Coal-dependent economies like Poland should not rely on large amounts of EU taxpayers’ money to fund their green transitions, France’s leading environmental MEP has warned, as Brussels gears up for a fierce funding battle over the costs of its climate goals.
Pascal Canfin, a French En Marche MEP in charge of the European Parliament’s influential environmental affairs committee, said poorer member states should not get more than “single-digit billions” from a new transition fund being financed by the bloc’s richer countries to meet the union’s ambition to hit zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Capitals such as Warsaw would be wiser to lobby for a greener EU budget as a whole, which would mean larger amounts of cash could be deployed in eastern economies, he said. There was a risk that by focusing too closely on the transition fund, “Poland will say it is too narrow and the [net payers] will say the price is too high to pay”, he added. “The discussion has to be broader otherwise there is a risk of failure.”
The 45-year-old MEP is spearheading the European Parliament’s push for a more ambitious climate agenda, starting with Brussels’ much-anticipated European Green New Deal, which will be launched along with the transition fund next month.
His comments reflect growing resistance among member states such as France, the Netherlands and Sweden, which are opposed to pumping significant amounts of money into the transition fund for eastern countries that argue their economies will be hit hardest by the move to climate neutrality.
Countries that make a net contribution to the EU budget are instead demanding the next spending round, known as the multiannual financial framework (MFF), should repurpose significant funds from existing agricultural subsidies and cohesion money to aid the green transition in the east.
Mr Canfin said the transition fund should be narrowly “targeted” to help only coal-producing regions with lower than average gross domestic product. Money for new green investment or labour market reskilling should come from other sources like the European Investment Bank, he said.
“The [transition fund] is just the cherry on the cake. And the cherry is limited to specific sectors,” said Mr Canfin.
The incoming European Commission will unveil its plan for the fund next month as it seeks to convince Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to sign up to a 2050 carbon neutrality goal.
Eastern capitals have held out on the commitment, seeking guarantees that the green transition would not disproportionately hurt their economies by causing job losses in fossil-fuel industries. Poland relies on coal for 80 per cent of its energy generation and has said the green transition will cost “hundreds of billions”.
EU officials said Brussels would propose a fund with a minimum size of about €15bn, with contributions coming from the new EU budget, fresh cash from member states and borrowing from the financial markets.
Ursula von der Leyen, president-elect of the commission, hopes the offer will be enough to convince Warsaw, Budapest and Prague to agree to the net zero emissions policy at an EU leaders’ summit on December 12-13 which coincides with the UN climate change conference in Madrid next month.
A position paper from the Dutch government, seen by the Financial Times, said the “temporary” fund should focus on the “socio-economic effects of the transition in specific regions and sectors that will face most of the consequences such as coal and heavy industry”.
Mr Canfin, a former member of the French Greens who joined Emmanuel Macron’s party this year, said Poland would face a “political cost” if it vetoed the 2050 target by demanding more transition money.
“Just because the MFF is going greener doesn’t mean it should go more to the west,” Mr Canfin said. “That’s the right political deal to be found in December.”
Mr Canfin said the policy package had to be “broader than just climate change”, with a focus on biodiversity, limiting the use of plastic and countering the health effects of rising air pollution. He will also this week push the European Parliament to pass a resolution declaring a climate emergency in the EU.