After two intense weeks of confirmation hearings in the Parliament, highly political discussions in Brussels, Strasbourg and EU capitals and after a mini re-shuffle of portfolios, the Junker Commission has been confirmed by the Parliament.
It was described by Mr Juncker himself as the “last-chance Commission”.
I can only agree with him. To regain trust, the EU needs to demonstrate its commitment to ‘Better Regulation’, as well as consistency and ambition in the policy proposed.
When it comes to climate and energy policy however, Mr Juncker’s team failed to go down that ambitious route by omitting an important contributor to future emission reductions in transport: biofuels.
I can only express concerns and regrets about this oversight.
At the hearings, discussions largely focused on the 2030 Climate and Energy targets and the ETS reform, but there was no meaningful debate over the role that transport can and should play in meeting these overall emission reduction targets. Remember that transport represents as much as 30% of EU greenhouse gas emissions!
We now have no fewer than three relevant Commissioners for biofuels: Maroš Šefčovič (Vice-President for Energy Union), Miguel Arias Cañete (Energy and Climate Commissioner) and Violeta Bulc (Transport Commissioner). However, none of them stressed the role of biofuels in helping the EU deliver on its 2030 climate and energy agenda.
Comments on the absence of transport-specific targets in the 2030 Climate and Energy package were voiced a few times by MEPs but received no concrete answers from Commissioners-designate.
Mr Šefčovič, who becomes Vice-President for the Energy Union, underlined his reluctance towards first generation biofuels, due to concerns around their GHG emission reduction performance and on their impact on food prices. On the other hand he supported second-generation biofuels and stressed the need to quickly reach a compromise on the ILUC proposal. As said before, biofuels urgently need regulatory certainty. But it doesn’t mean that policymakers should hastily close a deal. The second reading should provide opportunities for a more nuanced approach.
As for Mr Cañete, our new Energy and Climate Commissioner, he did not even mention biofuels during his hearing and carefully avoided questions on a new target for renewable energy in transport post-2020.
Ms Bulc, the new Transport Commissioner, did quickly stress her commitment to introduce a fair share of alternative fuels and renewables in the transport sector, without further details on how she would make this possible.
As the second reading of the ILUC file is soon to start in the Parliament and the Council, it is critical for the Commission to play a strong role in driving the dossier to a satisfactory close.
In the Parliament, the rapporteur Nils Torvalds wants discussions to resume quickly. But the Council is now only scheduled to communicate its common position in January, which means the second reading examination will be delayed in the Parliament.
In the Council, strong divergences amongst Member States led to a rather weak agreement. The Italian Presidency gave low priority to the issue and the dossier will likely be handed over to Latvia in January.
Once again, I ask policymakers to give a new impulse to the policy debate on biofuels and work together for a solution which takes into account the role of transport in reducing emissions and the environmental contribution of biofuels such as sugarcane ethanol. A more comprehensive analysis on the unbalance between diesel and gasoline in Europe is needed and low-ILUC biofuels should be incentivized in a decisive way. Disruptive measures affecting first generation biofuels will only harm the entire biofuels sector, making it difficult to invest in advanced biofuel technologies.
I hope this argument will be raised at the European Council this week and form part of discussions on the 2030 framework for climate and energy.
A policy framework for biofuels post-2020 is needed, or we will lose a major instrument to reduce emissions in transport. It is the missing link of the new Commission’s agenda.