Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Tory Euro-MPs defy Cameron on climate change

British Conservatives in the European Parliament rebelled against the climate change policy of their party leader today and cast the deciding votes against a resolution calling for the EU to increase its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

By a margin of ten votes, the parliament voted today to remove the call for the EU to up its commitment in UN negotiations from 20% to 30% from a resolution, prompting the resolution's collapse. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron could have swung the vote the other way if he had been able to convince even just a few of his 26 euro-MPs to support the call for 30%. But he was unable to do so, despite considerable effort. Cameron has made action on climate policy a cornerstone of his political platform and he took the lead among EU leaders in calling for the increased commitment.

Last week Cameron sent his energy minister to Brussels to tell the euro-MPs to vote for the measure, but they refused. It's an uncomfortable setback for the British leader and an indication of just how little control he has over his rebellious motley crew in Brussels. They are, as one London-based Tory told me, "completely beyond London's control". The political wild west in which Tory euro-MPs operate has caused problems for Cameron in the past, particularly when their actions seem to clash with the progressive social agenda Cameron has adopted in order to bring the party back into the British mainstream. He has been criticised in the past for allowing Tory euro-MPs to vote against pro gay rights resolutions in the European Parliament.

But the British Conservatives weren't the only ones bucking their party leadership on this issue. The centre-right leaders of Germany and France have also called for the EU to raise its commitment to 30%. But Merkel and Sarkozy's party members in Brussels also defied their party leaders' positions and voted with the centre-right grouping in the parliament to block the resolution. The seeming incongruity will be an awkward reality for those leaders as well. But neither of them have made the environment such a core issue of their political appeal like David Cameron has. And he is being heavily criticised by the left-leaning British press today as a result.

The criticism might not just be limited to Britain. Jo Leinen, the German centre-left chair of the parliament's environment committee, criticised the incoherence between the national parties of all three countries and their euro-MPs following the vote. "They are listening more to energy-intensive industries and to their colleagues from new member states like Poland than to their party leaders," he said.

Poland has been the most vocal objector to the idea of the EU raising its commitment, filling an obstructionist role they have often been accused of when it comes to environmental discussions in the council. At the same time, the centre-right national governments of Britain, Germany, France, Denmark and Sweden (plus the centre-left governments of Greece, Spain and Portugal) are pushing for a rise to 30%, saying it would benefit the European economy by stimulating innovation.

The EU's existing commitment to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 is not nearly enough to avoid harmful climate change according to most scientists. But it is far more than any of the EU's global partners have committed to do. In the run-up to the 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen, the EU said it would move to a 30% commitment if other powers upped their commitments. But no such offer came from the US, China, Brazil, Russia or India at the summit.

With inaction from the rest of the world, the debate in Brussels has now turned to whether the EU should unilaterally move to a 30% emissions reduction commitment, without it being conditional on more effort from other powers. But such a commitment would have to be unanimous in the council, and Poland – which will hold the EU rotating presidency over the next six months, seems dead-set on making sure that doesn't happen. It appears the entire centre-right block in the European Parliament, which is the largest party in the institution, has sided with Poland.

This creates an awkward reality for Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron. The allegiances of the euro-MPs are supposed to be with their national parties, not with foreign governments.

1 comment:

Captain Kid said...

Portugal no longer has a centre-left government.

2011 seems to be a dark year for Europe. First, we had a nationally elected dictator from Budapest, and now we have an industry-led presidency from Warsaw. Not to forget nationalistic Danes who established border controls. Something's rotten in the State of... ok, that would be to obvious.