Despite advances on biodiversity and clean air, and efforts on climate, the EU’s Green Deal did not progress sufficiently towards a just transition under the outgoing Czech presidency. It is now Sweden’s task to accelerate progress as it takes over at the helm of the EU.
Czechia’s six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union (1 July-31 December 2022) performed well on biodiversity and clean air, and managed to get political agreements on a number of climate files. However, a new EEB assessment identified poor effort and outcomes on agriculture, water, chemicals, and the rule of law, and insufficient progress on climate.
The EEB provides a comprehensive biannual assessment of each outgoing presidency’s performance, verified against 10 green tests which were last defined at the outset of Czechia’s term (due out on Thursday 5 January 2023).
“Czechia focused on getting political agreements at the global climate and biodiversity COPs and invested political capital in advancing on air pollution, biodiversity and climate files in the European Green Deal. However, it failed to make enough progress on agriculture, water, chemicals, and the rule of law. And even where it advanced, it was too little too late to face up to the unprecedented and growing challenges of the triple climate, biodiversity and pollution crisis,” said EEB Secretary General Patrick ten Brink. ‘One promising development was that the Czechs recognised that the European Green Deal is a peace project, and that increasing ambition can help with the EU’s future resilience and security.”
A top priority of the Czech presidency was an immediate and short-term response to the energy crisis. While the Presidency was able to steer Council discussions on emergency legislation, it was unable to secure agreement on the compulsory nature of energy consumption reduction measures. A lack of ambition in the revision of both the Renewable Energy and the Energy Efficiency Directives were clear missed opportunities for progress.
Agriculture was an area of particular disappointment. The Czech Presidency showed very little interest in defending the sustainability pathways set out by the Farm to Fork Strategy, playing into the hands of those instrumentalising the war in Ukraine to exaggerate food security concerns to slow and even reverse the transition to sustainable food systems.
More positive were efforts to tackle biodiversity loss, where the Presidency succeeded in securing adoption of the Deforestation Regulation and made progress with Council deliberations on the Nature Restoration Law. Together with the European Commission, the Presidency also played an important role in getting a landmark biodiversity agreement at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP in Montreal. Good efforts were also made to promote clean air, though it will be left up the Swedish Presidency of the Council and the European Parliament to ensure that the Commission’s tabled revision to the Ambient Air Quality Directive is strengthened to fully comply with World Health Organisation guidelines on clean air and to drastically reduce the number of avoidable premature deaths in Europe.
The full assessment will be available to be downloaded here on 5 January 2023. An embargoed version can already be downloaded here.
Sweden: rising to the challenge?
To welcome the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU (1 January-30 June 2023), on Wednesday 21 December 2022, the EEB released its 10 green tests for the Swedish Presidency, which completes the presidency trio set off by France and Czechia. The last six of these eighteen months will be essential to prove and improve the EU’s commitment to tackling the triple crises of climate, biodiversity and pollution and to help make the European Green Deal the transformative agenda Europe needs.
Sweden will oversee the progression of a number of high-profile environmental dossiers within the European Green Deal. These include many files of the Fit for 55 package, which aims to bring a dozen policy areas in line with the EU’s ambition to achieve a 55% net emissions cut by 2030. Other important legislative areas during Sweden’s six months in the driving seat include chemicals, zero pollution, biodiversity, forestry, key circular economy legislation, as well as the rule of law and environmental justice.
“The 10 green tests may seem ambitious, but they are fundamentally necessary,” explains ten Brink, “Policy-making is the art of the possible, but having a weak European Green Deal will lead to far more impossible challenges in 2030, 2040 and 2050. Sweden has a major opportunity to advance on the European Green Deal, put in place measures to catalyse a just green transition, and secure a future where it will be possible to secure the wellbeing of next generations. Our leaders owe it to the youth of today and tomorrow to ignore short-term economic lobbying interests and political ideologies, and take the needed decisions to ensure the fair future they deserve, where people and nature can thrive together.”
The details of the 10 green tests for Sweden are available for download here.