Are EU environmental laws and the European Green Deal really at stake because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Lobby groups in Brussels are doing their best to diminish them, Anton Lazarus, Communications Manager at European Environmental Bureau (EEB), says in his article and lists five examples of how corporate lobbyists asked for the suspension of crucial environmental rules.
With the terrible impact of the coronavirus being felt across Europe, some in Brussels haven’t wasted any time in looking for opportunities for big business, the article reads.
In March, a media report revealed the European Green Deal was facing delays over the COVID-19 impact. A month later, an informal group called on decision makers in Brussels to make sure the revival from the COVID-19 downturn is green.
“While many of us are reflecting on what really matters in life, some lobby groups are busy pleading for special treatment and an enormous roll back of EU environmental protections. We share five of the worst examples,” the author of the article Anton Lazarus writes.
1. The Agrilobby: delaying action for a better food system
This first case is bad news: intense lobbying by agricultural businesses to delay crucial food, farming, and nature strategies has succeeded. The European Commission confirmed that the potentially transformative ‘Farm to Fork’ and Biodiversity strategies will now not be delivered later this month, as previously expected.
The Commission confirmed that the potentially transformative ‘Farm to Fork’ and Biodiversity strategies will now not be delivered as planned
Once published and implemented, the two strategies could transform Europe’s countryside, setting aside 10% of all farms for nature, boosting a nature-friendly agroecological approach to farming and legally protecting 30% of all of Europe’s land and sea.
Despite the new food strategy being designed to support hardworking farmers and ensure land is protected for future generations, members of the European People’s Party shared a bizarre press release claiming the strategy would set “new rules”.
The strategies could transform Europe’s countryside, setting aside 10% of all farms for nature, legally protecting 30% of all of Europe’s land and sea
The EEB’s farming expert Celia Nyssens strongly rejected this claim, telling Euractiv: “Strategies set out a clear direction of travel and plan actions to address problems – exactly what we need to do in these challenging times.”
The Commission’s decision to delay the strategies comes just days after the Commission’s own scientific advisors joined calls for urgent and radical change to Europe’s food system.
2. The Plastic lobby: creating confusion to defend plastic forks
European plastic industry front group EuPC wrote to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to demand the EU’s popular single use plastic ban be delayed or even totally thrown out.
The plastic lobby group’s letter complains about “bashing on plastics” and says that “the coronavirus has shown us that not all materials are the same”. They argue single use plastics are essential for hygiene and health and safety.
Lobbyist argue single use plastics are essential for hygiene and health and safety
Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, a circular economy expert at the EEB, says the lobby group are talking about two different things: “The EU’s popular plastic ban specifically targets the top ten items that are most commonly washed up on beaches, like cotton buds, plastic straws and packaging. The law has exemptions for medical devices and does not apply to the masks, gowns and gloves needed in hospitals and care homes all over Europe, and which make a negligible contribution to marine pollution.”
The plastic ban specifically targets the top ten items that are most commonly washed up on beaches, like cotton buds, plastic straws and packaging
Schweitzer continued: “We are concerned about cynical attempts to use the virus to derail legislation designed to serve the environment, public health and wellbeing. It’s important the businesses genuinely struggling to comply with environmental laws get support.”
Fortunately, the European Commission said that there were no plans for delays and the deadline would have to be respected.
3. The Chemicals lobby wants a six-month stay on toxic transparency
A number of instances of chemical industry lobbying have been identified, including a March 25 letter from the Federation of German Industries (BDI) to Bjorn Hansen, Director of the European Chemical Agency. The letter asks for at least a six month delay on numerous important measures designed to protect people from potentially harmful substances.
The letter asks for delays to transparency for about at least 205 substances of very high concern
EEB’s chemical expert Tatiana Santos says the letter is “outrageous”: “The letter asks for delays to transparency for about at least 205 substances of very high concern – these are toxic chemicals which are currently being added to thousands of consumer products. It also seeks to extend the use of one of the worst chemicals on the planet – PFOA – which was recently made famous by the Mark Ruffalo movie Dark Waters.”
"You guys are the heroes now"
— EEB (@Green_Europe) February 7, 2020
Fortunately, in a reply dated last week, Hansen explained it was not within ECHA’s control to make the exceptions they demanded.
4. The Car lobby: pleading to put brakes on road safety, emissions and environmental rules
Also on March 25, European auto industry lobby groups united to urge European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to relax new EU rules, including CO2 targets for cars.
European auto industry lobby groups urge Commission to relax CO2 targets for cars
Alongside pleading for more EU money for their members, the letter claims that the virus outbreak “upsets” plans they had made “for complying with existing and future EU laws and regulations” and asks for “some adjustment” to the timing of laws to improve road safety, cut emission and protect the environment.
Responding to the letter campaign group Transport & Environment wrote: “A closer look at the facts around the climate (and green tech) targets shows that such a plea [to delay] is currently unfounded and potentially damaging for the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the car industry in Europe.”
All three German carmakers, VW, Daimler and BMW, have acknowledged this is not needed
As part of a comprehensive rebuke of the industry position the organisation’s Clean Vehicle Director Julia Poliscanova said: “While the overall economic recovery is crucial, we shouldn’t let some opportunistic carmakers use the crisis to shamelessly roll back the EU climate targets for cars. All three German carmakers, VW, Daimler and BMW, have rightly acknowledged this is not needed.”
5. Business Europe: no holds barred attempt to stop all climate and environmental regulation
Finally, perhaps the most far-reaching call for delay came from industry umbrella group ‘Business Europe’, whose members include a who’s who of major industry players.
In an extraordinary letter, Business Europe highlight the significant impact of the virus on lobbyists’ “capacity to engage with policymakers”. They call for all consultations and impact assessments to be delayed – a move that would effectively halt all progress on environmental legislation and cause the European Green Deal to grind to a halt.
In the letter and a tweet sharing their position, Business Europe describe climate and environmental regulations as “non-essential”.
There is no such thing as non-essential climate regulation. https://t.co/OHaiDY7AML
— Anton Lazarus (@_antlaz_) April 15, 2020
EEB Industrial Policy Manager Christian Schaible dismissed the idea of “non-essential climate action”and called the request to extend deadlines “dangerous”.
Extending the Europe-wide deadline for compliance would do little more than reward some of Europe’s worst polluters
“Industry has known about the need to meet these new rules for many years. There may be a handful of cases where pollution abatement equipment was going to be fitted at the very last minute, but extending the Europe-wide deadline for compliance would do little more than reward some of Europe’s worst polluters.”
Schaible added: “At a time when public health is rightly at the top of the agenda, it’s extraordinary to see some of Europe’s biggest companies effectively coming out in support of pollution. Responsible industry would be looking to be part of the solution, and playing their part in building a cleaner, greener future for everyone.”
It’s extraordinary to see some of Europe’s biggest companies effectively coming out in support of pollution
A “non-exhaustive list” of the environmental protections they would like stopped is included in an annex to the letter. It includes a request for delays to the EU’s 2030 climate targets and the extension of deadlines for cleaning up industrial processes using so-called Best Available Techniques.