carbon neutrality strategy and how this interacted with the forestry industry;
  • he highlighted the emphasis made by Finland on the bio-economy strategy but wanted to address forest degradation caused by the efforts on carbon sequestration by focusing on the production function of forests ‘critically’ and from the point of view of ecosystems.

Delara Burkhardt (S&D, DE)

  • she stated that her group pursued ‘meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet’ and reminded that meeting the present challenge would require of drastic transformations in the way people live, produce and consume;
  • social considerations on the fight against climate change should not mean to ‘water down ambition but to enable it’;
  • she emphasised the importance of not falling for climate change deniers;
  • in the absence of an overarching EU sustainable development strategy, she wondered the way in which the Finnish Presidency wanted to better reflect the UN SDGs in the policy making of the EU and its MS, for example in the European Semester.

Cathrine Griset (ID, FR)

  • climate cause was the first priority of the Finnish Presidency and for that, she called for a ‘good diagnosis that would lead to the right treatment’;
  • she observed that the many FTAs signed were creating increased flows of trade, which led to more pollution and helped third countries to finance their polluting economic activities;
  • with the above in mind, she called to stay away from ‘large international agreements’ and to go back to a regional a local level, letting MS to deal with these challenges themselves as they were fully aware of their own situation and possibilities.

Minister Ms Krista Mikkonen, Finnish Minister of Environment and Climate Change

  • she considered that the circular economy should bring great opportunities in the aim of preserving the competitiveness of the EU’s economy;
  • on regards to aviation, she acknowledged the question was relevant and called for global and regional decisions on this regard;
  • on sustainable finance, she considered that an agreement within the Council for the mandate for trilogue negotiations would be of great importance and wished for this to happen ‘in the fall’;
  • on the EU’s input in the upcoming climate summit, she wanted ensure work is done in the Council before 2020 on this and that the EU legislation is properly implemented by the MS;
  • land use and the forest sector should play an important role in climate change mitigation and reminded of the important legislation on land use change;
  • she encouraged to engage with every sector of EU citizenry in the transition ahead;
  • on FTAs, she believed that every policy area should mainstream climate priorities.

Radan Kanev (EPP, BG) 

  • on co-dependancy of energy production, he asked if moving from coal to massive nuclear energy production would be a good idea and if this would be acceptable to the European public opinion;
  • in the perspective of climate policies, he wondered in which could the EU could escape the ‘geo-political’ dependency on Russia;
  • he asked what did the Finnish Presidency think about the future of steel production in the context of climate policies;

César Luena (S&D, ES)

  • he wanted to focus on the fight against climate change and its denial;
  • he brought up the example of the recently notorious case of planned dismantlement of the ‘Madrid Central‘ plan that gave very good results in improving air quality in the capital of Spain. With this in mind, he asked the Finnish Presidency to seize the opportunity create measures that prevent the dismantlement of similar measures in other European cities in the future;
  • on the matter of water reuse for agricultural purposes, his group was happy with the progress of the negotiations and stressed that they desired the outcome of those to go in line with the Finnish perspective on the matter.

Susana Solís (RE, ES)

  • her group was pleased with the fact that climate change and the circular economy were priorities for the Finnish Presidency;
  • she enquired for the exact measures that would guarantee the application of the circular economy principles in every sector of value chain and who those would interact with the fight against climate change;
  • she echoed the analysis made by the Commission on the 54 measures for the circular economy action plan and identified the textile sector as one that would require more work With this in mind, she wanted to enquire what did the Finnish Presidency had in mind to enhance the circularity of this very important sector while ensuring its competitiveness.

Jadwiga Wiśniewska (ECR, PL)

  • she was surprised with the ‘lack of balance between emissions and their reduction’;
  • she considered that the European industry was an increasing difficult position due to the pressure of climate policies and shared her preoccupation with further ‘carbon leakage’. The fact that there was an increasing amount of good arriving at the EU from countries that did not comply with the Paris Agreement added to the uncertainty of the European industry in remaining competitiveness;
  • she echoed the Finnish Presidency comments on a fair transition and highlighted the importance of the question of energy poverty.

Ewa Kopacz (EPP, PL)

  • she asked about the way in which the specific objectives could be put in place without directly affecting European citizens’ interests;
  • she was interested in the allocation of funds destined to cushion the impact of the upcoming overarching transitions at the regional or local levels and reflected that this would depend on the different MS governments.

Mick Wallace (GUE/NGL, IE)

  • he drew his attention at the impossibility of combating climate change within the existent ‘misbalance’ between developed and non-developed countries;
  • non-developed countries was trapped into cheap raw materials economies, while the existent tax havens prevented for the reaped benefits to be destined to development policies;
  • with this in mind, he wanted to know the Finnish Presidency opinions on the Mercosur FTA which, in his view, would lead to further deforestation and hurt small European farmers.

Ivan Vilibor Sinčić (NI, HR)

  • he shed light in the situation in his MS, in which he believed, deforestation and corruption were in connection since forests were managed by a state-owned company. He wanted to know the Finnish Presidency’s opinion on the best way to put an end to these practices.

Ljudmila Novak (EPP, SL)

  • she reflected that environment was of great importance in Slovenia and emphasised the development of rural regions;
  • it was common for people living in rural regions to commute to cities, leading to emissions;
  • she asked the Finnish Presidency for their plans on regards for preserving the rural environment.

Maria Arena (S&D, BE)

  • she reflected on a recent study that called for including the emissions of consumption, if that was made, the EU’s emissions would be increased by a 30%;
  • von der Leyen proposed to look into a carbon border tax, in relation to which she wondered how this could be measured and what sort of tool would be needed for that.

Nicolae Stefanuta (RE, RO)

  • reflected on the need for a sustainable management system in Europe with enough resources to deal with climate crises, crises which MS could not defeat on their own.

Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI)

  • she enquired about the Commission communication that was published that same day on deforestation and echoed previous comments pointing out at the ‘imports’ of carbon consumption and deforestation;
  • with the above in mind, she was looking forward to the promise made by the current Finnish government for looking in depth into the impact of supply chains.

Anna Zalewska (ECR, PL)

  • she reflected on the time constrains that could hamper the progress of the Finnish Presidency due to the fact of the ongoing negotiations on the EU budget;
  • she wondered if the Finnish Presidency had any information about the potential configuration of the budget on regards to the protection of water.

Minister Ms Krista Mikkonen, Finnish Minister of Environment and Climate Change

  • Finland did not consider nuclear energy to be a suitable solution;
  • their goal was to have the regulation on water reuse adopted at the end of their Presidency term;
  • they were aware of the ‘big possibilities’ of enhancing the circularity of the textile industry and wanted to ensure to diminish its environmental and climate impacts;
  • Finland wanted to hold discussions with MS about their different starting points before the transition to a carbon neutral economy in order to ensure that these transformations would include every MS situations;
  • in her view, it was very important that the Mercosur includes a chapter on sustainable development;
  • she was looking forward to reading the Commission’s communication on deforestation and would put environmental and biodiversity angles as priorites;
  • she reflected that most carbon emissions came from consumption of goods produced outside the EU.

The simultaneous interpretation of debates provided by the EU institutions serves only to facilitate communication amongst the participants in the meeting. It does not constitute an authentic record of proceedings. One Policy Place uses these translations so this text is only a guide and should not be relied on as an official account of the meeting. Only the original speech or the revised written translation of that speech is authentic.

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