President Juncker’s State of the Union speech shows late recognition of duty to future generations – we now need politicians with the courage to deliver it

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The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) welcomes President Jean Claude Juncker’s expressed wish to ‘leave a healthier planet behind for those that follow’ but regrets that this has played little part in guiding his policies and priorities over the past four years.

The EEB appreciates that President Juncker used part of his State of the Union speech to emphasise Europe’s commitment to climate action and to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution.

His parting words in particular set out a vision for leaving a healthier planet behind saying: “The trees we plant today must provide shade for our great grand-children whether they hail from East or West, from South or North. To give them all they need to grow and breathe easily.”

For this message to be more than empty rhetoric, it needs to be followed by concrete action during the remaining months of the Commission’s mandate – and eventually to become a rallying cry for the next administration.

The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with around 140 members in over 30 countries.

Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the EEB, said:

“While it is heartening to hear President Juncker stress the importance of climate change and present a vision of a Europe which helps create a better world for future generations, his track record on environmental issues has been poor.

“He should now use his remaining months in office to step up the ambition on concrete policies that will lead to a healthier planet.

“Surveys have shown again and again that European’s want more action on the environment. The next Commission President must deliver on this and understand that leaving behind a healthy planet means more than just robust climate action – we also need action to protect biodiversity, ensure clean air and water and eliminate harmful chemicals.”

On the rule of law, Mr Wates said:

“President Juncker has once again stressed the importance of the rule of law. While he is right to do so, it is still somewhat surprising as his administration has done everything it could to prevent citizens and environmental groups from accessing justice at the European Court of Justice. Under the Aarhus Convention, Europeans should be able to pursue justice on environmental issues through Europe’s highest courts but this has been blocked by the commission. President Juncker needs to understand that commitment to the rule of law cannot be selective.

“He cannot berate others for not upholding the law while openly violating a key international law ensuring democratic rights.”

We would have welcomed a clear and explicit commitment that EU law should focus on protecting the EU citizens and the environment, and that the Better Regulation agenda will be reformed to better reflect the interests and needs of EU citizens. Protecting citizens’ health and the environment also needs to be a focus in the EP elections.

On Sustainable Development, Patrizia Heidegger, the EEB’s Director of Global Policies and Sustainability, said:

“Three years after the international community agreed on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, President Juncker still refuses to bring himself to even mention sustainability or the Global Goals. This is deeply worrying as we need to bring the Sustainable Development Goals to the heart of policymaking at the European Union and Member State level.

“The debate on the Future of Europe, which President Juncker has called for, needs to focus on how to ensure the well-being of all while protecting our planet’s finite resources.
On trade agreements, Ms Heidegger, said:

“We agree with President Juncker that we need to use our power as the world’s largest market to ensure high environmental and social standard in global trade. However, we cannot continue to use other parts of the world to exploit cheap labour and raw materials.

“Trade agreements should benefit people, workers and small producers, in particular in developing countries, and protect them from negative environmental impact.

“Trade too needs to operate within the carrying capacity of our planet and the Circular Economy which the Commission promotes requires global reductions in material flows. We do not need more trade, but better trade.”

For more information:

Ian Carey, Communications Manager, European Environmental Bureau (EEB)

+32 2476 97 20 07

President Juncker’s State of the Union speech shows late recognition of duty to future generations – we now need politicians with the courage to deliver it
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