The European Parliamentary elections are coming up in a few weeks and Brussels is quieting down as the Parliamentarians (MEP) have left to run their election campaigns back in their home countries and commissioners are cleaning up their desks. Quietness is relative, of course, and the Brussels folks are already eagerly predicting the outcome of the EU elections and waiting for the next term to start.
The EU elections may be the hottest topic inside the Brussels bubble, but in other European capitals people are not interested, to put it mildly. In the 2014 EU elections, only 42.6 per cent of Europeans voted; according to the latest Eurobarometer, only one third of the EU citizens knew the elections are being held in May and a stunning 5 per cent knew the exact dates.
The EU has delivered a lot in energy and climate policy…
What is causing the lack of interest? It certainly cannot be the work that the institutions are doing. During the latest mandate the EU achieved a lot in the field of energy and climate policies. For example, the EU agreed how to tackle the oversupply of allowances in the EU emission trading system (ETS); creating the market stability reserve (MSR) has kept the allowance price low in ETS. The MSR addresses the oversupply of allowances by withdrawing EUAs from auctioning and putting them into a reserve when the total number of allowances in circulation (TNAC) is high and releasing allowances when the TNAC is low. The MSR started operating at the beginning of 2019, but the results were visible already before then. The EUA price has been steadily rising: from less than 5 euros two years ago to 25 euros today. This is a price level where we already start seeing changes in the power production and so-called coal-to-gas switching.
Later in the term the institutions were busy with the clean energy package (CEP), a giant legislative package rewriting the rules of the electricity sector. The governance regulation laid down rules on how the member states have to submit plans on climate and energy; indeed, this is a huge improvement compared to earlier, when national governments might have had different views depending on which ministry was asked. The CEP also increased targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The overall EU target for Renewable Energy Sources consumption by 2030 has been raised to 32 per cent and energy efficiency needs to be improved by 32.5 per cent.
…but the next challenges are already around the corner
These were tremendously important decisions and so are the decisions that will be on the next Parliament’s table. Working with the Council, the Parliament will have to decide the level of decarbonisation of the European economy and whether to go net-zero by 2050. One of the most anticipated legislation, the so-called gas package, will also be on the Parliament’s table. The rules for the electricity sector were updated in 2014-2019, and now is the time to do the same for the gas markets. Important questions, such as what will be the role of decarbonised gases in the coming decades, are expected to be answered in this package.
Why don’t citizens care about EU politics?
So back to the question, what is causing the lack of interest? The examples show that there should be plenty of interest. So is it a question of a misunderstanding about the role of the European Parliament? Decision-making powers in climate and energy issues are shared between member states and the EU. The big lines of climate policy are drawn at the EU level. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty gave the EP an equal say together with the Council in almost all legislation. All in all, the EP plays a key role in deciding what our future will look like.
One could surmise that there is some communication problem between the public and EU institutions. And perhaps people in member states feel that EU decision making is distant and doesn’t affect their daily life. If the most exciting news you hear from the EU is the debate about daylight saving time, who can blame you for not being interested.