Businesses use trade associations and crisis to weaken EU climate policies

According to a report published on March 30th by the University of Westminster’s Policy Studies Institute (PSI), business lobby groups that often represent companies with strong sustainability strategies use their political influence in order to undermine the EU’s climate policies. According to the report “Lobbying by trade associations on EU climate policy”, the promotion of shale gas, ending the support to renewables and undercutting the Emissions Trading System are listed as top priorities in the hit list of groups such as BusinessEurope, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), Eurometaux (European Association of Metals) and FuelsEurope.

The report profiles trade associations including BUSINESSEUROPE, which is reported as arguing that the Commission’s proposal for reform of the EU’s carbon market would undermine Europe’s global competitiveness. Another example is Cefic (the European Chemical Industry Council), which has argued that strengthening the EU Emissions Trading System would ‘directly worsen the measures against carbon leakage without any environmental need’.

In their responses to the consultations, many of the trade associations contrasted the optimism of 2007 (when the 2020 climate and energy targets were agreed) with the economic uncertainty seen across much of Europe in 2012/13. A common approach across was for respondents to agree with the threat climate change poses before going on to describe their worries about the economic condition of Europe both in isolation and in relation to its major regional trading partners. These concerns were then frequently used to support calls for a ‘rebalancing’ of the three headline policy objectives of security of supply, climate mitigation and cost-effectiveness. Several respondents complained that undue focus had been given to climate targets, which has had a detrimental impact on economic growth. BUSINESSEUROPE, for example, says that ‘Since 2008, Europe has focused energy and climate policy on environmental sustainability. However, major internal and international developments require Europe to “rebalance” the three main objectives’ (BUSINESSEUROPE, 2013).” 

The profiled trade associations enjoy considerable political influence, power and substantial budgets dedicated to lobbying: “For instance, the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) self-reported through the EU transparency register that they have 75 lobbyists working in Europe, 14 of whom have access to the European Parliament. They report that they spend €6,000,000 per year on lobbying.” 

Since the outbreak of the economic crisis, strong pressures for relaxation of environmental laws target the European Commission. Key legislation on environmental impact assessment, industrial emissions, climate change and nature conservation has been attacked by certain business lobbies and governments. Earlier in 2015, the pressures proved effective: the legislative package on circular economy, whose aim was to boost resource efficiency and minimise waste, was withdrawn, fuelling criticism that the European Commission bows to powerful interests and undermines Europe’s prospects for truly sustainable economic activity.

Read more: Policy Studies Institute (report), Policy Studies Institute (blog post), EuractivCrisisWatch


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