What’s cooking in Brussels

From Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

Lobbying is as much a part of Brussels cuisine as sauce funds are to fine cuisine. But too many cooks spoil the broth, and that also applies to lobbying. The gravy fund can become bitter.

As with the Fit for 55 package. Pascal Canfin, Chairman of the ENVI Committee in the European Parliament, currently speaks of a “tsunami of lobbyists”. Eight legislative proposals from the Commission’s climate change package are scheduled to be voted on in plenary next week. “This will be the biggest piece of legislation ever passed on the same day in the EP,” says Canfin, a close confidant of Emmanuel Macron.

So the stakes are high. The “disruptive” power of proposed legislation, to use a common expression today, is taken seriously enough by the corporate world to send its lobbyists to the Brussels front. According to Transparency International, there are at least 48,000 people working in Brussels who have made influencing EU institutions and decisions their profession. 7,500 of them hold a lobbyist card accredited to the European Parliament. This means they have direct access to MEPs. The voluntary EU lobby register lists around 12,000 organizations, with a total annual budget of €1.8 billion.

Bas Eickhout, vice chairman of the Environment Committee, confirms Canfin’s experience. Everyone is still in agreement when it comes to setting climate targets, says the Green MEP. “The problem starts when it comes to legislation for individual sectors, like the automotive sector, the energy sector, the financial sector and so on.” Then the lobbyists come up with their proposals to slow down the ongoing process or to argue with the financial burden for their particular sector, the Dutchman says. “It’s the old man’s world.”

Heat wave reminds of urgency

His colleague from the S&D Group, Mohammed Chahim, is very direct about this: “We see CEOs announcing their commitments against global warming at every COP, but at the same time they complain as soon as something actually needs to be changed.” Chahim points out that initiatives to create a climate club – a forum valued by the private sector – cannot hide the fact that a climate club already exists, and that is the UNFCCC. And indeed, at the same time as the plenary session in Strasbourg, the next working session of the UNFCCC begins in Bonn, the seat of the UN institution, called the “Intersession.”

This session is for climate ambassadors from around the world to meet and pave the way for the next world climate conference in Egypt in the fall. There is no doubt that the negotiations there will be as tough as those in Strasbourg, as the urgency can no longer be ignored. At this point, it is worth recalling that New Delhi, northern India, and Pakistan are being crushed by a heat wave that is exceptional for its duration and early timing: it began on March 11, normally a temperate month that marks the end of winter and the beginning of summer.

March and April 2022 were the hottest months on record in northwest Indiana since records began 122 years ago. May continued with historic highs and June will not get any better. Forecasters expect the extreme temperatures to continue until the onset of the monsoon in late June or early July.

Water shortage in France likely

Europe is not spared either. Spain, Portugal, and France are struggling with a drought that is affecting agricultural production – and heralding an imminent battle for water. In France, the Ministry of Ecological Transition recently published a map showing that from the north of the country to Corsica, no area is safe from water shortages this summer.

Another bad omen is that the prefects have already issued 51 decrees restricting the use of water resources in 16 departments. A total of seventy-six areas have been placed on first alert and twenty-six on enhanced alert, compared to six and two areas, respectively, at the same time in 2021.

And that’s not all. In its latest report, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warns that four key markers of climate change broke new records in 2021: Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, temperature and ocean acidification. “Our climate is changing before our eyes,” said WMO head Petteri Taalas.

The link to lobbying? “Each sector looks through its own glasses and defends its own interests, mainly financial,” says Pascal Canfin. “If you added up all the lobbyists’ demands, we wouldn’t be on track for 1.5 degrees, we’d be plus 30 degrees.”

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